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%.

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  1. twc84

    August 31, 2010 03:34 PM

    Bill, great article. I have the unfortunate luxury of having MLB.tv so I have seen all of Ryan’s struggles. Along with the altered mechanics of his swing (induced by the brace), his stance also seems different. He is much more vertical and seems stiff in the box. He almost looks like a statuesque, left-handed Evan Longoria. Every pitch that comes in appears to catch him off guard, even fat fastballs down the middle. During his times of better production, he would always have a more loose stance, being more bent at the hips and knees, and would attack pitches. I would tend to agree that Howard needs at the very least another rehab stint to get the mechanics back in order. I’m not sure when Ross Gload will return, but a platoon of he and Sweeney would probably trump Howard substantially right now.

  2. Ted

    August 31, 2010 04:10 PM

    Excellent article Bill. I can’t pretend to be a hitting genius but here is a little bit of what I’ve seen over the past couple days/weeks as I also have the unfortunate luxury of having MLB.tv to watch the Phillies’ non-existent offense.

    Howard is having a real tough time covering the outer 3rd of the plate, which seems to be evident when looking at the post-injury spray chart. Because he’s unable to cover the outer 3rd, Howard has been caught looking at fastballs inside and swinging at a lot of garbage pitches middle-in. Howard’s ankle could definitely be the problem here if he is unable to get a full rotation for extension to cover the outer 3rd of the plate. As for Howard standing more upright, I was informed its something he’s been doing all season that Barry Bonds apparently worked with him on during the off-season to gain better coverage of the plate. (Ironic too considering how much he’s striking out.)

    While not having a power hitting Ryan Howard is definitely a concern, I’m more worried about Chase Utley. Pitch f/x via Texas Leaguers here: bit.ly/a5XQSp. It looks like he has fairly average coverage of the outer 3rd of the plate for someone off the DL (making contact most of the time), but to me it looks like he’s have a very difficult time with pitches inside. Besides the lack of power inside, he’s also having a tough time getting to the inside pitches which has such caused him to swing at bad pitches inside and get caught looking on some pitches outside. In his first at bat yesterday he swung at a high fastball well off the plate both inside and up, something that just looked very odd when you consider his plate discipline and pitch recognition.

    Utley’s strikeout rate since coming off the DL is around 15%, which I believe is close to his career average, so its not like he’s whiffing big-time like Howard. My guess is his thumb is not back 100% yet and as such Utley’s having a difficult time getting his hands down and inside when swinging, thus hindering that short quick stroke that has made him so successful.

  3. Richard

    August 31, 2010 07:26 PM

    Isn’t it rather uncharacteristic for the Phillies to have handled Howard’s injury the way they have? Given how much he’s struggled, one has to think that they could have seen the same stuff we see. How could they think one rehab game was enough?

    I’m less concerned about Utley, primarily because he’s still an upgrade over Valdez; and his defense has been typically good. Howard in his current condition is not an upgrade over Sweeney/Gload. I wonder if Howard would have been activated when he was if Gload hadn’t still be injured.

  4. nik

    September 01, 2010 09:15 AM

    Good timing for the article. Granted, it was against a mediocre righty reliever, but that was a typical Ryan Howard HR he crushed last night.

  5. dave

    September 01, 2010 09:49 AM

    holy small sample size

  6. pounded clown

    September 02, 2010 02:33 AM

    “{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.”

    Admission of a small sample is no substitute for a significance test.
    Howard injury was not rehabilitated properly and is performing poorly as a result. No suprise there as a batter will shifts his weight backward so that its centered over his back foot. The push force from this back leg accelerates the trunk of the body as the pitcher steps into the pitch. In a game of inches that occurs are high velocities I think this type of injury could have a significant effect on a players performance. An analysis of batting mechanics seems more pertient to the discussion that trying to glean some statistical insight when there is little data to make this possible. You do good work, this just seems a bit unnecessary – in this case, eye witness testimony is perfectly acceptable.

  7. pounded clown

    September 02, 2010 02:37 AM

    Ugh. Pardon my grammar all over the place.

  8. Bill Baer

    September 02, 2010 03:49 AM

    Yeah, pc, that was my point. Despite the small sample size, it matches up with what we’ve been seeing.

    If I had the means, I would have posted some .gif files of some of Howard’s swings, but I don’t have MLB.tv. The only Ryan Howard footage I can get is in the “Phillies highlights” section on their website, and of course, we’d get no highlights between the time he was activated through the first game of the Dodgers series.

    Should any of my readers have such access, I welcome the posting of any mechanical analysis. If it’s good, I’ll probably make another post about it (with all due attribution, of course).

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