Ruben Amaro’s Albatross

When Ryan Howard signed that contract extension back in April, we number-crunchers acted like the Phillies just invested all our money in Goldman Sachs. Remember when Keith Law criticized the extension on ESPN 97.5 only to have Mike Missanelli repeatedly yell “He’s the preeminent power hitter of our generation”? The prevailing thought among the critics was that while Howard may provide some short-term value, he would not be able to justify his salary in the latter half of his deal due to aging and his one-dimensional set of baseball skills.

The following chart displays all Major League first basemen with at least 250 plate appearances and 500 defensive innings at first base this season, ranked by the differential between their prorated 2010 salary (to date, going into Friday’s games) and their current value above replacement.

Howard has, so far, been the fifth-least valuable first baseman in baseball, “costing” his team about $4 million. That means that if the Phillies had spent the money they paid Howard so far, minus $4 million, they could have found equivalent production on the free agent market.

“The preeminent power hitter of our generation” is ahead of four other aging players awarded expensive free agent contracts or extensions. And over the rest of the 2010 season, Howard projects to be the third-least valuable first baseman behind Mark Teixeira and Todd Helton.

It isn’t going to get better from here. Opposing managers are going to continue to utilize left-handed relief pitchers late in games to neutralize his bat, opposing pitchers will continue to throw him slop that breaks away, his bat speed will continue to wane, and as he ages he will become less mobile defensively and on the bases. If the chart above is depressing, then you better load up on the Prozac because Howard’s $125 million and declining production will begin to cripple the Phillies when it kicks in, starting in 2012.

Oh, and the Phillies’ lineup tonight is Rollins-Ibanez-Werth-Howard-Francisco-Dobbs-Valdez-Sardinha-Moyer.

Happy weekend!

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20 comments

  1. hk

    July 02, 2010 05:34 PM

    Other than his heist of Cliff Lee from Cleveland last July and his signing of Contreras this past offseason, every other move that Ruben Amaro, Jr. has made has been bad. Why should the Howard extension be any different?

  2. hk

    July 02, 2010 06:09 PM

    Hey Charlie, great idea. Let’s get Ibanez more at bats.

  3. Jesse

    July 02, 2010 06:42 PM

    It pains me to say this because Howard is my favorite player to watch, but Bill is 100 percent right.

  4. Rich Baxter

    July 02, 2010 10:13 PM

    Howard was the youngest to reach 100 HR, he’s still an exciting player and I like that he is starting to get base hits as well.

    Only Puljols has challenged him for HR king in the NL and Howard is still the ‘marquee’ guy to watch.

    I am taking the higher road with Howard and hoping he’ll get better with time. He’s only 30 and the Phillies have him locked up for years now.

    Fans dig the ‘long ball’ but I see Howard starting to change his game to ‘all around’ player instead of the guy who just hits home runs.

    The Phillies dangled the long term deal to him and initially I was against it, but they have the pieces in place on this team to keep this dynasty going if they can get healthy. Howard can carry this team, as he has before. We are just waiting for it this year.

    Now, if they raise parking up any more than the $15 they charge at Citizens Bank Park, I will cancel my partial season plan and just watch from home. That is my line in the sand!

  5. E

    July 02, 2010 11:26 PM

    Howard won’t sniff Votto’s career.

  6. AFish

    July 03, 2010 08:43 PM

    Isn’t this just a tautology? The argument was that from a sabermetric point of view it was a bad contract. Now you are just saying, see, sabermetrics shows that it was a bad contract.

  7. feeox

    July 04, 2010 04:20 AM

    I am genuinely interested in sabermetric analysis. I think it adds a great perspective to things. But sometimes it seems a little too sure of itself. Particularly when it results in some questionable statements like: “they could have found equivalent production on the free agent market”. Do you have any living, breathing first basemen in mind, or are you thinking of the hypothetical replacement? We used “ghost runners” when I was a kid, but I’m not sure sticking a “ghost first baseman” in the line up would work in the big leagues.

    Anyway, if I could make a suggestion for evaluating the worth of Howard’s contract. Could you do WAR analysis for Howard for the months of August and September? It seems he steps his game up during that time, but I could be wrong. Would be interested to know if the numbers support that or not.

  8. Chris

    July 04, 2010 08:34 AM

    All this tells me is that some players are relatively underpaid because either they haven’t been playing long enough (e.g. Votto, Davis, Sanchez) or they have only become “stars” relatively recently (e.g. Gonzalez, Fielder, Youkilis) and are basically waiting to get a huge contract. Others are just having fantastic years (Morneau) and others have contracts that are so small its hard not to outperform them (Butler, Barton) no matter if they’re actually any good. Yes, Howard is currently underperforming, but he outperformed his salary last year (by ~6 mil) and vastly outperformed it in 2006-2007. In ’08 he still outperformed it by ~3 mil. You’re right, statistically he does not deserve a $25 mil/year contract, but he has outperformed his contracts thus far, and I will maintain hope that he will in the 2nd half of this season. I doubt his wOBA’s going to remain .367 and I doubt his UZR/150 will remain at its current career low of -5.6. After this season though, eh well we’ll see. Hopefully Howard ages well?

