2016 Phillies Report Card: Ryan Howard
On November 3rd, the Phillies declined to pick up Ryan Howard’s $23 million option for 2017, officially ending the once-vaunted slugger’s equally storied and beleaguered tenure in Philadelphia. His departure will surprise you if you spent the last five years in a sensory deprivation tank.
This moment was long in the making. We don’t need to rehash the disastrous 5-year, $125 million contract, the subsequent spate of injuries, the stone-handed defense, or the dispiriting swing-through strikeouts that seemed to happen more often than not as time wore on.
There is something symbolically fitting about the fact that Howard is the last of our Champions to depart. After all, he was the Big Piece, the hulking midsection of a lineup that propelled the Phillies to a World Series victory in 2008. Howard remains at the center of our most treasured memories, his massive stance, gargantuan swing, and towering round-trippers engraved in our shared history. At his peak—between 2005 and 2011—Howard was as fearsome and exciting a hitter as there was in the game.
But we’re not grading him on the recent disappointment or the cherished misty water-colored memories of days now long past. It’s all about 2016, a year in which he shared the team lead in homers with 25, and in which he notched a batting average so low I’m embarrassed to report it….it was .196. That’s a gross number, even grosser when you consider that it cost the Phillies $25 million. That’s right. The Phils paid $1 million dollars apiece for each of Ryan Howard’s home runs this year, and investment which amounts to an unseemly -1.0 WAR. The $10 million buyout just to send him packing is the smartest money the Phillies have spent on Howard in half a decade.
At the age of 36, Howard set career lows in average, OBP (.257) and OPS+ (87). It was also the first time in his 12 Major League seasons—all with the Phillies—that Howard played in over 100 games (112) but failed to surpass 500 plate appearances (362). This was the year that Howard was ultimately demoted to platoon status. And as emergent 1B Tommy Joseph, at the age of 24, largely outhit Howard, it was eminently clear it was time to move on.
In his departure, we salute Ryan Howard for a resume that includes 2005 NL Rookie of the Year honors, a 2006 NL MVP award, a 2009 NLCS MVP award, three trips to the All-Star game, and the second spot on Philadelphia’s all-time home run list with 382. (I shouldn’t have to tell you who’s first.)
Howard hopes to stave off retirement for just a little bit longer through free agency, and seems a good fit for an American League team willing to take a flyer on a power DH with a few dingers (and a ton of whiffs) left in his bat. We truly wish him the best and look forward to a day when, with enough distance from his dismal contract, we remember Ryan Howard only for the good times, even if 2016 wasn’t among them.