Ryan Howard Is A Shadow of His Former Self

It is June 10 and Ryan Howard has seven home runs in 231 trips to the plate. Seven home runs used to constitute a good week for the slugger. Among full seasons, his previous low for home runs on June 10 was ten in 2010. His .185 isolated power this year is 90 points below his career average and his .306 weighted on-base average nearly matches his output last year when he was hobbled by his Achilles.

The biggest and most obvious change is that Howard struggles with fastballs a lot more than he used to. Back in 2011, he hit fastballs for a .345 ISO and .417 wOBA. This year, those numbers are .157 and .310. The numbers improve only marginally if you limit the sample to right-handed pitching.

Here’s a graphical look at the evolution — or de-evolution, if you prefer — of his performance against fastballs from right-handed pitchers in 2011 and in 2013.

He is no longer hitting the inside fastball, nor is he hitting the low fastball. Fastballs used to be his thing. Pitchers would flat refuse to throw him fastballs anywhere near the strike zone when he was running good, but now pitchers are happy to challenge him. Take his first at-bat against Brewers starter Alfredo Figaro on Friday:

# Speed Pitch Result
1 96 Fastball (Four-seam) Ball
2 94 Fastball (Four-seam) Ball
3 95 Fastball (Four-seam) Foul
4 95 Fastball (Four-seam) Foul
5 94 Fastball (Four-seam) Swinging Strike

Figaro, a right-hander, throws a fastball 67 percent of the time, along with a slider (17%), curve (9%), and change-up (6%). He fell behind 2-0 and continued pumping fastballs down the middle, eventually striking Howard out swinging. Via Brooks Baseball:

Howard has more or less performed as well against breaking pitches this year as he did in 2011.

He says he has been dealing with a sore knee over the past couple weeks, but it wouldn’t explain his season-long struggle with fastballs. Howard was already easily-neutralized by employing an infield shift, bringing in lefty relievers late in the game, and by giving him nothing but sliders low and away. But now that he can barely punish pitchers who dare to throw him fastballs, he is feared about as much as Erik Kratz (.307 wOBA).

At what point does the team admit their $125 million star first baseman is over the hill and needs to be dropped in the lineup in favor of more productive players? When do they suck it up and platoon Howard at first with John Mayberry or some other right-handed bat? When will they attempt to do with him what the Angels did with Vernon Wells? If this team has dreams of competing, if not this year then next year, it cannot be with Howard continuing to be used in his present capacity.

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86 comments

  1. Richard

    June 10, 2013 05:29 PM

    I have to admit I expected Howard to bounce back in a big way this season. Not to 2006, obviously, or even 2009, levels, but to basically be who he was in 2010 or 2011. But it’s been very disappointing. I am inclined to think the knee has something to do with it, since he’d heated up for a while there, before drying up altogether, but still.

    Oddly, contrary to CW and sarcasm above, his defense this season has been fine. He rates almost exactly as average (honestly, throughout his career, with but one or two exceptions, average is more or less what he’s been). Which is what makes the talk about him being hypothetically traded to an AL team because of the DH so depressing: Ryan Howard’s problem right now is his bat.

  2. Richard

    June 10, 2013 05:44 PM

    Btw, if you want to be small-sample amused, interested, depressed, check out the updated UZRs for the Phillies. Before the recent updates, they were showing -8.8 as a team, one week later it’s -17.5. That’s a bad week!

    Don’t look at Galvis’ (bad) rating at second base (he shows much better at third) (incidentally, in a I-watch-the-game sort of comment, I can recall several balls go past Galvis playing second that I can almost guarantee you Utley would have fielded, because of positioning) (Definitely don’t look at Cesar Hernandez’s (bad) rating.) Brown lost some ground this week… Michael Young sliding down…. Delmon, man, Delmon? Dude, Delmon is -7.1, in just 34 games, some of which he DHd, most of which he is lifted late. So, you know, that’s bad. Really really bad.

  3. hk

    June 10, 2013 05:51 PM

    Richard,

    I suspect the pitching staff is not small-sample amused. How long until Cliff Lee storms into Charlie’s office and demands that Delmon Young never plays the OF when Cliff is pitching?

