Ryan Howard’s Malaise

Since returning from the disabled list, Ryan Howard is batting .111 with a .246 OPS. He has no extra-base hits and no multi-hit games. Even worse, Howard struck out 16 times in 36 at-bats, a rate of nearly 45 percent — much higher than his career average 32 percent.

Howard missed about three weeks’ worth of time dealing with a left ankle sprain. Since coming back, he has been wearing a brace, something he admits limits his mobility and flexibility. That could explain his offensive woes. Howard’s power has been noticeably absent, as this spray chart displays, via Texas Leaguers:

Compare the batted ball data before and after Howard’s injury:

Pre-injury 125 41% 103 34% 8 3% 66 22% 302
Post-injury 7 37% 4 21% 3 16% 5 26% 19

Howard has seen a marked decrease in outfield fly balls and a subsequent marked increase in infield fly balls. This is a very small sample size — just 19 batted balls — but it confirms what we’ve been seeing so far since Howard was activated: he’s had no power whatsoever. Additionally, Howard has not been pulling the ball to the outfield. Compare the spray chart above (post-injury) to the one below (pre-injury):

Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription to MLB.tv so I can’t check out his mechanics. However, I would wager that even a brief inspection would reveal a noticeable mechanical difference in the lower half of Howard’s body as he loads up to swing. Howard puts his weight on his left (back) ankle before the transfer and that just so happens to be the ankle he injured.

Howard was the Phillies’ second-most valuable hitter in terms of VORP. He is currently setting career lows in on-base percentage (tied with 2008 at .339), slugging percentage, ISO, and wOBA. Additionally, his pace for 1.6 WAR would be by far his lowest since becoming a regular in 2005. While you can’t pin all or even most of the team’s offensive woes on Howard, he is a big part of any success they have on that end. Getting him 100% healthy and mechanically sound is vital as they fight for a playoff berth. It may be necessary to put Howard back on the disabled list to give him more time to rest his ankle. If that’s the case, so be it. Mike Sweeney at 85% health can out-produce Howard at 60%.