In a season more notable for star players off to slow starts and a league-wide offensive malaise, the way Lance Berkman has scalded the ball at the outset of his St. Louis Cardinals career is nothing less than shocking. Not only is he hitting .390/.461/.750 in a league averaging only .250/.320/.388, but he was doing so after a 2010 season in which he was reduced from perennial All-Star status to ineffectual part-time work with the New York Yankees.
There was plenty of reason to think that Berkman's posterior was ready to have the proverbial fork stuck in it. Thirty-four years old last year, Berkman lost the beginning of the season to knee surgery and when he returned his bat didn't have the life that had produced career .299/.412/.555 rates through the end of 2009. His problems hitting left-handers, a career-long problem for this switch-hitter, became extreme and a power stroke that had produced as many as 55 doubles and 45 home runs in a season seemed to have weakened.
Hitters tend to have a fairly linear evolution to their careers -- normally, when they start to fade, they don't come back. Berkman's physical deterioration, combined with his miserable results in New York (.255/.358/.349, one home run in 123 plate appearances) seemed to suggest that the Cardinals' plan to sign him and give him regular playing time in an outfield corner ranked somewhere between foolishly optimistic and delusional. Of course, Berkman has shown in his career that he is not a typical hitter, and a look at history shows that his renaissance should not be surprising.