Fun With Small Sample Sizes: Ryan Howard is Crushing Southpaws’ Sliders
A pamphlet titled How To Pitch To Ryan Howard sits in every dugout in Major League Baseball published and bound in a sexy, leather cover, or at least I assume that’s the case. The text is simple, concise and goes something like this: To retire Ryan Howard, bring in a left-handed pitcher who can pound him down and away with sliders. It probably even has nifty illustrations that look like this. To date, no team has gone looking for a refund on their copy of this book because the strategy has worked like an absolute charm.
From 2009-2013, sliders from left-handed pitchers have turned Ryan Howard into Michael Martinez with a smidge more pop.
- ’09-’13 Howard vs. LHP’s sliders: .189/.245/.333
- Michael Martinez career: .187/.234/.261
The book on Ryan Howard is fact. It is The Truth and for this reason, my current favorite baseball statistic is this:
In 2014 against sliders from left-handed pitchers, Ryan Howard is batting .273/.333/.818 with 2 HRs.
You read that right, so far this season, the pitch that is supposed to be his kryptonite has made Ryan Howard look like an MVP candidate. Sure, we’re talking about a laughably small sample size (he’s only had 12 plate appearances against lefties featuring a slider as the decisive pitch), but facts are facts and this fact is too much fun not to share. If we waited until the end of the year to look at statistics, we’d have much more meaningful descriptions of the true talents and abilities of players, but we’d miss out on so many of the beautiful statistical oddities baseball provides and who wants that?
Nearly the entirety of Howard’s slider production has come by way of two hanging sliders that he crushed to center field for 415+ ft. home runs, one courtesy of Paul Maholm and the other thanks to Robbie Ross. With those two blasts, Howard has already matched his highest totals for home runs in a season vs. lefty sliders since at least 2009. Given that it’s not even May yet, that fact alone puts him in a good position to improve his slugging stats against the pitch, at the very least.
As much fun as it would be to watch Howard suddenly adjust to a pitching strategy that has baffled him for years, he’ll need to do more than pummel two mistake pitches to demonstrate that adjustment. I’ll walk to Pittsburgh* if there isn’t significant regression in his stat line against southpaws’ sliders as the season goes on.
Am I betting on bench coaches across the league tossing the How To Pitch Ryan Howard book in the incinerator any time soon? Nope. Am I going to cite Howard’s currently insane line vs. LHP’s sliders as often as possible while I still can? You bet I will.
*Disclaimer: I won’t actually walk to Pittsburgh.