  4. Fish Fry

    June 10, 2013 06:15 PM

    By the way, the idea that being patient with DY will yield results DB is very wishful. DB was in his 22 to 24 years and had spectacular years which had him being ranked as the best prospect in baseball. Injuries and bad luck robbed him of two productive years via the hamate bone. He is in fantastic shape, has a good attitude and seems to work on his craft. DY is not and has not ever been that guy. He is more Mike Vick than Jayson Werth. Lived off of talent but has never really shown a desire to really work at it. I am sure if he starts hitting, he will pay even less attention to the concept of defence. Why bother, it has never really mattered before and he’ll always have a home at the most useless position in baseball, the DH.

  5. Greg

    June 10, 2013 06:44 PM

    In one of my fantasy leagues last week, I dropped Ryan Howard for Rex Brothers. It took me a while to pull the trigger, but after thinking it over, it made perfect sense. And that kinda sums up the Phillies to me now. A reliever who might be a closer for a couple weeks is worth more than the Phillies’ starting 1B, in fantasy, at least. Real world… debatable.

  6. Souled0ut1

    June 10, 2013 09:20 PM

    Selling low on Howard now would be short sighted. He should be 60 day DL’d and have surgery to clean up his ailing power-leg knee. His decreased performance is obviously related to the knee injury he is trying to play through. In the mean time bring up Ruf to play 1B, or Asche to play 3B and switch M. Young to 1B.

  7. Phillie697

    June 10, 2013 11:54 PM

    “If I recall correctly, you gave up on the season back in Spring Training. How you disguise yourself as a Phillies fan, I have no idea. You remind me of Larry Bowa managing the Phillies in the last years of Veterans Stadium.” -Pencilfish.

    I save civility for those who deserve it.

  8. Kevin H

    June 11, 2013 12:11 AM

    Phil, you are a very optimistic dreamer if you expect Howard at his age, body type, and overall fitness, to ever be healthy enough to play baseball every day at a high level. Big, unathletic guys like Burrell and Luzinski (let alone a bevy of other former slugging stars) were out or on their way out of the game by age 34. Whatever shadow of his former self Howard is now, he currently is better than he will be in the future.

  9. brad

    June 11, 2013 12:41 AM

    Perhaps Von Hayes can fill in for Howard. I am sure he would be more productive.

  10. Jonny5

    June 11, 2013 09:13 AM

    I wonder if Howard is having eye problems in all honesty. You can tell watching him that he cannot distinguish between hittable balls and ones that are just plain unhittable. It’s almost as if he is having trouble seeing. I haven’t ever seen him watch so many strikes go by him while waving at crap at an astounding rate. Someone get the man glasses!

  11. Richard

    June 11, 2013 09:24 AM

    well, I’m guessing he’s cheating, in the Ibanez sense… he has to guess fastball, and start his swing early to catch up; but he can’t stop it in time if he sees he didn’t get one

  12. Phillie697

    June 11, 2013 10:28 AM

    @Jonny5,

    When you can’t catch up to fastballs, you appear to swing wildly at a lot of stuff.

  13. Brian R

    June 11, 2013 10:31 AM

    I think the best thing the Phillies can do with Howard is try to package him with Lee in a trade to an AL contender and get whatever prospects you can. Not easily accomplished but when the deadline is looming, you have to think there will be a team out there that thinks they’re one piece away from contention and maybe thinks they can get enough production out of Howard to be worth it. Can’t imagine they’d get a great haul but clearing all that salary on a team that’s clearly not going to be playing in October could be worth it. Again, not sure who would make the deal, but it’s worth a shot. It’s basically what the Red Sox did last year and it worked out for them.

  14. Phillie697

    June 11, 2013 10:48 AM

    Brian R,

    That’s plausible, but then the question is, are we more interested in getting solid prospects back for our rebuilding or do we just want to dump salary? Because fans are not that dumb; if we package Lee and Howard and get nothing back, they know that’s a salary dump.

    As others have said, you can’t compare it to the Sox because they had pieces in the farm to make it work. This is a team that has churned out Pedroia, Middlebrook, Buckholz, Ellsbury, Lester, Nava, Bradley, Iglesias, Reddick, Lowrie, and Papelbon from their farm system. They are better at this than we are.

  15. Souled0ut1

    June 11, 2013 11:34 AM

    There is much discussion in this thread about trading Howard at the deadline for prospects. I have an open question to all. Howard is playing injured (knee), which is public knowledge. Teams look for players at the trade deadline to make a second half push for the WS.

    Why would a team acquire damaged goods (Howard) at the trade deadline when it’s highly likely he won’t contribute this year? Wouldn’t the Phillies would be selling low?

