Howard’s Power: Where Is It?

Ryan Howard signed a five-year, $125 million extension a few weeks ago. Many Phillies fans loved it, but number-crunchers winced at the thought of having a one-dimensional power hitter through his age-36 season. The prevailing thought was that it is not a good idea to pay so much money to the type of player that typically does not age well. No one, however, questioned that he would be productive in the early stages of the deal.

Presently, Howard has his batting average up to .290. Great, so that means an OPS of about .900?

.797, more than 150 points below his career average. His previous career-low in slugging percentage was .543; his 2010 SLG is .464. Over his career, 48 percent of his hits have gone for extra bases, but that percentage has dropped to 32.5 percent in 2010.

More disturbing is that, while he has cut his strikeouts by six percent, his walk rate has also been cut to nearly one-third of his career average 12.6 percent. He has had a significant loss in power with an isolated power (ISO) of .174 compared to his career average .300. 30 percent of fly balls hit by Howard have cleared the outfield fence over his career; only 16 percent have so far in 2010. Going into the season, there was roughly a 95 percent chance that he would have a HR/FB% between 19 and 31 percent, so he has thus far been defying the odds.

His last 10 hits have been singles and he continues to struggle against left-handed pitching.

What happened to Ryan Howard’s power?

It appears that, given his decreased walk and strikeout rates, Howard is simply trying to make more contact. The plate discipline stats at FanGraphs back this up. While his overall swing rate hasn’t changed much between 2009 and ’10, he has swung at pitches inside the strike zone nearly six percent less and more than eight percent at pitches outside the strike zone. Howard’s contact rate on pitches inside and outside of the strike zone have increased at about the same rate, six to seven percent.

Could southpaws be to blame for this? In 2009, 36 percent of his plate appearances were against lefties; 35 percent this year. While his performance against them continues to dwindle (.579 OPS this year), he has not faced them in any greater amount in 2010 than he has in the past. It is interesting to note that Howard swings a lot more at fastballs thrown by left-handed pitchers: 61 percent to 48 percent.

2009 was the beginning of the Breaking Ball Era for Howard. Between 2005-08, he saw between 51 and 58 percent fastballs; last year, he saw only 45 percent and that rate has held constant so far in 2010 as well. However, unlike last year, he is simply not hitting fastballs well at about one run below average per 100 fastballs. Having seen more than 200 fastballs this year, that puts him at more than two runs below average already.

It has been clear since his MVP season in 2006 that opposing managers are fearful of Ryan Howard. While he has been intentionally walked less and less, that has gone hand-in-hand with his increased plate appearances against left-handed pitchers. This is not a tactic soon to be abandoned.

Howard needs to take an approach similar to that of Barry Bonds, who gave him hitting instruction during the off-season: recognize how opposing managers and pitchers are (not) pitching to him, accept it, and wait for his pitch. It has been said that Bonds may have seen only one pitch throughout an entire at-bat at which he could reasonably swing. The same may hold true for Howard, what with all of the low-and-away sliders he has been seeing.

If Howard sees his pitch, great: hack away. Strikeouts are fine as long as he is generating his prodigious power to the tune of at least a .550 SLG. If Howard doesn’t see his pitch, great: take. Walks are fine as well.

What’s not fine is a power hitter to whom the Phillies owe $19 million this year and $145 million in 2011-16 turning into a singles hitter with evaporating plate discipline.

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48 comments

  1. phatti

    May 13, 2010 07:59 PM

    Bill,

    I was hoping you were going to address this, because it’s been on my mind a lot. It’s gotten to the point that every time Howard comes to the plate, I’m rooting for him to either walk or homer.

    It’s funny because in the first week of the season he was tearing it up (small sample size, anyone), and a lot of writers were saying “Look out, this is Howard’s new approach and it’s going to be deadly.” Don’t hear that anymore.

    Howard does tend to be a slow starter, although I just checked his splits and he’s had pretty good power numbers in May in the past (April: .250/.350/.447; May: .258/.335/.600). Are the monthly splits available for the numbers you’re citing, like swinging at pitches in and out of the strike zone?

