Keep Howard Off the Plate?

One of the common refrains during the playoffs was that Ryan Howard was too far off the plate, hindering his ability to reach outside pitches. It is true: Howard was further off the plate than he had been last year. Compare the following two screen caps.

2011

2010

While the camera views are slightly different, you can see that Howard’s foot is on the chalk of the left-handed batter’s box in the image from this season (September 15 vs. Marlins) while his back foot is in the middle of the batter’s box in last year’s image (April 17 vs. Marlins).

The question is: did this actually hinder his ability to reach outside pitches and put quality swings on them? As best as I can tell, the answer is no. Using data and heat maps from ESPN Stats & Information, I compared Howard’s numbers on the outer-third of the plate and further in 2010 and ’11. (Click to enlarge)

2011

2010

Howard’s coverage wasn’t quite as good up in the strike zone, but he handled lower pitches better. Overall, the difference is minimal.

Year AVG OBP SLUG OPS K% BB% HR% BABIP wOBA ISO
2010 .271 .359 .473 .832 24.9% 12.5% 5.5% .323 .347 .202
2011 .256 .363 .458 .821 24.6% 14.7% 5.1% .307 .342 .202

On outside pitches classified as “hard” (fastballs, cutters, sinkers, and splitters), there wasn’t much of a difference. Howard’s ISO dropped from .277 to .265 while his average rose from .311 to .353. On soft pitches, Howard’s ISO didn’t change by much (.125 to .149) but his BABIP dropped significantly, from .298 to .222. Maybe it’s the quality of contact being made? Starting with fly balls:

2011

2010

Howard actually hit “soft” pitches further in 2011 than in 2010. The location of pitches on which he hit line drives changed, however.

2011

2010

Many of the line drives hit up in the zone in 2010 were fly balls in 2011. It could be a classification error, but it may also be a decline in quality of contact.

Additionally, Howard’s ground/fly ratio changed. In 2010, it was equal (38/38); in 2011, he hit more ground balls (44/34) with an equivalent amount of line drives (15/16)*.

*Note: Raw totals, not percentages.

As mentioned, Howard’s overall BABIP dropped. Here is a specific breakdown by batted ball type on “soft”, outside pitches:

Type 2011 2010
Ground .102 .225
Fly .222 .256
Line .824 .800

The location of pitches that Howard hit on the ground changed as well.

2011

2010

Obviously, Howard should not be hitting pitches up and outside on the ground; he should be lifting those over the left field fence. It stands to reason that, while moving off the plate didn’t have a significant impact on his production overall, it did change his success on pitches in certain locations.

Hitting is not just based on mechanics and timings; it is also based on comfort and feeling. If there is no significant impact of his standing further away from the plate, but he feels more comfortable there, then he should stay off the plate. However, Howard might be able to improve his odds of success by moving closer and pushing outside pitches over the left field fence the way he used to circa 2005-09.

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17 comments

  1. Dante

    October 21, 2011 07:35 AM

    I fully agree that he is too far off the plate to do enough with outside pitches. However, the concern is that being closer to the plate makes it that much harder for him to pick up the ball out of a lefty’s hand, and therefore would increase his strikeout rate and decrease his walk rate. Is this the case – did you look at the stats split by righty/lefty?

  2. Ryan

    October 21, 2011 09:42 AM

    Dante, Great input with righty/lefty stats. But simply put Howard has slowly decreased every year. Something to say as well is Howard’s postseason play. He is a great slugger even with his dropping stats. But the Phillies need to find a hitter that can last all season long, and then be able to take the postseason pressure. Postings are talking non-stop about the Phils Aces. That is great, and helps keep the score low, but that does nothing if our starting pitcher has an off inning. We need to be able to put up large numbers on the score board, and not worry so much about shutouts. The Phils need to work with Brown and get him hitting the ball 425+ on a regular basis. Also I don’t think it would be a bad idea to get some new younger guys at bat. Maybe even trade a few guys and try to get some young blood that don’t demand huge contracts. I would look at the D-Backs, Reds, Padres, even the Rangers.

  3. Rob

    October 21, 2011 10:47 AM

    I remember in the first few weeks of the season Howard seemed to be standing significantly closer to the plate. Was that just my imagination?

  4. Bill Baer

    October 21, 2011 11:04 AM

    I did look at R/L but didn’t see anything. I don’t think I drilled down to batted ball types by handedness, though.

