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.

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6 comments

  1. TomG

    April 25, 2014 04:06 PM

    I’ll walk to Pittsburgh*

    Well, you also didn’t say where this hypothetical non-walk would start.
    So you could have footnoted it thus:

    *Starting from somewhere else in Pittsburgh.

    Because that would be doable and would technically fulfill your promise.

    But I don’t blame you for trying to weasel out of your commitment. After all, weaseling out of things is what separates us from the animals*.

    *Except the weasel. (With apologies to Homer Simpson.)

  2. Tom

    April 25, 2014 04:31 PM

    I’d love to see him continue to do well. It certainly was open season on him and the phillies coming into the season. It’s kind of the situation where I feel like as Phillies fans we can make fun of him…but I can’t stand reading the national guys take shots.

  3. Beez Nutz

    April 25, 2014 04:33 PM

    Actually the Phillies on a whole have been crushing lefties

    vs Lefties (MLB Ranks)
    BA – 1st
    OBP – 1st
    OPS – 2nd
    Runs – 4th

    As you noted in your article a small sample size (only 222 AB out of 763), but still good to see.

  4. mark66

    April 26, 2014 11:51 AM

    And what did Howard say after the loss to Colorado–we did not take advantage of our chances–this is an excuse when it happens on a regular basis. This is the problem with the Phils–to many excuses. Bring in better players that take advantage of opportunities and not make excuses. But you can’t do this unless you make changes in the front office. Oh well !!

    • Mike Lacy

      April 27, 2014 08:13 PM

      How is that an excuse? An excuse would be “It was too cold in Colorado, and that’s why we didn’t hit.” That quote sounds like a player admitting they didn’t get the job done.

  5. Maya

    April 28, 2014 02:07 PM

    Ryan Howard is awesome and so good to see his stats doing better.
    The league managers won’t be so confident now!!!
    Go Ryan
    PS Throw away the book guys, Howard’s back and not going away!

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