    Contract aside, let’s hope he starts hitting bombs again and taking more walks. We need him.

  2. Bill Baer

    May 13, 2010 08:00 PM

    Are the monthly splits available for the numbers you’re citing, like swinging at pitches in and out of the strike zone?

    I don’t think so. If anyone reading this can find us this data, please let us know!

  3. E

    May 13, 2010 09:55 PM

    But they aren’t paying Ryan Howard 25 million to walk!!! only to hit homeruns!!!

    who cares about making outs!!!

    Howard is a borderline top 10 1b

    Cabrera
    Tex
    Youk
    Fielder
    Votto
    Pujols
    Morneau

    are all better.

    you can make a strong argument for Dlee, Morales, and Pablo.

  4. Richard

    May 14, 2010 07:51 AM

    Much was made of Howard working with Bonds… and the first few games of the season seemed to reflect some positive changes to his approach, but it seems that he needs to go back to class, because Bonds was most disciplined hitter we’ve ever seen. Word is Howard moved closer to the plate–I wonder if it’s possible that he hasn’t re-adjusted his sense of the strike zone? Trying to figure out all that swinging outside the zone. I don’t like to psychologize, but it’s as if he was embarrassed by setting the WS K record last year, so he thinks that’s the area he needs to address. As if he’s afraid of getting into 2 strike counts. He needs to see more pitches. It’s getting to the point when it seems like a major victory when he gets to 4 pitches in an at-bat. Not good.

  5. Gio

    May 14, 2010 09:54 AM

    C’mon! Seriously, all those guys better than Howard? The only one better is Pujols, and he’s probably the best player in the game. I might also say Tex, but only because he is a defensive whiz as well. Everybody is down on Howard. He’s going through a rough power stretch. How does a guy who has led the league in RBI’s over the last 5 years garner this sort of hate? Now, I’m not a fan of the timing and length of his contract and I understand that’s going to bring some criticism unless he continues to lead the league in HR’s and RBI’s. But the guy has always figured it out, and I’m sure he’ll get it done this year. Rollins back in the lineup is going to change things a ton.

  6. Richard

    May 14, 2010 10:35 AM

    Gio, it’s not that he’s only hit 5 HR so far this year that is alarming–he’s a streaky hitter and that kind of thing comes and goes–but what’s being questioned is his approach and the results of that approach. In order to get pitches to drive, he needs to see more of them per at-bat.

  7. Jerxton

    May 14, 2010 10:36 AM

    Bill, please just write an article called “Why I don’t like Ryan Howard” and be done with it.

    You’d rather have Carbera than Howard…someone that went out drinking and driving before a pivotal series last year that is the kind of player you’d take? Really very dependable guy there (alleged wife beater too). His contract is just as onerous as Howards, and at least Howard cares about playing in big spots.

    I’m not going through the list one by one but I’ll point out a couple more…, but man, you are clearly biased in your anti-ryan howard stance.

    If you are using small sample sizes why not attack Texeira and his .709 OPS?

    How about Fielder and his .759 OPS?

  8. Bud

    May 14, 2010 10:45 AM

    Contact is important, as hitting in a clutch situation. Patience is part of the same game .He has always been a slow starter .Maybe we are all to anxious for him to produce. Its a long season . He will come thru. Time will tell.

  9. Sophist

    May 14, 2010 12:02 PM

    First 33 games

    Ryno 09: .262/.338/.492, 12.7% XBH, 9.8% BB, 30.9% K
    Ryno 10: .278/.324/.459, 9.8% XBH, 5.6% BB, 25.6% K

    In roughly 150 PA, these are not *huge* differences. Would be interesting to find his discipline numbers to start last year.

  10. e

    May 14, 2010 12:25 PM

    Gio,

    Bill never pointed out what players are better/would rather have the howard, I did.

