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.