Just How Bad Is Ryan Howard?

Lately, we have been getting feedback that we have been too lenient on Ryan Howard‘s performance over the last few years. We give him a pass far too often, they say. Sometimes, they just want to stop by the blog and see the guy torn to pieces.

Your feedback has been taken into consideration. I present to you, Just How Bad Is Ryan Howard?

Howard has a .298 wOBA. It is by far a career-low, and ranks 130th out of 160 qualified hitters. 25th out of 26 qualified first basemen.

Howard has a .161 ISO. He has shown similar power as Scooter Gennett, Brandon Crawford, Trevor Plouffe, and Luis Valbuena. He slightly ranks ahead of Coco Crisp, Christian Yelich, Matt Joyce, and Desmond Jennings.

Howard has a .381 slugging percentage. Teammate and noted power hitter Ben Revere is very slightly behind at .354. If Revere had gone into the break with only four more doubles, he would have nearly equaled Howard’s SLG.

Since June 20, Howard has hit one home run and posted a .156/.248/.211 slash line over 101 plate appearances. According to the Baseball Musings Day by Day Database, the only player to perform worse (by OPS, min. 75 plate appearances) in that span of time is 2014 Home Run Derby winner Yoenis Cespedes.

Howard is tied with teammate Cliff Lee as the second-highest paid player in baseball at $25 million. Dodgers starter Zack Greinke is earning $26 million. Howard is one strikeout behind B.J. Upton for the most strikeouts in the majors (116). At his current rate, he is on pace for 196 strikeouts, which would be the third-highest total of his career.

53.4 percent of the pitches Howard has seen this season are fastballs. The last time he saw fastballs at that rate was 2005, his Rookie of the Year season when pitchers were mostly unfamiliar with him. Pitchers now know he lacks the strength and bat speed to punish their fastballs. Howard has posted a .352 wOBA against fastballs, eight points below the major league average.

Howard has 56 RBI, they say, so how can he really be this bad? Howard has come to the plate with 285 runners on base total, the third-highest mark in baseball behind Albert Pujols and Casey McGehee. Howard’s rate of bringing other runners home (56 RBI minus 15 home runs) of 41/285, or 14.4 percent, ranks 113th out of 247 hitters (min. 200 PA), per Baseball Prospectus. If you still happen to be one of the few who regards RBI as a useful stat, that should be a cue to toss it in the trash.

Last but not least: After the 2014 season, the Phillies will still owe Howard $60 million through 2016, including his $10 million buyout clause for 2017. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Howard shouldn’t be faulted for being so expensive. The blame for that contract lies with GM Ruben Amaro.

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32 comments

  1. William Tasker

    July 15, 2014 04:54 PM

    You know how you want to know how bad the news is and then you find out and wish you hadn’t asked? This is one of those cases. Because the news is really bad…and sad.

  2. DP

    July 15, 2014 05:01 PM

    “…After the 2014 season, the Phillies will still owe Howard $60 million through 2016, including his $10 million buyout clause for 2017…”

    The stats are ugly enough but every time I read this fact I throw up a little in my mouth and it’s not even my money. Imagine how ownership feels cutting (direct depositing) that check. On a separate note, what’s the company line going to be in 2015 and 2016? The past couple off seasons they kept selling that Howard was “finally” healthy etc. There’s no way even the most optimistic fans can swallow that anymore. Not that it matters though because it’s not like there are many alternatives. They aren’t going to cut him, they don’t have anyone behind him and it doesn’t seem like they’re willing to platoon him (even if they had a viable platoon candidate).

  3. Derek

    July 15, 2014 05:28 PM

    At least we still have 2008…..

  4. Joey

    July 15, 2014 06:55 PM

    How is RBI a useless stat? And if it is, what’s more meaningful? No snark here; I’m looking to be educated.

    • Bill Baer

      July 15, 2014 07:12 PM

      It’s a stat that is heavily influenced by one’s teammates and tells you very little about the hitter’s actual skill. Here’s the list of players who have come to the plate with the most runners on base: www.baseballprospectus.com/sortable/index.php?cid=1677428

      If you examine a hitter’s RBI total, and his Runners On Base total (ROB on that page), you’ll notice a very high level of correlation. If you examine their OBI% (others batted in percentage) and their overall performance (let’s say, wOBA or OPS), you’ll also notice a high level of correlation as well. What you won’t see a lot of correlation with is with their RBI total and their overall performance.