    I can easily defend through the use of stats of:

    Tex
    Pujols
    Votto
    Youk
    Fielder
    Morneau
    Gonzalez
    Cabrera… all being better than howard.

    I can make a case for: DLee, Morales, Pablo, a Healthy Berkman

  11. e

    May 14, 2010 12:26 PM

    Also, through you could make a case for Dunn, easily based on how much value you are getting out of a player who has a very low-balled contract.

  12. Jerxton

    May 14, 2010 03:02 PM

    And for what it is worth, I think the contract given out to Howard was horrible, but I don’t see any venom towards Amaro on this site, just picking on the big fella again and again and again

  13. Philibuster

    May 14, 2010 03:43 PM

    Perhaps Amaro could have negotiated that number down; but bear in mind that Howard’s value was set by the arbitrator a couple of years ago.

    Remember: the Phils offered him $7M and he won $10M. They offered him the same money that Pujols was given a couple of years earlier, which was a HUGE compliment because Pujols’ contract had been the most ever at that stage of career, and yet the arbitrator determined that he should get more than the most ever. In other words, Howard wasn’t just good to great; he was historic and deserved an historic contract.

    That has set his trajectory ever since: instead of $12-14, he got $15; instead of $15 he got $18-20; and now this. In my opinion he should be in the $15-$20M range.

    I maintain hope that Howard’s current power numbers reflect his normal seasonal ebb and flow, and also that he may be adjusting to a new view of the strike zone. However, I do find the lack of walks and low pitch counts to be very discomforting. I can’t see how he got THAT out of his studies with Barry Bonds.

  14. phatti

    May 14, 2010 10:06 PM

    Hey, Bill–I’m really liking this trend of you pointing out that a Phillies player isn’t hitting home runs, and then them hitting a home run the next game. How bout you really put anti-jinx powers to the test and write an article talking about how Wilson Valdez has only hit one home run in his career :)

  15. Bill Baer

    May 14, 2010 11:08 PM

    I was thinking the same thing, phatti. Actually, I might complain about the team’s lack of health. That ought to give the team a megalixir.

    (+100 nerd points if you get the megalixir reference)

  16. phatti

    May 15, 2010 03:50 PM

    Alas, no nerd points for me (this time). At first, I was thinking Gauntlet, but I had to look it up.

  17. andrew

    May 16, 2010 02:11 PM

    OK I can see taking Pujols over Howard, but everyone else is debatable. Texiera is having a horrible year, and his career numbers dont compare to Howards in the two main stats that 1b get jdged on, HR and RBI. Howard has virtually every fastest-to record in the books for RBI and HR and I think that gets vastly overlooked. Also Howard has awesome timing when it comes to going on a tear. No way would I take Morneau over howard, he is just as streaky, not as much power, and he is injury prone. Fielder is a similar hitter to howard but he seems to be declining every year and I just dont see him having a consistent career with his weight. Howards weight has become a non-factor as he has slimmed down every year to the point this year where he is just ripped, he doesnt have a wide look anymore like years past. Cabrera to me is an A-Rod light, a stat stuffer who has good numbers but doesnt seem to impact the league as much as his numbers would show. Morales has had one good year that doesnt even match up to howards WORST year, so I dont get that argument. Adrian Gonzalez is a nice player, but he is not in the same league as far as HR and overall power PLUS people forget he is a streaky hitter. Joey Votto is a borderline all-star so thats insulting to mention him with a perennial all-star who far and away leads the league in HR and RBI since he started. I mean, its not even close. Youklis is so underrated that hes now overrated, hes like a Bobby Abreu without any speed so no, please, dont try to pretend you or any GM would trade howard for youk. Derrek Lee is a nice player but not even an all-star type player save for a year or two. Hes in the top half, but not the top. And Berkman, I love him, but he is past his prime and he only had one year that really could fit in with howards career and not look like a “down” year for howard. Sometimes I think you need to take a look at the production year to year, take out any of those other guys average years, and slide it into howards stat lines and see if it would appear as a down year to howard. Pujols Tex and Feidler are the only guys that compare really, and Feilder is just not as good. Tex maybe , and Pujols is a once in a few generations type guy. So Please show me how you would rate those guys as better…. im waiting…

