It Was Ryan Howard’s Extension, Not Injuries, That Signaled End of Phillies Era

Phil Sheridan’s latest column for the Inquirer is titled, “Howard injury may signal end of Phillies era”. Ryan Howard was recently placed on the disabled list with the same knee injury that has been nagging him all season. The Phillies haven’t ruled out surgery as an option to get the slugger back on track. Between June 11 and his last game on July 5, Howard had posted a .930 OPS in 86 trips to the plate and overall was hitting ten percent better than the league average.¬†Sheridan says that with Howard gone, the Phillies may end up selling off some of the other standbys like Chase Utley, effectively ending arguably the greatest era of Phillies baseball.

The truth is, unfortunately, that it wasn’t Howard’s latest injury — nor the torn Achilles at the end of 2011 — that signaled the end; it was a foregone conclusion when GM Ruben Amaro officially signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension in April 2010. At the time, it was a popular move. Howard had an aggregate .961 OPS with 222 career home runs between 2004-09. That, all too often, is the undoing of such grandiose deals in baseball: paying for past production, rather than anticipating future production. The Angels are paying for it already with Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton; the Red Sox were feeling the weight of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez‘s contracts before suckering the Dodgers into assuming their salaries (and the Dodgers now wish they hadn’t).

Howard’s flaws were evident even at the time. Teams had begun employing an infield shift, cutting into his hit rate on ground balls hit to the right side. Opposing managers were quick to bring in left-handed relievers to neutralize him late in games — in 2009, Howard posted an OPS 453 points higher against right-handers than against lefties. Fastballs, which Howard either pulled deep into the right field seats or sliced over the fence to the opposite field, began disappearing in favor of sliders low and away. At the time the extension was signed, Howard was 30 years old and still two years away from free agency. The extension would not officially begin until 2012 at age 32. He will be 37 in 2017 when the Phillies will likely buy out the final year of his contract for $10 million. He was, and still is, a one-dimensional player whose flaws have only barely been outweighed by his one positive attribute, his bat.

Apart from being ill-advised, the extension signaled Amaro’s flawed going-for-broke strategy. Amaro traded three prospects to the Astros in July 2010. He signed Cliff Lee as a free agent in December 2010 to a five-year, $120 million deal. He traded four prospects to the Astros, including Howard’s potential replacement at first base in Jonathan Singleton, for Hunter Pence. It didn’t work out. The Phillies were dominated in the 2010 NLCS by the pitching-rich Giants, came up short in the 2011 NLDS to the well-rounded Cardinals, and missed the playoffs entirely last season. They will likely be scheduling October golf outings in several months as well.

Everything that has happened to Howard since he signed the dotted line was eminently predictable; none of it is shocking. His Achilles injury was indeed a freak injury, but also something that should have been considered in Amaro’s risk-reward calculus prior to offering the deal. Players in their mid-30’s are less durable than players in their 30’s, particularly first basemen with poor running skills. Howard’s recent knee injury is indeed unfortunate, but he was never going to span the length of his five-year extension avoiding the consequences of the wear-and-tear of a 162-game season.

Howard’s $25 million on the books was felt in a big way during the past off-season. When the Phillies could have been pursuing a big-name free agent or two to make one more legitimate push for the playoffs like Amaro wanted, they had to settle for signing an old, injured reliever in Mike Adams, trading for an unproductive third baseman in the waning years of his career in Michael Young, and trading for an effective coin in the wishing well in Ben Revere. None are the moves a team thinking itself a championship contender would make if not hamstrung financially.

If the Phillies wind up as sellers in the next few weeks, it will ultimately be for the better. Consider it the post-hangover clean up effort in your apartment after a weekend bender. The only difference is the Phillies still have to care for the elephant in the bedroom.

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229 comments

  1. phil

    July 10, 2013 12:09 PM

    WAR is a misleading stat. You can’t measure the effect of a player through a mathematical equation. Howard’s production is by far weighted higher that any sabermetric stat. Howard hits 3 run bombs to win games. Not only does he drive in a ton of runs, he drives in clutch runs, because he still leads the league in go ahead rbi since 2006! So War that…

  2. Larry

    July 10, 2013 12:38 PM

    @Phillie 697,

    Sometimes you are just going to have to admit you are wrong. I know this is difficult for a lot of people to do. You are very passionate with your convictions and your opinions on certain things are right on the money. I am here to tell you that you are wrong and you just have to accept that.