    Also, as to Amaro making terrible decisions so far as GM, Valdez, Schneider, Herndon, Figueroa, and Polanco have already outplayed their salary, Martinez last year outplayed his salary in half a season. Ibanez outplayed his salary last season, although he is so far this year being grossly overpaid. The only truly bad moves I see are Baez and Gload, at least so far. The end results of the Lee deal remain to be seen. Halladay, however, is 2nd in the majors in xFIP (Lee is 6th). Also, random side note, Hamels is 25th. Our problems this year have been based mostly in our hitting and our relieving, not our starting pitching. Personally, I don’t think investing tons of money in starting pitching is what wins you championships. Only 1 Yankees starter last year had an FIP or an xFIP under 4, and there’s a reason the Padres are never going to even make it to the world series with their current roster. However, that’s another conversation for another time.

  9. MikeC

    July 05, 2010 10:03 AM

    Chris is right about the chart; by this analysis Pujols will (presumably) be substantially in the negative after he gets his megadeal this offseason-maybe even worse than Howard. But he’s the best in the game, and at some point you simply have to pay for the best. Howard is not one of the best. I would love to know the number Amaro negiotiated him down from.

    Amaro has made some good moves, but his blunders have been spectacular.

  10. schmenkman

    July 06, 2010 07:47 AM

    With a 1.023 OPS in the month, Howard’s OPS through June was .865, compared to his career average of .874 at that point in the season. His 2007-09 average OPS through June was .851. After last night, he’s at .852, which is exactly where he was through game 81 last year, when he went on to finish at .931.

    He’s always been better in the heat of summer — will he continue that pattern this year and carry the team through stretches of the pennant race? It’s one of the many things that have to go right for the Phillies to battle through the injuries and stay in it.

  11. Trevor

    July 06, 2010 08:20 AM

    “I would love to know the number Amaro negiotiated him down from.”

    I wonder about this too. It’s almost as if it went down like this:

    Howard’s agent: So let’s start at say, I don’t know, 5 years 125?
    Amaro: Deal!

  12. schmenkman

    July 06, 2010 09:44 AM

    To try and rephrase my post above in terms of wRC: In 2007-2009, Howard average 115 wRC per year. Of the 115, 46 came in Apr-June, and 69 in July-Sep. Point being that if this pattern holds this year, he will move up towards the middle of the above graph.

  13. Bill Baer

    July 06, 2010 10:13 AM

    Even if Howard doubles his production in the second half (1.3 to 2.6 WAR), he’d still be costing the Phillies about $3.5 million.

    3.9 WAR * $4 million (value of 1 WAR) = $15.6 million
    Howard’s 2010 salary = $19 million

    In order to ‘justify’ his salary, he needs to have an ungodly second half of the season.

  14. schmenkman

    July 06, 2010 10:50 AM

    I don’t have access to WAR by month, but perhaps wRAA would be a good proxy, at least for the batting portion:

    Apr-June in 2007-2009: 7 per year
    July-Sep in 2007-2009: 25 per year

  15. Bill Baer

    July 06, 2010 12:04 PM

    I had a similar debate with Dennis Deitch (who was much less tactful) about it on Twitter, and I haven’t seen any evidence that second-half stats are predictive. You are 100% right that Howard has had better second-halves throughout his career, but I’m not sure if that means he will also have a great second-half of 2010 as well.

    You could very well be correct but given what we know about this information I don’t know if we can say that with any certainty.

  16. E

    July 06, 2010 12:23 PM

    Me thinks the 25 million dollar man is going to struggle with Utley out the line up.

  17. DB

    July 07, 2010 07:58 PM

    Where is Pat Gillick? Somebody bring him back quick. In the time since he left, Amaro has slowly turned our bench and bullpen into a below average at best. Why sign Ross Gload when you already have him in Greg Dobbs? And who is Juan Castro and Wilson Valdez? And to the pen where Amarao says you can’t have enough pitching. How much longer are we giving Durbin and Kendrick a chance to become good. Not going to Happen. We can”t pay Lee $9 mil but we can Give Blanton an extension and pay him $9 mil instead. We need a new GM and fast. All Amaro has done is traded our farm system in 2 trades and if he would have made the Lee deal in the firstg place we still would have a good farm system. Now all our talent left close to the MLB level is Brown. Thanks Ruben. YOU SUCK!

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