On Ryan Howard and Lefties
Over at The Good Phight, John Stolnis wrote an interesting article about Ryan Howard‘s early success against left-handed pitchers, specifically in the walks department. Howard’s struggles against southpaws are well-documented, particularly here, so it’s been a welcome sight to see him laying off the low-and-away slop over the first 15 games of the season. Stolnis recaps Howard’s pinch-hit appearance against Braves starter Alex Wood, a lefty, in which the first baseman worked the count and eventually drew a walk, setting up Ben Revere‘s go-ahead RBI single to drive in Domonic Brown from second base.
It’s true: in the small sample of 62 plate appearances Howard is walking at a markedly higher rate (16%) than he had been dating back to 2008, including between seven and nine percent over the last two seasons. His 2014 walk rate is nearly as high against lefties (15%) as against right-handers (17%). The obvious question must be asked: is it sustainable?
First things first: a hitter’s walk rate stabilizes quickly, at around 120 plate appearances per Russell Carleton’s research for Baseball Prospectus. Howard is halfway there. (Whoa-oh, livin’ on a prayer! Sorry.)
Looking at his specific plate discipline stats against left-handed pitchers, it doesn’t appear that much else has changed:
He’s swinging at roughly the same rate and going out of the strike zone to do so, but missing more often and putting fewer balls in play.
So why the high walk rate? Lefties have been going too far out of the strike zone against him.
Lefties were in the strike zone 45 percent of the time against Howard in 2011, 42.5 percent in 2012, and 48 percent last season. In 2014, that rate is way down at 30 percent. Kudos to Howard for laying off of those pitches. Clearly, the scouting reports indicated that Howard was willing to chase away and he has not been victimized by this approach. Eventually, however, the opposition will adjust and those low-and-away fastballs and sliders will be closer to the outer edge of the strike zone, and Howard will still have to prove that he can do something with those. On pitches on the outer half of the strike zone last season, Howard posted a .199 weighted on-base average and a .100 isolated power.