      If that’s too convoluted for you, let me know and I’ll try to explain it another way.

      The relationship between “RBI guys” and the hitters in front of them is very similar to the relationship between players who score a lot of runs and the skill of the hitters who bat behind them.

      • Andy

        July 17, 2014 08:53 PM

        Bill, Is there a way to calculate how many more runs the Phillies would have scored (and perhaps how many more wins) if they were using a league-average first baseman in Howard’s spot?

      • Bill Baer

        July 17, 2014 09:02 PM

        Andy,

        Yeah, we can convert wOBA to runs.

        Formula: ((wOBA-League wOBA)/wOBA Scale)*PA

        (wOBA scale found here: www.fangraphs.com/guts.aspx?type=cn)

        Plug in the numbers: ((.298-.317)/1.291)*397 = -5.8

        Howard has been about six runs below the league average for first basemen, or three-fifths of one win above replacement level.

  5. MMM

    July 15, 2014 08:50 PM

    Strangely what stands out is that the top 3 in the lineup still manage to get on base that many times in front of Howard. Third most? I guess it is partly due to the fact that Howard is always in the lineup batting 4th. But still…

  6. Dante

    July 15, 2014 10:31 PM

    That second to last paragraph is just perfect.

    • Rob

      July 16, 2014 01:42 PM

      Agreed, I immediately passed that on to a couple of friends who still argue that RBI’s are important.

  7. Pete

    July 16, 2014 12:48 AM

    When all is said and done, it will be interesting to see where the Howard contract ranks among the worst player contracts of all time, in all sports. It’ll be tough to beat some of those pre-salary cap NBA contracts, but Howard’s contract could do it based on his current performance and how bad he will be in another two years. That’s the really difficult part to imagine. How bad will he be in two years?

    • bak425

      July 16, 2014 07:43 AM

      Yes, and when Howard was offered (and signed) that 5 year contract extension, many of us couldn’t believe that the Phillies were that stupid. Predictably, the return on investment has been very poor, and will almost certainly continue to decline.

  8. WayneKerrins

    July 16, 2014 03:30 AM

    Bill have his homers/hard hit balls been mostly on off speed stuff or is it more a case of the ball hitting a hopefully swung bat?

    • Bill Baer

      July 16, 2014 07:09 AM

      Howard vs. fastballs: .352 wOBA, .221 ISO
      – MLB average vs. fastballs: .360 wOBA, .170 ISO
      Howard vs. “soft” stuff: .225 wOBA, .109 ISO
      – MLB average vs. “soft” stuff: .288 wOBA, .137 ISO

  9. tom b

    July 16, 2014 09:06 AM

    wondering,when rube came out with his too little,too late speech slamming HIS team,did he not say that guys that didn’t hit would sit the bench? if so why is howard still playing. i realize there isn’t much to choose from to replace him with, but if you puff your chest out and blow you oughta stick to your guns

    • Bob

      July 16, 2014 10:06 AM

      I couldn’t believe that speech by RAJ. He said that the players aren’t performing up to what management thought and insinuated that it was the players’ fault. Isn’t it more logical that the problem lies in management for failing to accurately predict the players decline in the face of analytical data showing that the players’ production would decrease? That’s management’s job to assess and evaluate what future production will be. It was such a cheap shot – but unsurprising – for RAJ to divest himself from blame. I’d love to see what models they were using when they projected all these players having productive years.

      • MattWinks

        July 16, 2014 10:46 AM

        I am pretty sure Amaro was looking at Domonic Brown on the not performing at expectations comment. To this point the old guys have held their own. Howard is a sunk cost, he has been worse than they thought, but it wasn’t like he was going anywhere

      • Bob

        July 16, 2014 04:28 PM

        That’s a fair point about the old guys holding their own as whole. Chooch, Utley and Rollins have been good overall, but they all had a dreadful June. Hopefully, it was just the result of the ebbs and flows of the baseball season and not them wearing down. Jimmy and Chase both have rebounded nicely in the early part of July and Chooch was injured, so let’s hope the AS break gives them added time to recover and rest. Byrd has been pretty good all year. Howard has been bad., so it’s hard to know whether RAJ was referring to him.

