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.

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21 comments

  1. John B.

    September 27, 2008 05:47 AM

    Sadly, the problem with the entire “Howard for MVP” debate (beyond it being incredibly unfair to the over deserving Albert Pujols) is that it also serves as a distraction of Howard’s amazing September (.349/.426/.899; 11 HR 31 RBI).

    I mean, 27 hits and only seven singles?

    Instead of engaging in a silly debate, we should be sitting back and enjoying the fact that when the pressure is on–Howard is delivering. There are few things in baseball more enjoyable than watching a great hitter locked in in big moments. It’s what made watching Reggie Jackson so much fun.

    I know that the BBWAA are looking for reasons not to vote for Pujols–heck they used to do the same thing every year to Mickey Mantle … desperately trying to find someone else for whom to vote.

    I liked your comment about Howard’s worst season–it should help us appreciate how good a hitter he really is when a .250/.338/.544 48 HR 146 RBI season is a down year.

    I wouldn’t worry though–despite the rhetoric, I can’t see Howard winning unless he reaches 50 HR, 150 RBI; those are the shiny stats that could turn the vote.

    Best Regards

    John

  2. Salvo

    September 27, 2008 11:35 AM

    It’s interesting to compare Howard’s “amazing September” (.349/.426/.899; 11 hr, 31 rbi) with that of Albert Pujols:

    .321/.427/.679; 7 hr, 25 rbi

    Albert’s month is at least within spitting distance of Howard’s, yet by OPS, it’s only his 4th best out of 6.

    The Cardinals have a shot at finishing the year with 86 wins and maybe 4 games out of a playoff spot—this from a team almost universally pegged to win 70-75 games in 2008.

    Pujols’ value to the Cardinals far exceeds that of Howard to the Phillies in terms of team expectations and what the player did to move his team to exceed them, instead of just meet them.

  3. Salvo

    September 27, 2008 11:43 AM

    Also, Howard has 28% more plate appearances with runners in scoring position than does Pujols, and Pujols is intentionally walked 19% of the time with RISP, while Howard is intentionally walked 7% of the time in that situation.

  4. Nick Underhill

    September 27, 2008 12:27 PM

    One of the thing I really like about you, Bill, is that you aren’t afraid to go against the Phillies. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy your site so much.

    I’ve wrote about this a few times. www.imwritingsports.com/baseball/does-ryan-howard-deserve-the-mvp/

    so I won’t rehash it all again, but I’ll just say I agree.

    Oh, and BTW, I already won Pennsylvania’s most beautiful person award. Three years running. Sorry Bill.

  5. ShooterB

    September 29, 2008 02:38 PM

    I haven’t even followed what mainstream media is saying about the MVP race. But I’ll just assume they are, as usual, spewing stupidity. I’ll also assume that the discussion involves many irrelevant and subjective factors, such as how Manny Ramirez’ playful personality lifted his team to greatness.

    I suppose if the award was definitively clear with specific rules, then there would be nothing to talk about.

    But if Howard is a serious candidate, it’s undoubtedly due to baseball’s historic obsession with the long ball. Ryan Howard certainly fulfilled his role, swinging away and driving in runs. But I’d love to hear someone try to explain why Pujols’ line(.357 BA, 37 HR) isn’t good enough for MVP.

    I’ll be back later to waste 5-10 minutes of my time.

    By the way, Lance Berkman is ineligible for MVP…on the basis that he tanked at the end of the season and completely ruined my fantasy team.

  6. Dave

    September 29, 2008 07:57 PM

    I don’t know enough about the stat categories you are using to pass judgement but he did win two of the categories for a triple crown in both NL and AL? Your guys did not get any of the jewels in either league.

    I also do not think it makes sense to compare a player against his own stats from previous years. MVP has nothing to do with prior year stats; only the current year stats. Doing that is a strong signal that you just don’t like Howard and are reaching for anything you can find; even if it does not make sense.

  7. Nick Underhill

    September 29, 2008 08:26 PM

    Dave. Great, he led the majors in RBI, so what? Put Albert Pujols in Howards spot and how many RBI does he get? How many homers does he hit? There’s no way to know, but I’d guess that it’d be pretty close. Homers, maybe not. RBI, absolutely. Sure, his RBI production has something to do with his own stick, but it’s also a huge testament to those hitting in front of him.

    Come on, the guy was hitting .2-something all year. Who cares that he got hot down the stretch, if he would have been playing like it was 2006 all year the Phillies would have run away with the flag. So what, now we’re going to award someone for playing up to their potential one month of the season? If Adam Dunn would have hit .300 in April, but .2something the rest of the year, would we be talking about him as a possible MVP? Hell no.

    I hate this mentality where it’s ok to suck early on as long as you get hot ‘when it counts’. Let me ask something: When don’t the games count? Don’t the games in April measure the same as those in September?

