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.

Grade: D+

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  1. Jerry Spradlin

    November 14, 2016 05:13 PM

    Almost wish Howard could get no grade, given his contribution over the years but if you do a D+ for 2016 is, and it hurts me to say it, a little charitable. Ryan couldn’t run, can’t field, and was terrible against lefties (.121 BA). It was tough to watch.

    I wish him well and look forward to his wall of fame induction but yes, it’s time to move on.

  2. Joe kelly

    November 15, 2016 10:55 AM

    Time to move on !

  3. Shane

    November 17, 2016 01:46 PM

    There is a very slim chance that Howard could be picked up this off-season.

    There are AL teams that are fairly weak in the DH department. I think there is one team that may think about picking him up. It would have to be a southern team with a not-so-great DH that bats from the right. Why southern? Well, Ryan always hit best in the warmer months. Move him south where it is warmer earlier can only help him. The other part is that team would have to Platoon at DH, otherwise Howard is not viable. We’re talking MLB minimum or even MiLB + camp invite.

    Rays – DH options are not good and all right hitting. Any further south and you are in the Mexican League or Cuba. A DH Platoon would be an improvement over what they had last year and they could do it on the cheap.

    Other teams have in-house options to shore-up a weak DH and do not gain anything by signing Howard.

    • JSC

      November 18, 2016 06:33 PM

      The warmer weather aspect of his career has been quite visible, but I have sometimes wondered if at least part of the reason for his improved second half performance might simply be that with his long swing it took him several months to get the timing more consistent on that swing.

      • Shane

        November 19, 2016 10:35 AM

        very possible

  4. phil k

    November 17, 2016 08:27 PM

    Thank you for this piece of even handed writing about Ryan Howard. Any Phillie fan anywhere exults in the greatness that was Ryan Howard and no matter how much we were disappointed in his dismally speckled later years there is something about the jeers and booing, although probably deserved, that for some reason I could not bring myself to do. Even when I would wince at a whiffing in a clutch situation the status he earned in my psyche from his great years and at bats was enough to carry me forward with hope that he would ding it deep his next plate appearance. Maybe I am naive or it might have had to do with the fact that the team was going no where these last years but Ryan Howard was then and up until he tipped his cap the last time my favorite Phillie. However, his diminished skills do not have me aching for one more Ryan year and the excitement of 2017 season is heightened because he has hung up his Philadelphia spikes. Thanks for the great memories big guy!

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