    1st off just to prove an easy point to you and a few others, I asked Eric Logenhagen point blank, who was a better defender and of course he said JRoll.

    2nd off 697, WAR is not a stand alone stat, it should only be used as a supporting stat a long with a bunch of other stats. You or anybody else saying Utley earned or outperformed his contract in 2010,2011,and 2012 is just not right. The real answer is he didn’t. Plain and simple. Now a lot of things you point out about Utley are absolutely 100% correct, but on these 2 instances you are not correct. The whole point of the article was to show Howard being a bad contract. Now if people want to say that, fine. However, if you agree with that, then you have to agree Utley hasn’t lived up to his contract. Blame it on injuries or whatever you want, but his over all production and lack of playing time didn’t come close to fulfilling his contract in those years. This year if he keeps healthy he definitely has a shot.

  3. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 12:53 PM

    @Larry,

    Contracts are judged by their entire lengths, not by individual years within them. You can’t just “unsign” Utley in 2010 after signing him to that contract in 2007. You do your calculations of risk at the time you sign him, and you live with your calculations for the entire duration. That contract has worked out like gangbusters.

    Howard’s contract? Not so much. Me and others blasted it when it was signed, and predicted that it would be the downfall of this team. And it has. Judging by Howard’s performance so far, that contract is a colossal failure, just as we predicted. Now, there is three more years left, so yes, you can keep claiming that Howard may still yet prove worthy of that contract. You and phil will be the only ones who feel that way.

  4. Larry

    July 10, 2013 01:17 PM

    @ Phillie 697,

    This came from Scott,

    “Chase Utley has been worth his contract every year. Even this year.”

    And this came from you

    “That contract has worked out like gangbusters.”

    Those statements only hold true if his contract was from 2007-2009 but its not. We’re not just talking about 1 or even 2 unproductive seasons. So far the 1st half of his contract was right on or even exceeded, but 3 years in a row it was very unproductive. You saw my stats report for those years. Now granted he wasn’t on the field half the time to get production needed to have a value of the 15 million+ he started making in 2010. I hope this makes sense to you and to not try and calculate WAR for 2010-2012, because it doesn’t work as a stand alone stat for those 3 years.

    WAR can be used as a stand alone stat in 2007-2009, because he had the qualifying playing time to make that statement true.

  5. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 01:23 PM

    2007-2009 count too, since they are part of the contract. Explain to me which part of Howard’s contract hast been remotely worth it. You are cherry-picking what you like and trying to convince people it makes sense. It doesn’t.

  6. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 01:24 PM

    And again, I don’t understand how, even assuming Utley’s contract was bad (it’s not), why that preclude making Howard’s contract bad as well. I have really no idea what kind of debating technique you and phil are employing other than just simple blind misdirection.

  7. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 01:27 PM

    It’s the “Mommy, Johnny picked on Mary/Oh yeah well you did too” defense, as if someone else being guilty as well somehow absolve you of the same guilt. Tactics employed by 5 year olds.

  8. Larry

    July 10, 2013 02:13 PM

    @ 697,

    I want you to go back and read my post, because I absolutely talked about 2007-2009. I even went into detail about it.

    I think your missing the whole point. Phil and I aren’t telling you that Howard is outperforming Utley contract wise. Utley has more years of his contract in than Howards and for the sake of arguing if you want to say Utley’s contact is working out better right now than Howards, I would agree with you.

    The whole point 697 is that if you believe Howards contract is bad then you can’t say Utley’s is great. You can’t have it both ways. I know you want to, because Chase is one of your favorite players, but you can’t. You can’t use sabermetrics to view Utley’s contract, because there is a huge flaw, because of so much playing time missed.

    I’ll give you an example:

    Utley was given that contract knowing that if he was healthy he would hit 30 or more homers in a season. They take into account injuries, so they assume he will average 25 a year. Now I’m just throwing out probable numbers that they expected. It may not be exact, but I’m sure it’s close enough to what many would agree with.

    So for the 1st 6 years he was supposed to accumulate 150 homers. After 6 years he accumulated 124 homers. Now you can do these examples with many more stats, runs scored, RBIS, doubles, etc.

    Now if I ask you to mow my lawn for me and afterwards I would pay you 100 dollars. After 82% to 83% of mowing my lawn you get tired and stop. Then you come to my door and ask for your 100 bucks, do you think you fulfilled your contract??? Of course not, I might give you 82 bucks and call it even. Damn you Phillie697, now I have to go back outside and finish the job. I’m never using you again.