    It’s this mentality that is going to let USC back into the BCS picture if there are no, or only one, undefeated teams. How does that work? So, if Alabama, or whoever else, goes undefeated all year and loses to ranked team in the final week, suddenly their loss is worse than USC losing to an unranked team?

    I don’t get it.

  8. Bill B.

    September 29, 2008 09:38 PM

    Great Nick, you’re going to scare him off. There goes 10% of my readership.

    Darn it.

    But seriously, your response was pretty much spot-on.

    HR/RBI are relatively meaningless in terms of determining value. RBI, as you mentioned, depends on the OBP of the hitters in front of the hitter in question; HR, while the best possible outcome, don’t make a hitter. I’ll take Pujols’ .653 SLG with 37 HR over Howard’s .543 SLG with 48 HR.

    I wasn’t basing my argument against Howard simply on his previous numbers; it was just to show how great Pujols’ and Berkman’s seasons are. An average season for Pujols is a great season for Howard.

    Also, Dave, I’d be happy to explain or provide you with literature on any of the statistics you’re unsure of.

  9. Dave

    October 01, 2008 08:58 PM

    I appreciate the arguments about not being consistnet thoughout the year but only if you will agree that it is not fair to compare what a player did in previous years.

    It should only be about who is the best during a bb year.

    I understand the point that RBIs may not be a good and fair gauge for MVP because of on base percentage for player batting in front. I do not have the data but I know there are stats that indicate batting averages with men on base. Howard seemed to be consistent in this category and I am a little suspicious of the anti Howard crowd because they have not mentioned this stat which I feel is very important when you determine most valuable. If I am buying a player, I will pay a lot for one that hits well when there are runners on base. Watching Howard the entire year, it seems like he had big hits that helped win games all year. I was a big Mike Schmitt fam but he hit a lot of solo homeruns when the team lost 10 to 1. Howard seem to hit meaningful HR more consistently than others. That too would be an interesting stat to compare.

    Bill B.: I enjoy the the debate. I like to look deep into issues and find unique points of view that others may have missed. Its a sickness.

    Dave

  10. Bill Baer

    October 02, 2008 06:38 PM

    only if you will agree that it is not fair to compare what a player did in previous years.

    As I mentioned, this wasn’t the backbone of my argument; it was to provide perspective on how good Pujols’ and Berkman’s seasons are.

    I know there are stats that indicate batting averages with men on base.

    Personally, I don’t put any stock into BA w/ RISP because there’s no consistency year-to-year with it. It doesn’t tell you anything about a player other than that he happened to get timely hits; there’s no discernible skill a player has to get timely hits. This is why a lot of people who adhere to Sabermetrics will tell you that there is no such thing as “clutch,” or at least there’s no proof that a “clutch” ability exists.

    If I am buying a player, I will pay a lot for one that hits well when there are runners on base.

    Just as an example, and this could very well be a cherry-pick, but look at Derek Jeter’s batting averages (or better yet, OPS) with runners in scoring position over the years. He has very little consistency year-to-year but if you were basing it off of his reputation, or off of a couple of highlighted seasons, you’d be sinking a lot of money into a player who’s really not all that great.

    Watching Howard the entire year, it seems like he had big hits that helped win games all year.

    He absolutely did. This isn’t a skill of his, however.

    I was a big Mike Schmitt fam but he hit a lot of solo homeruns when the team lost 10 to 1.

    Mike Schmidt, career…

    Bases Occupied

    RISP: .930 OPS

    Clutch

    RISP, 2 outs: .905 OPS
    Within 1 run: .906 OPS
    Within 2 runs: .919 OPS

    By Inning

    9th inning: .938 OPS

    In case you’re not familiar with OPS too much, a .900 OPS is very good. Only 8 players in the NL and 6 in the AL this season have an OPS over .900.

  11. Dave

    October 03, 2008 07:58 PM

    Thanks Bill. I understand your thought process much better. I still think clutch hitting should be factored in. If a guy has a lot of RBIs but poor clutch hitting stats, I would not give him a lot of points for his RBIs in my MVP evaluation.

    You moved me 50 percent in your direction.

    Dave

  12. Bill B.

    October 03, 2008 11:43 PM

    I still think clutch hitting should be factored in.

    That’s the beauty of the ambiguity of the word “valuable” I guess. No one said it has to or does not have to factor in “clutch” hitting, so neither you nor I are wrong with our philosophies.

    If a guy has a lot of RBIs but poor clutch hitting stats, I would not give him a lot of points for his RBIs in my MVP evaluation.

    My argument against that is that every RBI counts the same in the box score. You don’t get 1.5 RBI for a “clutch” RBI nor are you debited 0.5 RBI for driving a runner in when your team is already up by 10 runs.

    It would be unfair to penalize a hitter because he plays in a high-powered offense where his team is much more likely to be up by a significant amount of runs. For instance, how much more likely were the Phillies to sport a 7-run lead than the Washington Nationals?