  18. andrew

    May 16, 2010 02:16 PM

    I forgot Pablo, and No he is not as good. He is a different type of player, he will never be the run producer that howard is, he is more of a 3-hole guy but I just dont see him having a long career either and I can see him having some weight issues down the road (or injury issues)

  19. andrew

    May 16, 2010 02:42 PM

    OK just for fun Ive done the research. Please tell me how you can rank anyone besides pujols higher than howard? At best some players are close… but as you can see, howard is just a tick below pujols in terms of other-worldly stats. You can dislike him all you want, but hes a monster, his power numbers are so much higher than anyone else its just unfair. These are the 162 game AVERAGES…

    HR/RBI BA/OBP/SLG/OPS
    Howard 48/140 279/373/580/953

    fielder 38/107 283/381/544/925
    cabrera 33/119 313/385/545/930
    youkilis 22/95 293/394/490/884
    morales 28/92 283/334/503/837
    teixeira 37/122 299/377/540/917
    pablo 22/90 325/374/525/899
    dlee 28/90 283/368/501/869
    berkman 34/111 299/411/554/965
    morneau 31/116 283/356/507/863
    votto 29/99 308/389/536/925
    pujols 42/129 333/427/626/1053

    Honestly, Tex and Pujols are the only ones I could see an argument for and Pujols is the only one who I can see is better… and its not even by that much… I dont get why everyone bashes this guy, hes gonna put up over 500 HR despite not playing in the bigs until he was past his 25th birthday (when most of these guys were in their 4th seasons)

  20. andrew

    May 16, 2010 05:29 PM

    Forgot Adrian Gonzalez… and hes not even remotely close.

    Howard 48/140
    279/373/580/953

    fielder 38/107
    283/381/544/925

    cabrera 33/119
    313/385/545/930

    youkilis 22/95
    293/394/490/884

    morales 28/92
    283/334/503/837

    teixeira 37/122
    299/377/540/917

    pablo 22/90
    325/374/525/899

    dlee 28/90
    283/368/501/869

    berkman 34/111
    299/411/554/965

    morneau 31/116
    283/356/507/863

    votto 29/99
    308/389/536/925

    pujols 42/129
    333/427/626/1053

    gonzalez 32/98
    280/363/504/867

    Seriously? Howard has a huge impact on the league, has carried this team as a leader to two NL championships and one series. The intangibles are all there, and the numbers show him as clearly the second best on this list. Defense is the only thing I didnt take into account, and Howard is not a bad defender at all. Besides, 1b is not like SS or catcher or even the OF where defense is a priority… that being said, defense is the only reason I would even include tex in the argument.

  21. Bill Baer

    May 16, 2010 11:32 PM

    There’s a lot more that goes into taking the other first basemen over Howard, namely age, cost, defense, base running, versatility (Howard is one-dimensional), etc.

    HR, RBI, and AVG are terrible ways to judge a hitter’s offensive contributions.

    Weighted on-base average (wOBA) is much better. Over the last three years, Howard ranks eighth in wOBA behind Pujols, Teixiera, Fielder, M. Cabrera, Berkman, Youkilis, and C. Pena.

    Over the last two years, Howard ranks eighth again behind Pujols, Youkilis, Teixeira, M. Cabrera, Fielder, Votto, and Dunn.

    In terms of fielding, Howard ranks ninth in UZR behind Kotchman, Pujols, Teixeira, Votto, D. Lee, Berkman, Morneau, and Helton.

    Over the last two years, he ranks 11th in UZR with Morales and Branyan added to the list.

    In terms of overall value using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Howard ranks 11th among first baseman both between 2007-09 and 2008-09.

  22. Jerxton

    May 17, 2010 10:20 AM

    wOBA weights guys with higher on base percentages better than guys with a low on base percentage? You are picking out a stat that conforms to your bias towards howard.