  16. Brian R

    June 11, 2013 12:25 PM

    Phillie697,

    You’re right, they are much better at this than we are. That’s what I would do if I were running the team but then again it doesn’t help us much if Amaro turns around and spends the freed up cash on more players like Delmon Young and Raul Ibanez.

    If we had someone smart in charge, I think we could make a reasonably quick turnaround even if you don’t get a ton of prospects back in the deal. You can get some good players for the $45M or so a Howard/Lee trade would free up if you know what you’re doing.

  17. Phillie697

    June 11, 2013 01:27 PM

    @Souled0ut1,

    Well, my opinion is that we won’t be selling low on Howard; we won’t be selling him at all, because nobody would want him unless we package him with something actually worthwhile.

  18. Phillie697

    June 11, 2013 01:59 PM

    @Brian R

    What you said is certainly doable theoretically, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath that RAJ can do that. In fact, I wouldn’t even jump in the water, let alone having to hold any breaths.

  19. phil

    June 11, 2013 02:17 PM

    Kevin H….im not dreaming if when Howard comes back healthy he will still be in the top 5 or 10 in HR and RBI. Look at David Ortiz, he got injured now he is healthy and he is killing it at 37. You must have a really short memory because all Ryan Howard does is produce runs. I love how people say that his play went way down after 2009. There are only 4 players in histor to hit 45 hr and 135 rbi 4 years in a row. Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey, steriod abuser Sammy Sosa, and Ryan Howard. He got hurt in 2010 and they rested him down the strech in 2011 and he still was in the league’s best in HR and RBI. How about Last year he had as many HR and RBI as Joey (overated) Votto in 40 less games and doing so coming off a castrophic injury. All you haters are so ungrateful.

  20. Richard

    June 11, 2013 07:06 PM

    There’s really nothing worth saying to most of your delusional comment, phil, but you might want to check the stats on Joey Votto again. Howard only played five fewer games than Votto last season, who also missed a ton of time with injuries. Votto, though, had a batting average of .325, to Howard’s .251, and I’m sure that’s a stat you can understand.

  21. Richard

    June 11, 2013 07:08 PM

    My mistake, phil, I was looking at this year’s stats. You still don’t know what you’re talking about, but now of course I look silly saying so… :(

  22. btvgeorge

    June 11, 2013 07:49 PM

    @phil
    “How about Last year he had as many HR and RBI as Joey (overated) Votto in 40 less games and doing so coming off a castrophic injury. All you haters are so ungrateful”

    I dont think people are ungrateful. I think the problem lies in the fact that anybody with basic baseball knowledge could see that this contract when signed would be an albatross and handicap the Phillies winning by limiting their spending power.
    I am not going to get into sabermetrics or stats or anything like that because everybody can argue on those points. The thing is that after age 30 things start to happen to the human body that limit what it can do. Baseball because of the inherent difficulty of hitting based on eye hand coordination and the long season is especially susceptible to diminished returns. Some players can find the fountain of youth and have good seasons but the VAST MAJORITY steadily decline as age increases after about age 30. This is based on scientific facts.
    1. testosterone production decreases each year and this limits lean muscle growth and increased BF %
    2. Decreased testosterone production also decreases the bodies ability to recover. Which increases injuries and also increases amount of time spent on the DL.
    3.Also since baseball has such long seasons all those old injuries start to add up. The body just gets injured easier and takes longer to heal just because of the thousands of innings played.
    4. The muscles around the eye start to weaken as people grow older. This might not effect an everyday person or even a pro basketball player. A baseball player though has to hit a baseball and this is incredible hard. Some consider it the hardest thing to do in sports. So even the slightest change in vision can have dramatic effects on a baseball players production.
    5. Howards body. He is a large man like a LB and moving around like that will create injuries that might not have been there in the past. because of the wear and tear of being an everyday player.

  23. Phillie697

    June 12, 2013 12:15 AM

    @Richard,

    phil just trolled you :P

  24. Phillie697

    June 12, 2013 12:18 AM

    No one here is a Ryan Howard hater. I loved what he did for this team. I am more than willing to put him on the Phillies Wall of Fame (yeah, that’s right, I would put him there). But you know who else is on that wall? Mike Schmidt. Maybe we should play him on this team too then, lest we want to be “ungrateful.”

    And before you say Mike Schmidt is 60… That’s exactly what’s happening to Howard: He got old. We can have our fond memories of him, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to be on this team anymore than Mike Schmidt deserves to be.

