What’s Wrong With Ryan Howard?
Our 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2006 National League Most Valuable Player is slumping again. He has certainly earned the right to slump every now and then, as he isn’t the recipient of a lucrative contract (like Pat Burrell) where production is expected. With just a $900,000 salary this season, and with a well-stocked trophy case, Howard has earned the patience of the Philadelphia fans, but I am looking at the calendar, thinking of the date when the town turns against him as they did to Burrell and almost every other big-name Philadelphia athlete (see: McNabb, Donovan; Abreu, Bobby; Rolen, Scott; Schmidt, Mike).
Of course, Howard could just bust out of that slump by altering his approach at the plate and/or his mechanics. “FTN,” a poster at a Phillies forum called Back She Goes, had done some tremendous in-depth analysis of Howard’s mechanics and at-bats from July 25 to August 3. He notes:
Looking at the snapshots of Howard’s AB’s, I see a guy who had some good AB’s early in this “streak”, but then a guy who began to just guess at the plate and wasn’t really seeing the ball. Some of the AB’s deep into this run he just looks like he has no clue what’s coming, even though the sequence is obvious at the time. High-Low-High-Low, or High-High-Low-Low. There isn’t a whole lot of trickery here, except for Eyre coming up with a completely different gear the second time he faced Howard in relief. Howard chased a lot of pitches out of the zone, and in some AB’s, the best pitch of the AB was the first pitch, which he more times than not just let go for a strike. It seems like he’s pressing, that’s probably obvious, and he hasn’t been the same since Utley went down. When he presses, he gets over anxious and tries to do too much with pitches he can’t pull, especially pitches on the outside corner, and he’s vulnerable to the high and inside pitch.
I think at this point, he’s still very conscious of that high and inside hole in his swing, and he’s been setting up very open to try and pull that pitch and not get tied up. As a result of this, his stance is wide open, and when he does his toe tap/load up, he’s still too far open and pointing toward 1B. This forces him to not see the outside pitch, and even if he picks it up, he’s trying to pull it instead of just dumping it into left field.
FTN was also thorough enough to do some mechanical analysis, using some footage of a game against the Florida Marlins last season, and of a game against the Washington Nationals from July 26 of this season. He draws the following conclusions:
Looking at these two swings, I see two real big problems.
1. His stance is way too crouched right now. When you’re bent in that manner, you have to raise yourself back up to make contact, which creates more movement in the swing. His head position is key, as his head remains very steady on the left frame, but moves quite a bit to the right. When trying to pick up spin on a baseball, if you move your head, your eyes obviously are going to move, and it will make it more difficult to pick up spin.
2. He’s very conscious of the inside pitch. In the pitch by pitch sequences above, pitchers are starting to throw him inside more, and he isn’t handling the pitches well. Last year, pitches kept pitching him away and rarely exploited the high/inside quadrant, but that has changed this year. The compensate, Howard is cheating and opening up quicker, trying to pull around on that inside pitch. When he’s doing this, he’s losing his balance, his head is moving, and he’s not seeing the ball.
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Since Chase Utley was injured on July 26 (21 games), Howard has hit just 4 HR and 13 RBI and an OPS of .697. He is neither getting on base (just 13 walks in 95 plate appearances) nor hitting for power. Additionally, he’s been increasingly unable to hit left-handed pitching, which was a staple of his success in 2005 and ’06.
