May 14, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman (12) hits a one run single in the sixth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
...he should go down as the third-best switch-hitter of all time. And if that is the case, as I'd argue, it's all the more impressive given that he's 36th among switch-hitters in plate appearances. Berkman was an incredible force at the plate for ten consecutive years though, as he posted a 148 OPS+ across the decade from 2000 to 2009. Over that period, he averaged over 30 home runs and nearly 100 walks per season, all while hitting exactly .300.
With the bulk of his production coming from that decade of dominance, Berkman has maintained a career OPS+ of 146 -- and an equally impressive wRC+ of 146. Despite only reaching 150 games in seven seasons, Berkman has been good enough with the bat to rack up +425 batting runs, which is the third highest mark by a switch-hitter, ever. He has a slight advantage over Chipper Jones in both OPS+ and wRC+, but that's negated by the fact that Jones has had many more plate appearances.
The real question is whether or not Berkman has provided more value with the bat than Eddie Murray, who has a 5000+ PA advantage over Berkman. Berkman has been a markedly better hitter in terms of OPS+/wRC+ (Murray is at 128/129), but is that enough to make up for the difference in longevity? Maybe. The thing is, Berkman had a significantly better peak. Murray had a career-high OPS+ of 159, in his 1990 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Berkman bested that mark five times.
What it all comes down to is whether or not you decide to factor in Murray's final two seasons; in 1996 and 1997 (an offensive era), Murray hit .251/.316/.394 (80 OPS+) across 822 plate appearances, which accounted for -28 batting runs. Should he really be docked credit for sticking around beyond his usefulness? If you simply remove those two seasons, Murray comes to a total of ~420 batting runs, which puts him neck and neck with Berkman.
Then again, Berkman still has the slight edge, and I'd be inclined to give him a bit more of a bump because of his superior peak.
Anyway, if Berkman does indeed retire, it's worth admiring the scope of his accomplishments -- and what could have been, for that matter. I mean, he's still only 36, and he was off to a hot start this season after hitting .301/.412/.547 (164 OPS+) in 2011. Whether or not he's the third best switch-hitter of all time, he's had a remarkable and arguably underappreciated career.
So, what say you? Where do you think Berkman ranks among the top switch-hitters of all time?