  9. phil

    July 10, 2013 03:18 PM

    UTLEY was a great player in his prime. However since 2010 his numbers just plummet the second half of his playing time. Just go back to his numbers in August and September of 2011…they were brutal. Though he rebounded last year some, he still can not take the wear and tear of a full season. Even this year if you look at his stats since May 1st they are not good.

    Howard will never produce like he did from 2006-2009 but he will still be in the top of the league in production. If a healthy Howard can give you 35 homeruns and 120 rbi for the next 3 seasons than his contract is worth it. Your paying for consistency and that is all Howard has done his entire career.

  10. phil

    July 10, 2013 03:37 PM

    Remember in 2010 Howard got hurt and still had 31 and 108. In 2011 they rested Howard during his hottest month of September and still posted 33 and 116. He missed out on at least 30 to 35 abs because the Phillies had the division rapped up so early. He was dealing with his sore achilles. Last season he hit 14 bombs with 56 rbi in 71 games and alot of those rbi’s were huge hits that gave the Phillies the lead.

    I can not predict if he will be healthy, but if he is he will produce with the best of them.

  11. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 05:33 PM

    @Larry,

    It’s quite simple. Say you signed a contract where you give this guy $17M, and he’s going to invest it in the next 7 years and give you whatever the return he gets on those $17M back in those 7 years. Let say he was SO awesome that the first 3 years, he earned you $23.5M. Do the math. Do you really give a rat’s ass how much he earns you the next 4? No matter what happens in the next 4, would you ever call that a bad contract?

    I can’t believe I have to explain it in such explicit terms in order for you to understand. I didn’t pick 17 and 23.5 out of my ass either; 17 is the WAR we paid for with $85M, and 23.5 WAR was what Utley produced in 2007-2009. That contract was a STEAL.

  12. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 05:36 PM

    In other words, valuewise, Utley is essentially playing for us for free. Who gives a rat’s ass he’s hurt 60 games a year? Free is free.

  13. phil

    July 10, 2013 06:39 PM

    Phillies697…”Who gives a rat’s ass that Utley is hurt for 60 games a year?” …That is the dumbest statement i ever heard.

  14. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 06:47 PM

    @phil,

    Yep, it was a dumb statement, made for effect, because this entire debate is dumb. You guys are all over the place. First you tell me if Ryan Howard is healthy, then his contract is awesome. Then you tell me Utley’s contract is bad because he gets hurt. Then you ignore the fact that Utley has already produced more than enough value to make his contract worthwhile 4 years ago, whereas so far, we’ve had to pay EXTRA for Ryan Howard’s performance in addition the $12M we are already paying him.

    If Ryan Howard’s extension was signed in 2005, and paid for his 2006-2009 season in addition to his crappy years, not a soul here would argue that would be a bad contract. This was NEVER about Ryan Howard vs. Chase Utley. This was always about the contracts. You guys MADE it about the players for reasons passing my understanding.

  15. Phillie697

    July 10, 2013 06:47 PM

    $125M, not $12M.

  16. Larry

    July 10, 2013 07:29 PM

    @ Phillie697,
    You don’ get it do you? It’s as easy as Rollins defense over Utleys. You are so fixated on WAR and fangraphs. Let’s say Utley had a monster 23.5 WAR his 1st year. For the next 6 years he bats 150 avg, 2 homers a year, 20 RBIS a season, OPS was 500. You would actually tell everyone that Utley’s contract was worth it??? That’s what WAR has taught you?? It’s a shame 697.

    If a team won its first 3 games 10-0 each game. The next 4 games they lost 4-2 each game. Now the teams record is 3-4. You wouldn’t say since our team was so awesome the 1st 3 games the 4 losses don’t matter.

    If the Phillies lose a series to the Marlins but had a better WAR that series than the Marlins, would that make you happy???

    In Ryan Howard’s MVP year in 2006 he had a 5.2 WAR, Chase Utley had a 7.3 WAR. I want you to call up ESPN, any radio station, talk to any GM, Manager, Owner, Jim Salisbury, Mike Schmidt, hell….. go back in time and talk to the great Richie Ashburn and tell them all that Chase Utley deserved the MVP over Ryan Howard. Do you know how much you would get laughed at???? I’m being serious 697. Stop basing values simply on WAR.