        Management has also failed on its projections of its young or youngish talent. I’m interested in seeing what the Phillies thought these players would do whether young or old and what they based their decision on.

    • Bob

      July 16, 2014 10:06 AM

      I couldn’t believe that speech by RAJ. He said that the players aren’t performing up to what management thought and insinuated that it was the players’ fault. Isn’t it more logical that the problem lies in management for failing to accurately predict the players decline in the face of analytical data showing that the players’ production would decrease? That’s management’s job to assess and evaluate what future production will be. It was such a cheap shot – but unsurprising – for RAJ to divest himself from blame. I’d love to see what models they were using when they projected all these players having productive years.

  10. Matt

    July 16, 2014 09:22 AM

    He really does look like he’s swinging under water half of the time.

  11. Major Malfunction

    July 16, 2014 01:07 PM

    Great article and stats…as always!!

    And it all goes back to the unnamed scouts comment in spring training regarding Howard…..”A lot of at-bats, it looks like he’s swinging in case he hits it”. I think that sums it up.

    Look on the bright side, even Vernon Wells got traded….twice!! There just might be hope to unload that albatross contract of his.

  12. CK

    July 16, 2014 01:34 PM

    As many have pointed out, his contract is a sunk cost. They should just use him as a pinch hitter against righties. For the time being, Darin Ruf should be the everyday 1B. We need to see if he is an MLB regular.

  13. Chuckieb

    July 16, 2014 03:13 PM

    You did not mention how woefully inept he is on defense. Aside from letting balls go through his legs he has this weird throwing motion which is prone to misfiring. I used to dread grounders to first with a runner on first, because it meant Howard had to try and hit Rollins or Utley at second; the results often were ugly, although his throwing seems to have improved the last year or two.

    • Fred

      July 16, 2014 03:16 PM

      This is a great point. We have not even begun to discuss what liability he is on the basepaths and with the glove. No matter what anyone says, he was never the same after HR derby at Three Rivers Stadium.

  14. Greg

    July 16, 2014 04:00 PM

    Man, I knew a lot of this stuff, but I didn’t realize he was the second highest paid player in the league. That is depressing as shit.

  15. RicoBrogna

    July 16, 2014 06:34 PM

    There’s no where to go but up? He’s not going to produce like in the past or up to his pay scale, but an .800ish OPS is realistic from this point forward. The lowering of the hands did seem to make him quicker to the ball, but he needs to get acclimated to his new timing & stop causing a 2-piece swing as the by-product of the extra time. .250/.340/.450 is doable for the 2nd half.

      • hk

        July 17, 2014 06:56 AM

        That depends on how you define “kind of”. To me, there’s a pretty big difference between a .729 OPS and a .790 OPS, especially when we are talking about a poor fielding, poor base-running, likely to continue declining 1B. If all that Howard is going to produce is the ZIPS projection or even the Steamer projection, I would sooner see him replaced because he’ll probably be below replacement level. If he could produce offensively at the Rico projection of .790, I would be okay with him remaining in the lineup (especially vs. RHP’s) as he would seem to be better than any of the team’s alternatives. Unfortunately, I think he will end up closer to ZIPS than Rico.

  16. Pencilfish

    July 17, 2014 12:05 AM

    Bill,

    Being 113 out of 247 isn’t bad. It’s average. If your argument is simply that the Phillies are paying too much for average production, that’s a good argument. I noted that Utley is only ranked 100 and Byrd is 133 out of 247. Neither of them are much above or below average, so one has to ask if we are paying them too much for average production. Brown is the highest rate Phillies at 29, so he has been clutch with men on base, but how does one reconcile this ranking with his poor offensive performance in 2014? It seems that this ranking does not correlate well with other stats such as OBP.

    • Bill Baer

      July 17, 2014 12:47 AM

      Any stat about production with runners on base in general is pretty meaningless. The whole bit was a riff on RBI’s, since people look at Howard’s RBI total and think he isn’t doing so bad.

  17. Richard

    July 19, 2014 02:51 PM

    “The blame for that contract lies with GM Ruben Amaro.”

    Honestly, this is doubtful. Ownership seems primarily to blame for that one.

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