    Does wOBA ignore slugging percentage? Are you taking what howard does better than almost everyone but Pujols and saying it isn’t important?

    Andrew listed AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS all together there and you state that average, HR, and RBI are terrible ways to evaluate a player, but in and of itself, SlG is not terrible, it contains quite a bit of info.

    wOBA does not take into account that (at least in prior years) when Howard reached based he was often reaching 2B or Home.

  23. the doodler

    May 17, 2010 11:38 AM

    claiming that “HR, RBI, and AVG are terrible ways to judge a hitter’s offensive contributions” is utterly ridiculous. Maybe you can state that there are other statistics out there that represent multiple aspects of a players performance that can paint a macroscopic picture of player performance. Claiming that those statistics are terrible is just plain ignorant. Scoring runs is half of what baseball is about. The other is preventing them. Sure, Howard doesn’t run the 40 4.4, but I haven’t seen him get picked off at first or make mental mistakes on the bases much. I’m sure he has at some point, but it is not a blunder to his game. His defense has become solid (except for when he has to throw to second from the bag, which is big i know). MY POINT. HR AVG and RBI are perfectly good metrics to judge performance on. Thinking otherwise is an attempt to support your argument, which is fine, if it were valid.

  24. E

    May 17, 2010 11:45 AM

    Ryan Howard’s career numbers are incredibly skewed by those two years he had. They were outliers to his career.

  25. Richard

    May 17, 2010 12:29 PM

    Usually, when I’m deciding whether to comment on a blog, I’ll check out the place, get a sense of the lay of the land, before clicking that Submit button. Just sayin’.

  26. Max

    May 17, 2010 03:40 PM

    Hey Dick, Usually when I’m deciding if someone is a D-Bag I read their posts, and if they end with ‘just saying’ then they are usually a D-Bag

  27. Jordan

    May 17, 2010 07:22 PM

    To say Ryan Howard is barley a top ten first basemen is crazy. He is easily top 5.
    Is he worth the contract?? I don’t know but if I was a betting man I would say in the long run no. In the short term next 4 years I would say yes.
    This website is great and has many SABR stats. As much as this website likes to use them they pick and choose.
    Stats only tell so much regardless if it is WAR VORP RBI HOME RUNS.
    How about a stat that compares the number of fastballs seen to the amount of runs produced? Howard never gets fastballs and this to me is the reason his production has changed and this stat would probably back this up.
    How about a stat that takes WAR and weights it greater as the season goes on? This is a common and universally accepted method when trying to decide the merits of students in terms of grades. Im sure Howard WAR value would go up drastically. There is a big difference between being productive in April, May and June and being productive in July August and September.
    As far as Ultimate Zone Rating this is a very complicated formula that has faults. I am not going to say Howard is a great defender but I’m sure we can all agree that the Phillies are a great defensive team so how about a UZR stat that adds value to a player that is on a great defensive team.
    If I had a choice I don’t know how many players I would take over Howard besides Pujols and that is a bottom line staement. Maybe Tex, maybe Fielder, maybe Cabrera but that is about it.
    What I do know is that the Phillies are one of the best teams in the majors the past three years and Ryan Howard has been batting cleanup for all three of them. Statistics only explain half the equation of winning and the other half you really cant quantify.

  28. Ken Park

    May 17, 2010 07:30 PM

    Hey E,
    You claim that he had two outlier years to his career. I checked to make sure, and you are right. You use big words like outlier, so I’m sure you’ll understand the logic below:
    2005: 22/68/.288
    2006: 58/149/.313

    the rest of his years are as follows:
    47/136/.268
    48/146/.251
    45/141/.279

    I’m not sure how the “outliers” strengthen your argument that his averages do not represent his output. In fact, he’s actually been incredibly consistent with power numbers the past three years.

    I’m just saying … look at the stats before you make an argument.

    Thanks.

