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:

Year Pitches Swing% Whiff% Chase% In Play%
2011 752 49.0% 36.0% 35.4% 31.2%
2012 421 47.5% 40.0% 38.8% 27.0%
2013 345 50.7% 40.6% 38.9% 24.6%
2014 80 48.8% 51.3% 39.3% 23.1%

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.

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  1. Mark66

    April 18, 2014 04:47 PM

    Howard’s hitting problem is that he either guesses wrong too often or he just DOES NOT see the ball well enough. Does he need glasses ? When was the last time the Phils gave him an eye test? With the amount of pitches that Howard swings at that are not in the strike zone, that is why I have lost faith in his ability to drive in runs. He certainly has had enough plate appearances. Just maybe he CAN’T judge the strike zone anymore. AND if he CAN’T get him out of there.

  2. Mark66

    April 18, 2014 05:15 PM

    My suggestion for what it is worth–Sandberg’s biggest problem–finding a dependable #2 hitter, JRoll isn’t consistent enough anymore. Too much guessing on his part.

  3. John Stolnis

    April 18, 2014 08:57 PM

    Hey Bill, really interesting follow-up. I’m glad you took the extra steps and dug out that nugget on pitchers going too FAR outside to pitch to him. I’m really curious to see how the year progresses for him. Nice piece.

    • Francisco (FC)

      April 20, 2014 09:49 AM

      No, no, Big Piece remember?

  4. eatfresh

    April 19, 2014 12:55 AM

    Maybe losing his Adidas endorsement deal open his eyes. A man can’t live on $25 mil w/o side money coming in. Every single piece of his equipment used to be covered with 3 strpes – but alas no more.

    Hopefully pitchers do take the gamble to throw further in from the black and he makes them pay. Unfortunately, it seems like Byrd has been in a funk for close to 2 weeks, now – byrd ab’s are starting to get ugly.

    • Willy

      April 19, 2014 05:22 PM

      You’re a little late on just noticing the Addida’s endorsement deal ending, which was some time prior to 2012.

      Ryan has made the adjustment, go an extent, the pitchers will make theirs so hopefully Ryan will continue to make his. I know nobody wants to give him the benefit of the doubt for injuries but he has been seriously hurt for two years. Yes, he has been regression prior to the major injuries but this year, now that he is healthy, will go a long way to determine what the real regression has been. If he’s healthy and hits something like .230, 23 HR, 80, RBI, .320 OBP, .805 OPS, then it spells real trouble. If he hits something like .260-.270, 28-35 HR, 90-110 RBI, .335-.350 OBP, .820-.860 OPS, I think that would be pretty ideal considering his age and contract stage.

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