  25. pedro3131

    June 12, 2013 09:00 AM

    I’m most definitely a Ryan Howard hater… I’ll respect his 2006 and what he’s done for the team, but I hate batters who do the whole “tee up” pre game ritual. As a former pitcher, it always makes me want to just bean the guy

  26. phil

    June 12, 2013 03:59 PM

    Of course the Howard’s numbers will never be what they were from 2006 to 2009. But when healthy Howard will still be hitting 30 to 35 bombs and drive in 100 to 120 rbi. He is the same hitter that strikes out on bad pitches over the last 9 years. However, inbetween those strikeouts he would blast homeruns and drive in runs. When he gets hot he destroys teams. He has no foundation because of his knee and he has to go on the dl. He has 16 doubles this year with no speed. If he was healthy half of those doubles would be homeruns. And if your going to bitch about the contract…Fielder, Texiera, Gonzalez, and have the same contracts getting paid over 20 million a year till thier 36. And Votto is getting paid 25 million a year the last 6 years of his deal till he is 40! That is ridicoulous to pay a guy that much money who hits 25 hrs and drives in 85 runs. You dont get paid for on base percentage, you get paid for production.

  27. Phillie697

    June 12, 2013 04:37 PM

    ” You dont get paid for on base percentage, you get paid for production.”

    Maybe phil works for RAJ.

  28. patthebat

    June 13, 2013 12:27 PM

    Bill, I’d like to know what you think on why Howard got so old so quick. I understand he’s past his prime, but his numbers have decreased more drastically than many players in their mid-30s.

  29. Larry

    June 13, 2013 01:36 PM

    I remember when people said Big Papi was done and finished. Howard’s batting avg still higher than the team batting avg, gets robbed by the shift.
    @Phillie697,
    you trash almost the whole team everyday. I think you are the real troll.

  30. Iatrogenes

    June 13, 2013 03:00 PM

    Before this season, Howard hit a homer every 13.5 AB during his career. So far this year, he a 61 AB homerless streak and is now on 110 and counting. As it is for many posters, it’s painful to watch Howard because he is one of the good guys on the team and his performance is gruesome both offensively and defensively, especially for a 4-hole hitter. In the past his defensive shortcomings were acceptable because of his offensive production. Now both are worse than ever. At the least, please get him out of the cleanup spot. I see no good ending for this.

  31. hk

    June 13, 2013 04:20 PM

    Larry,

    The problem with callng Phillie697 a troll is that he’s been right with a lot more of his predictions than he’s been wrong although I still think he’ll end up being wrong about thinking the Michael Young deal will turn out well for the Phillies. He’s down to 0.3 WAR on Fangraphs and -0.4 on Baseball Reference.

  32. phil

    June 13, 2013 11:32 PM

    For the millionth time…HOWARD IS HURTING. His knee is bothering him and he is hitting with no back leg. His bat speed is fine he just has no foundation. He had a terrible May because he tried to save the team and he swung at junk. He is having much better at bats now and if his knee holds up than he will start hitting bombs again. If not than he needs to go on the DL so he is healthy for 2014. When healthy he will be in the top 5 or 10 in HR and RBI. HE HAS DONE IT HIS ENTIRE CAREER!

  33. Phillie697

    June 14, 2013 12:55 PM

    “gets robbed by the shift.”

    You make it sound like it’s somehow not RH’s flaw that the shift works on him. Yes, the other team should try not to win and play like “gentlemen” and don’t use the shift on RH. It’s so uncouth!!! How dare they???

    @hk,

    Yeah well, it’s still June with MY :P But if I’m wrong, I’m wrong. It happens :)

    @phil,

    People get hurt when they get older. The problem with keep saying RH is hurt and he’ll get better is that you ignore the possibility that because he’s older now, he’ll probably get hurt quite often.

  34. Larry

    June 14, 2013 01:15 PM

    3 hits for Ryan Howard last night. That’s a good sign! The home runs and RBIs will come as long as he just stays relaxed and waits for his pitch.

    @HK and Phillie697,
    At this point in Michael Young’s career, he’s just an average hitter, not a lot of power like he used to. I’d rather have a healthy Polanco, but Polly is declining too. Young is not as good defensively as Polly was. The Phillies have been fortunate over the years with great defensive 3rd baseman. It seems this team was so much better defensively 2-3 years ago. Not so much anymore except a few guys. The outfield is quite an adventure to watch this year.

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