  29. E

    May 17, 2010 08:29 PM

    Ryan Howard OPS+

    122
    133
    167… Outlier
    144… Outlier
    124
    140
    220

  30. E

    May 17, 2010 08:31 PM

    Jordan,

    why would howard see fastballs? He can’t hit breaking stuff. Particularly against a lefty, where he throws up a MILB cast away batting line.

  31. Jordan

    May 17, 2010 08:50 PM

    E
    Im not saying Howard should see fastballs because he shouldnt. What I am saying is that the change in his production is a product of the fact he sees more off speed stuff than fastballs.( Of any player in the major leagues by a WIDE margin mind you)( As I am writing this he just sent a fastball into center field for a grand slam.)
    This probably results in the change in slugging % and isolated power. It has nothing to do with age and body composition. Howard will get better at hitting offspeed stuff before he gets worse. This is partially why I think Charlie does not give him any time off. I think he wants him to see as many offspeed pitches as possible.
    To say he is not a top ten firstbaseman would not take into account that pitchers pitch him in a way that could effect the way they pitch to the rest of the lineup also. SABR only tells half the story.

  32. bobo

    May 17, 2010 09:08 PM

    OPS+ is a terrible stat. Just look at OPS, you shouldn’t adjust OPS by ballpark for comparisons, its silly…OPS+ doesn’t explain what Howard actually produced in the years he played, it explains what he’d have produced in the league average ball park. He doesn’t play in that ball park, he plays at citizens bank park which is perfect for the type of fly ball hitting machine that he is…

  33. Ken Park

    May 17, 2010 10:10 PM

    E — Okay — so you got Ryan Howard on OPS, and Ryan Howard has you on Homers and RBIs. Fair enough, now find me the outlier in these numbers:
    MVP Voting Rankings
    2006: 1
    2007: 5
    2008: 2
    2009: 3

    Now — though you may think that there are 10 other first basemen you’d rather have, there’s people who watch baseball for a living, and probably have a much more acute sense of statistics, baseball impact, and manager and player reactions than you do.

    So my question is — where are the other first basemen other than Pujols in this MVP voting?

    I mean — you can say human error and reputation may play into it to some degree — but for the guy to be in the top 5 every year that he’s had 500 games or more? Come on. That in itself must tell you something about Howard and the caliber of player he is.

  34. Ken Park

    May 17, 2010 10:11 PM

    Oh yeah — and by the way — in line with what another poster wrote — thanks for the reverse jinx crashburn alley! Big man goes deep with the bases juiced in AAA game! woohoo!

  35. e

    May 17, 2010 10:19 PM

    Ken-

    you are resorting to MVP voting? if you are a phillies fan, you should immediately discount mvp voting as chase utley has been one of the best players in the game the past 3-4 seasons, and has finished no where near where he should.

    beat writers have been mocked for their bias filled votings. It is as credible as all star appearances.

  36. Ken Park

    May 18, 2010 12:03 AM

    E-
    I’m not going to disagree with you that Chase is one of the best in the game. Matter of fact, if they have a MVP over a 5 year span — he’d be my pick. But he was outplayed by players on his own team in 2006 and 2007 and 2008, he probably would’ve won except he practically played half the season with a broken hip (slight hyperbole but you what I’m saying). Perhaps more importantly, this is a first baseman argument. And my question to you was, biased or not, why weren’t there several other first baseman in front of Howard? Are these writers that stupid that they can’t even rank what you, the average astute fan can see so clearly?

    But regardless of whether or not you respect beat writers, you have to begrudgingly give them some acknowledgment as they watch the game for a living. As for Bias — that’s just ludicrous … who in sports isn’t biased at all? but everyone has separate biases, yet, somehow, every years, these writers with all of their biases, come back to a player in a hated city.

    But yeah — R. Howard wins MVP with 58 homers and 149 RBIS in 2006 and J Roll win with 30 homers and the most runs in the league and unbelievable shortstop play in 2007 — and how exactly am I supposed to discount the MVP voting as a phils fan? In my eyes — Howard made that team roll in 2006 and J-roll was the straw that stirred the drink in 2007, so I’m not really sure what you’re point is.

