Ryan Howard Ain’t Even Close to MVP

The media hype machine is at it again: lauding yet another undeserving candidate for the MVP award. I’m sorry to have to report this, but Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is about as deserving of the NL MVP award as I am of Pennsylvania’s Best-Looking award (I’m not sure if that’s an actual award, but if it is, I wouldn’t mind a few write-in votes on my behalf, thanks).

There’s no question that he’s been Midas at the plate in September, sporting a 1.267 OPS going into tonight’s series opener against the Washington Nationals. However, the games in September count equally as the games in April (one either in the win or loss column, in case you were wondering), and Howard posted a sub-.800 OPS in three months (March/April, .640; June, .726; August, .791).

His overall .875 OPS (prior to tonight’s game) ranks 21st in the National League and tied for 5th among NL first basemen. Heading into Sabermetric territory, he ranks 11th among all MLB first basemen in VORP and 13th among all MLB first basemen in PMLVr. It’s a joke, really, that Howard is mentioned as a leading MVP candidate when you have Albert Pujols and his ridiculous 1.099 OPS and amazing defense as well as Lance Berkman’s 1.044 OPS and nearly as amazing defense. Howard isn’t exactly a Hoover with the glove, y’know?

It is a testament, it seems, to human gullibility to fanciful plots. The Phillies succeeded despite Ryan Howard’s mediocre (and at various points, downright depressing) offensive performances in the first five months; they’ve won a few games in the last month or so (la de frickin’ da). Apparently, the first five months are erased once the kids head back to school.

The most depressing statistic of Howard’s, to me, is his on-base percentage. In his first two full seasons in ’06 and ’07, he put up OBP’s of .425 and .392, respectively. This year, it’s .337 compared to the league average of .346. It’s not that he’s not walking, as he’s only on pace to finish with 7 less unintentional walks than last season. A good part of his missing OBP is the 50% drop in intentional passes, 35 to 17. Pitchers and managers are just willing to take their chances with him now, since holes in his swing and bad mechanics have been found and abused.

The remaining chunk of his lost OBP is from balls in play. His BABIP this season is .285 with a 22.4 LD% (roughly, we’d expect a .344 BABIP). Oddly enough, a look at his batted ball rates makes his 2007 season stick out like a sore thumb (courtesy Howard’s player page on FanGraphs). His batted ball rates closely mimic those of his 2006 season except that his BABIP is a good bit lower. This isn’t a point in Howard’s favor though, as you don’t reward a player for simply being a bit unlucky on balls in play.

Ryan Howard batted ball rates

Howard’s SLG is fine, but still a good 50 points under his career average. Including tonight’s game, Howard has more HR and the same amount of doubles as he did last season when he slugged .584, but the difference is that he’s had nearly 75 more at-bats.

Albert Pujols is having one of the best seasons of his career, which is really saying something, considering his career 169 OPS+. Ditto Lance Berkman with a career 148 OPS+. Howard is having the worst season of his career. It would be an insult to any baseball fan with a grasp of logic if Howard wins the NL MVP award (or even the Silver Slugger). That means, of course, to buckle up and put on a helmet to protect yourself from the barrage of bad votes to be cast by the BBWAA.

Hey, notice how I didn’t even bring up Howard’s strikeouts? That’s because they don’t mean a damn thing.

Stay tuned for a comprehensive “Who Should Win the Awards” article that is guaranteed to waste between 5-10 minutes of your time depending on how fast you read and how quickly you decide to X out of Crashburn Alley.

EDIT 9/28: If you’re wondering where the Liveblog from last night’s game is, I’ve archived it.