Monday, August 31, 2009

Berkman: Calf still bothering him?

In a fantasy baseball article lamenting the loss of Berkman's power, Jason Grey wonders if his calf is still jacked.

"I see him running, running hard, so I don't think that's an issue anymore. He's still getting extra-base hits, scoring from second with ease. I just don't think his swing is where he wants it to be."

I watched Berkman from several angles this weekend, and it was apparent there are still some timing issues with his swing. Even with the assumption that pain in Berkman's calf is no longer an issue, it's possible that fighting through the problem has caused him to compensate or slightly alter his stroke in some fashion. Berkman is still making the same contact, but not really driving the ball as well I've seen him. A few times during this past weekend, his hands were late getting to the ball from the left side, sapping some of the power in his swing, and he's not getting the leverage with his lower half, leading me to suspect that trying to compensate for the calf muscle has caused some problems with his swing.

Thankfully, Berkman has at least hit for some average while balls aren't clearing the fence, hitting .294 since the break as his batting average continues to rebound from a slow start that saw him hitting just .162 after the first month and .230 at the end of May. However, based on what I saw this weekend, he's going to need to get back in rhythm or perhaps make a slight mechanical adjustment to expect a good power outburst in the final month.

And what has the Tout Wars Champion noticed about Michael Bourn?

Michael Bourn's performance this season hasn't surprised me. This is kind of what I've expected, and what's he's capable of. The fact that he fell so flat last season was the surprise. I did expect some struggles in his first season with a full-time starting job, but the depth of those struggles were unexpected. However, Bourn has bounced back nicely this season, ranking as a top-10 outfielder in our Player Rater. The speed has obviously still been there, and he's brought the batting average up. His batting average on balls in play is .370, which is probably a tad high even for someone with the Bourn's wheels. While his average does have a little bit of luck involved, it's legitimate.

One of the biggest changes in Bourn's game this year is being much more aggressive with fastballs early in the count. Last year, he was trying too hard to draw walks and see pitches trying to get ahead. That often works in the minors, but in the big leagues taking the first two pitches can mean you're quickly down 0-2.

"You try to be patient, because as a leadoff hitter you think you need to take as many pitches as you can, but I learned you have to hit the way you hit no matter where you are in the order and not try to change things. I feel like I have a pretty good eye, but if it's in the strike zone I'm swinging. Every so often, I'll go up there to take the first pitch no matter what, but usually if it's a good strike I'm going to swing."

Last year, Bourn wouldn't always stay back and behind the ball, instead lunging or reaching at it, and it threw off his swing path. He would drift forward, and when you do that your head is moving and everything looks faster. Last year, the book was that he could be beaten with fastballs, but that's definitely not the case this season, as he's become a very good fastball hitter. He's done a much better job of consistently staying back, and he's able to go to the opposite field, thus we're seeing the results. This is the version of Bourn we can expect going forward.