Philadelphia Phillies fans have much to be excited about. The Phillies not only boast the best pitching rotation in baseball (in spite of lingering injuries to Joe Blanton and Roy Oswalt), but also the best record in baseball and are serious World Series contenders (especially after acquiring Hunter Pence). Unfortunately, I know some Phillies fans who get too excited about Ryan Howard. I consider Ryan Howard to be baseball’s most overrated star.
Do not take this the wrong way: I love having a hitter who can change the game with one swing of the bat like Howard; however, he is not as great as people think he is. Adam Dunn is also capable of changing the game with one swing of the bat, and look at the miserable season he is having with the Chicago White Sox!
The fact of the matter is that Ryan Howard is not a very good hitter; he merely hits when pitchers are forced to throw strikes – which happen to be quite hittable – to him.
I wrote last year that Howard’s enormous contract extension was an enormous mistake, and I stand by that belief. Frankly, Howard is not going to get better as a hitter; he is only going to get worse as he ages.
In fact, he already had been declining the past few seasons. The 2006 season was his first season as a full-time starter; it also happens to be the greatest statistical season of his career. Therefore, Howard’s career will not be measured against his 2006 season.
I measure Howard’s career based on his progression from season-to-season, starting with the progression from the 2006 to 2007 season.
Ryan Howard career progression
2006: career year
AVG: down, down, up, down, down
OBP: down, down, up, down, down
SLG: down, down, up, down, down
OPS: down, down, up, down, down
No, the above is not the famous “Konami Code” which gives you extra lives in Contra and other Konami brand video games. The above numbers are indeed Howard’s statistical progressions from season to season. Despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark and having several Cy Young candidates on his team (rather than facing them), he continues to decline each season. Howard’s limitations as a hitter will be all the more problematic as he ages and his decline continues.
Back on July 11, I compared the career numbers of John Kruk vs. Ryan Howard (which are accurate as of July 11, 2011). At that time, Howard’s career numbers trailed Kruk in many categories. Despite being the superior hitter, Kruk will likely never get a call from Cooperstown because he did not have the power to hit 40-plus home runs on a consistent basis. It is tragic to see great hitters be lost in the shadows of inferior hitters who can smash a ball 500-plus feet.
Prior to tonight’s game, Howard has a career .279 AVG when the game is tied, .278 AVG when his team is behind and a .271 AVG when his team is ahead. These are respectable numbers for his career. He is not a good two-strike hitter, however, as he is hitting .170 in his career with two strikes against him. Below are the career numbers of Ryan Howard and several other hitters.
Career AVG when game is tied
.330 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.317 (Derek Jeter)
.311 (Albert Pujols)
.305 (Sean Casey and Joey Votto)
.300 (Matt Holliday)
.299 (David Ortiz and Placido Polanco)
.279 (Ryan Howard)
Career AVG when team is behind
.346 (Albert Pujols)
.323 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.318 (Joey Votto)
.315 (Derek Jeter)
.310 (Matt Holliday)
.298 (Placido Polanco)
.296 (Sean Casey)
.278 (Ryan Howard)
.266 (David Ortiz)
Career AVG when team is ahead
.340 (Matt Holliday)
.328 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.327 (Albert Pujols)
.324 (Joey Votto)
.307 (Sean Casey and Placido Polanco)
.306 (Derek Jeter)
.285 (David Ortiz)
.271 (Ryan Howard)
Career AVG with two strikes
.266 (Ichiro Suzuki)
.263 (Albert Pujols)
.252 (Placido Polanco)
.234 (Matt Holliday)
.229 (Sean Casey)
.228 (Derek Jeter)
.219 (Joey Votto)
.206 (David Ortiz)
.170 (Ryan Howard)
Although Howard’s AVG is respectable in the above scenarios (with the exception of two-strike scenarios) for his career, it is taking a sharp decline in those categories this season. Thus far in the 2011 season, Howard is hitting .230 when the game is tied, .231 when the Phillies are behind, and .283 when the Phillies are ahead. Even his two-strike AVG is below his career mark at this time (.153 on the season).
I am pleased that fans support their teams and their players, including players such as Howard. Supporting a team and its players is what fans are supposed to do; however, I believe fans need to also be realists and honest with themselves. Howard is a dangerous bat who can change the game with one swing; however, he is not a great hitter and is most certainly not an MVP. The long-term contract extension given to Howard is one of the very few bad moves made by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.
With all due respect to Howard and his accomplishments, he is a very limited hitter who needs to be in a hitter-friendly situation to achieve. Since the Phillies acquired Pence and stuck him right after Howard in the batting order, Howard’s hitting has improved because pitchers would rather pitch to Howard than pitch to Pence. Since joining the Phillies, Pence is hitting .366 and Howard is hitting .272 in the past 10 games.
When I replay last season’s NLCS-ending strikeout in which Howard stared at a Brian Wilson fastball right down the middle of the plate, I find myself remembering how much I wished Polanco were up to bat in that situation. Fans can say what they want about Howard’s home runs and RBIs and how much it helps their fantasy teams and they can say what they want about Howard’s RISP numbers; the fact remains that the hitters who do the little things such as hitting with the bases empty or hitting with two strikes against them – and doing these things well – are the hitters who ultimately win baseball games for your team.