    But interesting you mention us philly fans. We’re not easy to please. Still — 25M a year for Howard — are we upset? Are we booing him and saying he’s overrated? no. We’re pretty psyched, and that in itself should tell you something if the majority of the most critical fans in the country who watch R. Howard every night are happy with the deal.

  37. Bill Baer

    May 18, 2010 12:54 AM

    Ken, your argument for MVP voters is an argumentum ad verecundiam. Just so you know.

    To get an idea of just how reliable these voters are, let’s hear from Jay Mariotti:

    Everyone has a voting story that reeks. Mine involves a Chicago baseball writer, Joe Cowley, who cast a 10th-place MVP vote four years ago for White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, one of his closest sources on the beat. He also left Joe Mauer of the rival Minnesota Twins completely off his ballot, even though Mauer enjoyed an MVP-caliber 2006 season. Can you say homer? I told Cowley’s boss at the Sun-Times that he should be removed from the Sox beat and reassigned. “Why?” he wondered. Because Cowley compromised his integrity as a thank-you gesture to Pierzynski, who received no other top-10 MVP votes that season. If a writer would go so far to make a mockery of an official balloting, what other stunts might he be pulling on the beat?

    Are these writers that stupid that they can’t even rank what you, the average astute fan can see so clearly?

    Yes.

    On the Phillies’ most valuable players since 2006:

    2006: Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (6.8 WAR each)

    2007: Chase Utley, 7.7 WAR; Ryan Howard 4th-best on team with 4.2 WAR

    2008: Chase Utley, 8.1 WAR; Ryan Howard 5th-best on team with 3.3 WAR

    2009: Chase Utley, 7.6 WAR; Ryan Howard 2nd-best on team with 4.9 WAR

    The WAR data is from FanGraphs, which does not factor in base running. When you factor in base running, Howard slips even further behind Utley and others.

    Your arguments hinge a lot on an assumed respect for the knowledge of beat writers and the local fan base, both of which are absolutely indefensible in a fact-based discussion.

    Just because Bill Conlin thinks Jimmy Rollins is the MVP in 2007 over David Wright doesn’t mean that Rollins is, in fact, the MVP. What about a New York writer who thinks that Wright is better than Rollins? What happens? How do you resolve this obvious logical inconsistency?

  38. the doodler

    May 18, 2010 09:08 AM

    a slam last night! He is now hitting .299, with a bunch of bombs. his power is here and will be for a few more years. Go big cat go.

  39. Ken Park

    May 18, 2010 06:04 PM

    Hey Bill — i think what I was getting at was that it’s pretty hard to make any type of purely fact based argument when it comes to baseball. For instance, Bobby Abreu, as a philly, was one of the greatest of all time. Alot of people thought the phils getting rid of him was going to sink the ship, but as it turned out, he wasn’t a particularly clutch player.

    Bill Conlin and the New York post writers may disagree, but I think that’s why they have a vote of the writers all across the country, no?

    Either way, I think the problem with Chase during 2006, 2007 and 2008 was that he sort of had a tendency to slow down in the second half of each season. Obviously, it didn’t help that he broke his wrist in 07 and jacked up his wrist in 08, but these are things that don’t really show up in the stats that people voting maybe able to better take into account. These are also the types of things that WAR don’t consider. Chase was out for 6 weeks during 2007. During that six weeks, the phils managed to have a winning record. Now I know that the Phils are a much better team with Chase, and I know that we’d love to have 8 chase utleys out there every night, but it’s kind of tough to argue, at the same time, that during 2007 he was more valuable to the team than Jimmy and R. Howard when the team had a winning record when he wasn’t on the field.

    Still — perhaps voting isn’t perfect, and your quote by Jay Mariotti is an interesting one, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that it’s all based on subjective reasoning. If that were the case, wouldn’t Rob Neyer just choose Royals ever year? Could it be that every single voter in the writers association is from St. Louis and Philly and that’s the only reaso Pujols always wins and Howard is in the top five?