  17. phil

    July 10, 2013 09:01 PM

    Utley has 0 rbi in his last 10 games. So far in the 9 games in July he is batting 229 with no rbi’s. I think chase could use a day off. Hopefully after the allstar break Utley goes on a mini tear and then we can trade him and get something in return. Utley always plays better after a period of rest.

  18. hk

    July 11, 2013 08:57 AM

    Yes, Phillie697, call up Anthony Gargano, Glenn Macnow or Mike Missanelli (or just about any other talk show host) and ask whether Howard’s 2006 season was better than Utley’s. While you are at it, ask all of them whether they thought Howard’s contract was a good deal at the time it was signed. I guarantee that the answers from all of them to both questions will be yes. I’m not sure what it will tell us, but do it any way.

  19. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 12:26 PM

    @Larry,

    If any given player has such impossible to be more impossible season where he produces 23.5 WAR in one season and then nothing the rest? Yes, that’s a good contract. You wanna know why? Because that one season, we would have won the WS. Ask ANY team if they wouldn’t sign that contract if they know it GUARANTEES them one WS.

  20. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 12:29 PM

    And I’m pretty sure Mike Schmidt knows Chase Utley has had a better career than Ryan Howard. And I already know what most other GMs, managers, and owners think, since most of them talk about whether Chase Utley should be in the HoF, whereas not a single one of them mentions Ryan Howard in any HoF discussions.

  21. Larry

    July 11, 2013 12:50 PM

    1st off we are talking about the 2006 year between Utley and Howard. Please keep that in mind. 1 player having a monster year doesn’t guarantee you a world series win. How did that work out for the Detroit Tigers last year? How long since we have seen a triple crown before Cabrera??

    For the record the great year of Howard and Utley combined didn’t guarantee a world series win in 2006 either. They never even made it to the WS that year.

  22. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 01:00 PM

    Also, when did MVP awards become the definitive answer on who has had a better season that year? Plenty of awesome players don’t get MVP awards because their teams don’t make the playoffs. You wanna now tell me their seasons weren’t as good? That is what’s wrong with MVP awards.

  23. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 01:01 PM

    Did Cabrera have 23.5 WAR last year? No. Do you even know what you have to do to get 23.5 WAR? You have to hit something like 150 HRs. If a team has someone who hits 150 HRs a season, you don’t think they win the WS?

  24. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 01:02 PM

    Although I certainly can understand why you picked MVP awards as your “proof.” You also think RBI matters.

  25. Larry

    July 11, 2013 01:24 PM

    “Also, when did MVP awards become the definitive answer on who has had a better season that year? Plenty of awesome players don’t get MVP awards because their teams don’t make the playoffs. You wanna now tell me their seasons weren’t as good? That is what’s wrong with MVP awards.”

    The Phillies didn’t make the playoffs that year, but since Ryan Howard’s season was so good in 2006 he beat out Albert Pujols for the award. Pujols was in the playoffs that year.

    “Did Cabrera have 23.5 WAR last year? No. Do you even know what you have to do to get 23.5 WAR? You have to hit something like 150 HRs. If a team has someone who hits 150 HRs a season, you don’t think they win the WS?”

    You can get knocked out of 1st round of playoffs, then what????

    Even the Phillies with best record with over 100 wins can get knocked out of the playoffs quickly right??? Do you remember???

    73 home runs from Bonds only got the giants 90 wins in 2001

  26. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 01:32 PM

    Barry Bonds’ 73-HR season was, by fWAR, only 12.5 WAR. I don’t think you understand what 23.5 WAR from one player in one season really means.

  27. Phillie697

    July 11, 2013 01:39 PM

    Let’s put it another way, 1 WAR is about 10 runs produced over a replacement player. 23.5 WAR is 235 runs produced. At the 75-game mark of 2013, Marlins had a run-scored of 235 runs, and had won 25 games, i.e. this mythical player you speak of would have been entirely responsible for winning 25 games if you put him on the Marlins. The MARLINS with their shitty pitching staff and by all accounts also crappy defense. Again, I don’t think you know what 23.5 WAR means.

  28. Larry

    July 12, 2013 10:30 AM

    Oh my God are you still on the “WAR” path??? Go back and look at Ted Williams 1948 year. How bout you look at Babe Ruth’s 1929 and 1932 years. Their WAR values were less than Chase’s 2008 season, so you actually think Chase had a better year than them??? Ruth had a 201 OPS+ in 1932 lmao. Stop living in a fantasy world, come join reality.

  29. Matthew

    July 13, 2013 09:30 PM

    Frustrated

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