July 27 vs. John Grabow (PIT): Grounds into double play to the second baseman in a two-pitch at-bat. (0-1)
July 28 vs. Shane Youman (PIT): Grounds into fielders choice to the pitcher in a two-pitch at-bat; singles to center field in a three-pitch at-bat; walks on a five-pitch at-bat. (1-2, BB)
July 29 vs. Damaso Marte (PIT): Strikes out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
July 30 vs. Ted Lilly (CHC): Strikes out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat; doubles to right field in a two-pitch at-bat; grounds out to shortstop in a three-pitch at-bat. (1-3, 1 K)
July 31 vs. Will Ohman (CHC): Singles to center field in a three-pitch at-bat. (1-1)
August 1 vs. Rich Hill (CHC): Strikes out swinging in a three-pitch at-bat; strikes out swinging in a seven-pitch at-bat; doubles to center field in a one-pitch at-bat. (1-3, 2 K)
… vs. Scott Eyre (CHC): Strikes out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
August 2 vs. Sean Marshall (CHC): Singles to right field in a two-pitch at-bat; pops up to third base in a five-pitch at-bat. (1-2)
… vs. Scott Eyre (CHC): Strikes out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
August 5 vs. Manny Parra (MIL): Walks in a four-pitch at-bat. (0-0, BB)
August 8 vs. Dontrelle Willis (FLA): Walks in a six-pitch at-bat; pops up to third base in a six-pitch at-bat; flies out to left field in a two-pitch at-bat; singles to left field in a nine-pitch at-bat. (1-3, BB)
… vs. Taylor Tankersley (FLA): Strikes out swinging in a three-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
August 9 vs. Taylor Tankersley (FLA): Strikes out swinging in a four-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
August 10 vs. Chuck James (ATL): Sacrifice flies to left field in a three-pitch at-bat; flies out to center field in a one-pitch at-bat; grounds out to second base in a one-pitch at-bat. (0-2)
August 14 vs. Ray King (WAS): Grounds out to second base in a three-pitch at-bat. (0-1)
August 17 vs. Tom Gorzelanny (PIT): Pops out to third base in a six-pitch at-bat; pops out foul to third base in a two-pitch at-bat; strikes out looking in a four-pitch at-bat. (0-3, 1 K)
… vs. Shane Youman (PIT): Strikes out swinging in a four-pitch at-bat. (0-1, 1 K)
August 18 vs. Paul Maholm (PIT): Singles to right field in a five-pitch at-bat; grounded out to first base in a four-pitch at-bat; struck out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat; struck out swinging in a five-pitch at-bat. (1-4, 2 K)
That is an aggregate 7-for-31 (.226) with three walks and only two of those hits going for extra bases. In addition, 12 of his 24 outs (50%) have been strikeouts, which indicates that Howard probably isn’t seeing the ball well, and backs up FTN’s conclusions.
So, kudos to FTN for some excellent analysis which appears to be entirely correct. I’d be interested in seeing some screencap-analysis of some of his more recent at-bats (I would but I’m not a MLB.TV subscriber).
Some other interesting analysis similar to that done by FTN from The Hardball Times:
In other Phillies news…
– Ed Wade gets stuck in a tree. [ABC]
– The Philadelphia Daily News’ Marcus Hayes rips proponents of Sabermetrics. [The Good Phight]
Sabremetrics [sic] are the bastion of wannabes who never could quite figure out which hand the mitt went on, a false industry created and fueled by people whose association with the game always will be vicarious, and, frankly, pathetic.
– Mike Zagurski becomes the latest Phillies casualty — a pulled hamstring. [Phillies.com]
The list of Phillies to have seen time on the disabled list this season:
- Rod Barajas, 1 year/$3M , plus $5M 2008 club option
- Michael Bourn, 1 year/$380,000
- Adam Eaton,in first year of 3 years/$24.51M contract, plus $9M 2010 mutual option, earning $6.875M in 2007
- Freddy Garcia, $10M/1 year remaining on 3 years/$27M contract
- Tom Gordon, 3 years/$18M ($4.5M club option in ’09), earning $7M in 2007
- Ryan Howard, 1 year/$900,000
- Jon Lieber, $7.5M/1 year remaining on 3 years/$21M contract
- Ryan Madson, 1 year/$1.1M
- Scott Mathieson, 1 year/$380,000
- Brett Myers, In first year of 3 years/$25.75M contract, earning $5M in 2007
- Francisco Rosario, 1 year/$100,000
- Chase Utley, In first year of 7 years/$85M contract, earning $4.5M in 2007
- Shane Victorino, 1 year/$410,000
- Jayson Werth, 1 year/$850,000
- Mike Zagurski, Major League minimum ($380,000)
That is $48,375,000 worth of Major League talent on the disabled list. The Phillies went into the 2007 season with a $89,428,213 payroll. The injuries make up for 54% of the total payroll. And yet the Phillies are still 8 games over .500.