    If you’re interested, there are some advanced metrics out there that do try to take into account the context of the situation. FanGraphs most prominently logs them with their metrics WPA (Win Percent Added) and LI (Leverage Index). Here’s their glossary.

  13. EH

    October 04, 2008 01:34 AM

    Bill,

    Solid stuff. I really have gotten into the Sabers of baseball, but have gotten into some heavy arguments with people, who essentially came to a gun fight with a knife.

    It’s hard to talk stats with people because there are way too much of the ” you don’t even watch the game, stats don’t tell everything ” crowd.

    It’s frustrating, because they refuse to admit you’re right, and insist on the eye test, which is completely insane. It’s times like that, when you just want to laugh and walk away, but its near infuriating.

    Taking the discussion a step further, I do not have Howard in my top 15-20 MVP in the NL. I refuse to put stock in a player who was 5th? i believe VORP on their own team. I also refuse to put much stock in a player who by all means should have been platooned this year against lefties in a power position.

    Howard posted a sub .900 OPS 48 HRs, thats actually quite a feat. I mean, thats near impossible to happen.

    On a sidebar, I came across an argument where someone pointed out Manuel was crazy for hitting Werth 6th against CC, posting his .650 slugging percentage, and plus 1.000 OPS against lefties. When people like Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard especially and Burrell were all inferior. The person got basted by others saying Victorino came through, but it wasn’t the right move.

    I wholeheartly agreed that Werth should have been where Victorino was game 2, and vise versa game 1. I would have even been in favor of dropping howard, i mean their slugging and OPS difference was just insane.

    I’m sure you have people who disagree with you, but keep doing what you are doing. Some people are just completely ignorant when it comes to stats, as annoying as it may be.

    Looking forward to your response, and will continue to follow your site.

  14. Bill B.

    October 04, 2008 03:11 AM

    EH, don’t take my discussion with Dave the wrong way. I think he was very open-minded as he showed when he said, “You moved me 50 percent in your direction.”

    Unless you were speaking in generalities.

    Yeah, I wasn’t a fan of the switch with Werth but it worked out. As they say, “the ends justify the means.” Manuel has been fortunate with some of his decisions simply working out and going against the odds. Regardless of the success, he is definitely not a great tactician.

    If he pulls Burrell out of the game for Bruntlett again…

  15. EH

    October 04, 2008 11:11 AM

    Bill,

    Wasn’t picking on Dave, I’ve just come into some conversations with ignorant phillies fans, as every base has their own.

    As an A’s fan living in Philly, when you try to talk stats with them, i hear, “ok A’s fan, i know you love Beane, and you want to be him, and live by Moneyball, but watch a game. “- Or something to that extent. Little do people know Moneyball hardly got into sabers, but focused on OBP.

    Anyway, where would you have Howard as MVP this year?Roughly i have him pegged in the low 20’s.

  16. Bill B.

    October 04, 2008 12:24 PM

    I’m trying to get around to posting my picks for the awards, so I haven’t done all the research yet, but high-teens, early-20’s sounds about right.

    It’s basically Albert Pujols and no one else at the top. A long gap between Pujols and Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones.

  17. EH

    October 04, 2008 05:44 PM

    I don’t know if this is the right place to post, but Manuel switched shane and werth again? Makes no sense to me, but i guess there is more of a reason than stats, right Bill? Ha Ha Ha!

  18. Dave

    October 04, 2008 06:02 PM

    I was only a few yards away from where Shane’s grand slam landed. Charlie can sense when these guys are going to do something big.

    Sorry but I’m too lazy to study up on the non traditional stats right now. I only know the stats that are on my baseball card collection from the late 60s and early 70s.
    DO these stats get used in contract negociations or do they go by the old baseball card stats?

  19. Dave

    October 04, 2008 06:08 PM

    Bill and EH

    I was a big fan of Richie Allen as a kid and have read a website for people who want to see him in the HOF. Some of the people on the site who write against HOF for Allen use a lot of modern stats that you guys use.

    Have you guys looked into this already and can you share your feelings? If you want to see the site it is:

    www.expressfan.com/dickallenhof/

    Dave

  20. Bill B.

    October 05, 2008 01:09 PM

    but Manuel switched shane and werth again?

    Yeah, I don’t get the logic behind it. Usually, it’s the handedness of the pitcher but it doesn’t appear to be the case here, even though he did bump Victorino up against Sabathia and down against Bush/Suppan.

    Dave, as far as I know, agents tend to cherry-pick statistics and organize them in deceptive ways to maximize the perception of their client’s value. I believe the hold (like a save, but not for closers) was created by an agent or at least created for the purpose of contract negotiations for relievers.

    I think Dick Allen is a Hall of Famer, but then again, I really don’t care about the HoF anymore.

  21. Dave

    October 05, 2008 09:06 PM

    Thanks again Bill

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