How Will Busch Affect Berkman?

When a player moves from team to team, and thus from one home stadium to another, some funky things can happen. Sometimes he performs better than he ever has, and other times his numbers tank. What will happen to Lance Berkman in 2011? 

Click to embiggen, if you please

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Berkman, I initially shrugged it off and thought little of the deal. To me, he seemed old and on the decline, but I thought he might fit into Tony La Russa's lineup much in the same way Larry Walker did in 2004-2005 where he posted a combined 3.9 rWAR. (Walker is actually Berkmans #5 comp. in terms of other players of the same age [click to see graph of creepy similarity].) 

But, after a few weeks, I decided to give it another look. My first thought? He played most of his career in a really funky stadium, and I wonder how that might affect him going forward. So, I checked out his spray chart from the last three seasons at Minute Maid, and then overlaid that on his new digs at Busch Stadium III. 

The thing that struck me is that no matter how often I watch games played in Houston, I always underestimate just how strangely that park is shaped. 435' in center and only 315' down the left field line? It's not quite The Polo Grounds, but it's still pretty messed up (and don't even get me started on the hill and the flag pole). 

Anyway, it turns out that what I expected is true: Berkman hits better at Minute Maid than he does at Busch. In Berkman's career in games at Minute Maid, these were his numbers: .976 OPS  .327 BABIP  105 tOPS+. And in contrast, his career at (new) Busch looked like this: .932 OPS  .286 BABIP  94 tOPS+.

Now, Berkman has only played 28 games in St. Louis since the new stadium opened in 2006, and it's dangerous to draw conclusions from a small sample. But, I'm worried about him losing his power to left in a bigger stadium (Bill James predicts him to slug .486 this season, which is down from his career average of .530), and I don't think his legs are young enough for him to turn those gappers into many doubles or triples. 

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