    Finally, I think WAR is a great stat, but it gets into another completely subjective realm — which position is more important than the other? And again, if Chase’s WAR is so high, how was he replaced in terms of wins and losses for 30 games by Tad Iguchi in 2007? And yes, this is a sore point for me because I really, really, really thought Chase was going to win that year and wanted him to win until this injury. But I guess my point is that WAR doesn’t necessarily mean Chase is better than Howard — it could also mean that the quality between first baseman and second baseman is different.

    Anyways. You guys all make great points and we could probably go round and round — I just guess that in the end, it amazes me that a guy who hits 45 homers a year and 140 rbis (without outliers) can be considered overrated.

  40. Ken Park

    May 18, 2010 06:05 PM

    Just one last thing — I miswrote the abreu stuff — I meant — He put up some of the greatest phils stats of all times for a few years (30/30, high batting average, etc) but what the stats fail to show was that he rarely did this when it mattered.

  41. E

    May 18, 2010 08:18 PM

    Would howard have 140 RBIs if those guys weren’t hitting in front of him? NO

    Would there be a drastic difference if you put Adam Dunn in Howard’s spot? No, not really.

    Writers vote for guys who hit HRs because it makes them feel good inside, like little kids.

    Most of these writers, too, still believe games in August/Sept hold more value than games in May/June.

  42. Bilbo

    May 19, 2010 02:50 PM

    Ah E, when there are fewer games left with which to make up games in the standings, then yes games in Sept have more value. Effectively the opposite of an Option in the stock market which decreases in value as the option date gets closer, games increase in value as the end of the season get closer for teams that are in the hunt for the post season. Thinking differently is silly.

  43. E

    May 19, 2010 06:07 PM

    Until games start to count for more than a game, sept games hold just as much value as a May game.

    Just like a 2 run HR in the 4th is as valuable as a 2run HR in the 9th.

    Just sprinkle alittle human emotion in it, and people start over valuing everything.

  44. Bilbo

    May 19, 2010 10:53 PM

    so a 2 run HR in the 4th when a team is down by 6 runs is as valuable as a walk off home run in the 9th? Do you really believe that?

  45. E

    May 20, 2010 01:08 AM

    2 runs is 2 runs.

  46. Bill Baer

    May 20, 2010 08:36 AM

    Players have no innate ability to pick and choose when they produce. Technically, yes, a walk-off two-run home run is more important than a fourth-inning two run home run.

    The relative “importance” of an event is reflected in Win Percent Added, found at FanGraphs.

    In a sense, both E and Bilbo are correct.

  47. Sophist

    May 22, 2010 08:54 AM

    Wonder how much has changed since you posted this, and would also be interested in a comparison to ’06 (although, sadly, game logs on discipline aren’t available). In 06 he had a nearly identical BB/K as he does now through the first 41 games. He’s hit .394/.459/.667 since you posted (37 PA, 3 HR).

    2006: .297/.352/.566 – 13 BB / 40 K – 3 2B, 0 3B, 12 HR
    2010: .310/.359/.503 – 12 BB / 43 K – 7 2B, 1 3B, 8 HR

    More HR in 06, but more total XBH thru the first 41 in twenty-ten.

    Howard’s BB% didn’t really start climbing until mid-July of 2006. On July 26th, he sat at .281/.355/.590. From that point forward he hit .364/.518/.769 (301 PA, 26 HR, 66 BB, 28 IBB). Howard has a history of heating up mid-summer. Just last year he flipped a switch and hit .308/.395/.629 in his last 352 PA (25 HR, 43 BB, 5 IBB). His OPS was .841 before that time.

    We’re seeing Howard’s best start to the season since 2006 – a year he started with near identical rates. I’d also think it’s possible that that power difference is perhaps not as large as the SLG difference makes it appear. He has more total XBH to start this year.

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