Ryan Howard Isn’t Providing Many Fireworks

Billy Hamilton. Jose Reyes. Alcides Escobar. Dee Gordon. Erick Aybar. These are a few of the names that have slugging percentages similar to or better than first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard hasn’t homered since June 19, two weeks ago.

At .401, Howard is one more poor game away from watching his slugging percentage dip below .400. Excluding the early April small sample, Howard’s season low for slugging percentage occurred on May 25, when it fell to .397. If the season were to end today, his slugging percentage would easily qualify as the worst of his career.

Slugging percentage isn’t the best stat for evaluating power, however, as it can be influenced by a high batting average. That’s really why the aforementioned speedsters are out-slugging Howard. Isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average, paints a better picture.

Howard’s ISO is currently at .166. It’s the third-best mark on the Phillies (min. 100 plate appearances) behind Marlon Byrd and John Mayberry, Jr. But the Phillies aren’t really a team that hits for much power, so it’s a bit like being one of the three people who showered at a Magic: The Gathering convention. .166 would be the worst ISO of Howard’s career by far, falling well under his previous career-low of .199 last season.

Comparing Howard to his peers at first base (min. 250 plate appearances), Howard’s ISO ranks 22nd out of 29. And for the first time in his career, Howard is hitting for a lower ISO than the National League average for first basemen:

While Howard continues to post subpar numbers against lefties, it’s really right-handed pitchers that have been a problem for him this season:

(Chart starts at 2006 instead of 2005 because splitting up his 348 plate appearances leaves a small sample.)

His .314 wOBA would, as the chart shows, be a career-worst mark against right-handed pitching. Howard posting a sub-.300 weighted on-base average against lefties was okay several years ago because he was in the high .300′s against right-handers. Drop Howard into the low .300′s against them, and suddenly he’s a replacement-level first baseman. There hasn’t been any monumental change to how pitchers are approaching Howard, and of course they’re still employing the shift against him. Howard just hasn’t had the power on a regular basis the way he used to have it, and he doesn’t have the bat speed to catch up to fastballs on a regular basis.

Howard is 34 years old and the Phillies still owe him at least $60 million more through 2016, including his $10 million buyout for 2017. In the short-term, the Phillies ought to own up to the sunk cost and platoon Mayberry with Howard at first base. He is more or less unmovable in a trade — though stranger things have happened (see: Vernon Wells) — so the Phillies have to make the best of a bad situation.

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13 comments

  1. Major Malfunction

    July 04, 2014 07:39 AM

    Just sad. $60 million worth of sad.

  2. tom b

    July 04, 2014 08:39 AM

    the sorry part is that even in his prime the bill james’ of the world were using comparables for him that said he wasn’t going to last all that long. the historically bad contract given to him set this team back for a long time

  3. Matt

    July 04, 2014 09:50 AM

    Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun. Strike out, you crazy diamond.

    .313 58HR 149RBI… in some alternate timeline 2006 was the start of a HOF career.

    • tom b

      July 04, 2014 10:33 AM

      after i posted comment i pulled out a 2007 baseball prospectus i had laying around. comments on howard were spot on. his body types had short careers. aroung age 30 the singles dry up, the fielding erodes and the injuries pile up. it stated the phillies had about a 3 year window with howard. guess phils couldnt afford the $20 for this book

      • hk

        July 04, 2014 11:49 AM

        If only RAJ read Baseball Prospectus.

  4. Bill

    July 04, 2014 02:36 PM

    I think all of this is worth it when you retweet Heyman’s tweet from 4 years ago. It never gets old.

  5. John Hagee

    July 04, 2014 02:56 PM

    100 % correct. Injury limitations, post 09 conditions, league adjustments & his inability/unwillingness to readjust, age, have made him shadow of former player. Having said all of this, still best 1st baseman in Phillips history. Ruben pulled trigger way too soon on extension.

  6. George Callanan

    July 05, 2014 09:34 AM

    I remember a press conference in spring training where Howard was confidently telling the press he could put up big numbers again. So in his mind he actually believes he can regain his glory days. His batting average at home is around .190 but much better on the road. He has a window here or there where he looks good. When they beat the Braves three in a row then the Cardinals for two for a total of five in a row he looked good. But he just can not sustain it. Unfortunately for us the fans his final bat in the NlCS against the Giants and his final bat in the Playoffs the next year against the Cardinals was the end of it for Howard, the end of it for the Phillies and soon to be the end of it for Amaro. All we have to look forward to is a new beginning. It is up to Phillies Ownership to start the new beginning as soon as possible. If they don’t the misery will be horrible. There first move is to get a new GM.

  7. tom b

    July 05, 2014 12:06 PM

    i’m surprised amaro didn’t try to beat oaklands trade offer to the cubs. he would’ve probably offered crawford,franco,nola and a player to be named later(giles by accident). who knows maybe he did try

  8. Rob

    July 05, 2014 11:33 PM

    Platooning Howard seems inevitable — over the next two years Mayberry, Ruf, and Franco should be given a look. If they don’t work out, heaven knows.

  9. GB

    July 06, 2014 06:59 AM

    I doubt platoons will be implemented. Phils management has serious money tied up in these vets (especially Howard) and want them playing every day in hopes (continued delusion) they will produce. Plus both Manuel & Sandberg like pretty set lineups with clear cut starters and clear cut bench guys…none of them seem to understand how a platoon can help which is really sad

  10. Cutter McCool

    July 06, 2014 07:07 PM

    Basically the stats in this post prove that Howard has been worse every year than the year before–this despite hopes from Phillies management that he’d improve after his ACL tear. (Delusional.)

    Sadder is Marlon Byrd is more valuable than Howard at about a third of the cost.

    Saddest of all is imagine how many valuable everyday players that $25MM could buy (sigh).

    • glovesdroppa

      July 07, 2014 12:16 AM

      Nice job with the line graphs. It’s a shame cuz he was really good for a while. I remember his streaks back then, where he’d hit 10+ HRs in a month. That achilles tear ruined him. He never had good habits as hitter, but they’re magnified now that he’s older and slower.

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