  5. HammRadio

    October 21, 2011 11:46 AM

    I wish the pictures were from the same angle to get a clear image. My seats on Sunday, get a pretty good look at Howard’s stance. What’s troubling about where he’s in the box (i’m not as concerned about that, if he feels it gives him the best hitting zone) its how he gets to his stance. He PLANTS his forward foot first. WIDE open. THEN he moves his back foot. (maybe this is the result of his injury or he has always done this). The back foot then will move closer to the plate when he feels comfortable (the count is in his favor) and further away when not. Creating this seemingly unbalanced stance at the plate.

    What you see in the 2010 picture is a MORE closed stance than an open one. (yes its closer to the plate.) Which would allow him to go up the middle and drive balls to the opposite field? Does the data reflect that?

    With the open stance, it would seem he’s cheating to pull the ball. Which would result in allthose ground balls into the shift.

  6. kwahraps

    October 21, 2011 12:15 PM

    Against lefties :
    2010 193 AB, 17 BB (8.8%), 61 K (31.6%), .826 OPS
    2011 170 AB, 12 BB (7.1%), 55 K (32.4%), .634 OPS

    Those rates are awfully close.

    Perhaps he just made worse contact against lefties in 2011 than he did in 2010. His SLG was 150 points better against lefties in 2010.

    Maybe he should be off the plate against righties, but closer to the plate against lefties????

  7. LTG

    October 21, 2011 12:24 PM

    Clearly, the difference between Howard’s slugging against lefties in 2010 and in 2011 is due to his being one year older.

  8. Mike E

    October 21, 2011 03:11 PM

    I’ll give RyHo a break since he obviously wasn’t right physically this year, but his obstinate insistence on pulling high outside pitches dates back to the ’09 WS. When he lets a pitch travel, sees it, then puts the barrel square on the ball, there really isn’t a park that can hold him. Game 1 this year gave me high hopes on this approach until it was obvious that he (and most of his teammates) decided they were gonna pull over the ball, come hell or high water.

    This year’s WS, just watch and you’ll see batters shooting outside pitches the other way to great success; the team that keeps this up will win the whole thing.

  9. TMC

    October 21, 2011 04:56 PM

    Ryan– I don’t think Howard’s postseason problems had anything to do with pressure. The problem is that he’s in decline and it’s easier for managers to neutralize him with quality LHP out of the bullpen, thus turning him into a 5-6 inning player. He can’t hit lefties in the postseason because he can’t hit lefties in the regular season; it’s not a pressure thing.

  10. AZPhilsPhan

    October 21, 2011 04:58 PM

    Another issue with the stance pics above is that the 2011 image shows him BEFORE he comes set, while 2010 is AFTER. Based on what I saw of him this year, he would begin (during the bat point) with an extreme open stance and his back foot also very far from home plate, but then close the stance somewhat and move the back foot closer after coming set. Thus, the difference between 2010 and 2011 may be less than appears from these images.

  11. replica gucci sunglasses

    October 22, 2011 02:49 AM

    This year’s WS, just watch and you’ll see batters shooting outside pitches the other way to great success; the team that keeps this up will win the whole thing.

  12. Yomama

    October 22, 2011 09:41 AM

    I also wonder when/if Charlie will drop him in the order against LH starters. Maybe the injury and late start will allow Charlie to slide him in the 6 hole next year.

  13. Davek

    October 22, 2011 05:46 PM

    Howard needs to move slightly closer to the plate and stay off the outside pitch out of the strike zone. Maybe then his BA will come up and his power numbers increase.

  14. Jauer

    October 23, 2011 09:14 AM

    Obviously this will never happen but a howard/mayberry platoon would be nice

  15. Chris

    October 24, 2011 11:21 AM

    Ryan didn’t produce particularly well last year either, so I wonder if it might be more beneficial to compare this year’s heat maps to ’09?

  16. Denny

    October 24, 2011 07:35 PM

    I get very frustrated watching Howard as do alot of fans. The confidence of 2009 is not there and strikeouts are more predominant than hits. Howard needs to get his confidence back and he can accomplish this by learning that not every ball has to leave the Park! He should learn to hit to left more consistently during the off-season.
    I’ll take a singles hitter with a BA of .300 than a 30 HR guy who hits a meager .230. As far as hitting lefties, for what he is paid, he should be able to hit anybody, even if they throw with both hands!

  17. Mandy

    November 15, 2011 12:34 PM

    I agree with Denny. What happened to the Confident Howard?

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