Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
This is my blogchalk:
United States, Pennsylvania, Wexford, Christopher Wren, English, Michael, Male, 26-30, baseball , politics.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ryan Howard: Over-Rated? 

It is hard not to be impressed by Ryan Howard’s season thus far. Any threat of a sophomore slump seems to have fallen by the wayside as Howard continues a frenetic pace of his slugging. As I write this, Ryan Howard is third in the NL in home runs with 22, three behind Ablert Pujols (25). Howard is also third in the NL in RBIs with 54, eleven behind Pujols (65). He’s also fifth in the NL in slugging percentage (.621), again behind Albert Pujols (.751). He’s a near-lock to represent the Phillies at the All-Star game in Pittsburgh in a few weeks and I’d be stunned if he weren’t the starting NL 1B.

But something bugs me about the Phillies these days. As I mentioned yesterday and a few days ago, the Phillies aren’t playing to their potential and I wonder why. Why do the D-backs have a better record with half the talent?

I was paging through my old 2005 Bill James Handbook and I was re-reading James' notes on how the Runs Created formula had to be re-done to reflect changes in the game. James noted that the ’03 Red Sox weren’t as successful as they should have been, given how well they hit. James tagged the problem as being that the Red Sox weren’t advancing base-runners, and thus the actual team runs lagged behind their Runs Created. In fact, James generally found that to be the problem associated with the Runs Created formula.

Well, I was thinking about why the D-backs were winning and scoring more runs and the Phillies weren’t, despite the fact that the Phillies should be much more potent at the plate than the D-backs. I came up, in my post, with a solution to the problem: the D-backs were hitting very well with runners in scoring position. They were advancing runners in scoring position. The Phillies were / have not. Look at this:

Chase Utley: .375
Bobby Abreu: .333
David Bell: .277
Aaron Rowand: .275
Ryan Howard: .226
Pat Burrell: .211
Jimmy Rollins: .209

Ryan Howard doesn’t advance runners the way he ought to. He may hit towering home runs, but his contribution to the Phillies offense is far less important than Bobby Abreu and Chase Utley’s. When runners are in scoring position, Ryan Howard is more likely than anyone (except Pat Burrell and J.Roll) to come up empty

Now I think most people will hasten to note that Pat Burrell is sucking things up right now. Fair enough. He is. But Burrell has performed well at this in the past:

2005: .313
2004: .263

In both situations Burrell’s batting average rose when runners were in scoring position: +.032 in 2005, +.006 in 2004 … Not so with Ryan Howard. His .226 BA / RISP is not much better than his 2005: .241. This year and last, Howard has seen his BA fall with runners in scoring position: -.067 in 2006 and -.048 in 2005 when he won the NL Rookie of the Year award. So it doesn’t seem likely that Ryan Howard is just unlucky. He seems like he can’t drive runners home with any consistency aside from blasting a mega-home run.

Sure Ryan Howard is clubbing the heck out of the ball. But what is he doing when he doesn’t hit home runs? Not much. Of Ryan Howard’s 141 total bases, 88 – roughly 63% – are the product of his 22 home runs. Ryan Howard is feast or famine. And herein lays the problem: I think that power-hitting works better than “small-ball”. But the ability to advance runners from first to third and from third to home, is the sine qua non of modern baseball. Chase Utley, for example, gets just 36% of his total bases off home runs. He has more doubles than homers. And he’s hitting .375 with runners on second and/or third.

So I think that Ryan Howard is a little over-rated. I know I’ll get a lot of outraged mail, but I think that it is worth discussing. Thoughts?

My thoughts are I'm slightly surprised. Howard has a respectable batting average - .293 (not brilliant, but respectable), and he has a low GIDP for that spot too (ranked 16 out of 21 no.5 hitters in MLB with 100 or more plate appearences- note that david wright has a massive 7 . . . tying him at 2nd with victor martinez). After Howards opening month of singles, I was pleased - it suggested that he was a good hitter, not just a good homerun hitter (I mean we know this anyway, but always good to have more evidence).

I thought it might be because howard is trying for the long ball too much, but if anything it looks like he's not - his G/F ratio is 1.47 (compare that to pujol's 0.94, and his RISP Avg of .500+!).

The numbers suggest (perversely) that he's NOT always looking for the long ball with RISP - he's trying for any hit. Howard's relatively high avg, and avoidance of double plays says to me that he'll try anything which gets people a bit closer to home. With no firm scientific basis, I'd suggest this improves as the season goes on. It occurred to me recently that Howard's sophomore slump is in less obvious areas - fielding (which he was quite good at) and maybe also moving runners over. Maybe these are the areas in which he's pressing too hard, and that's why he's coming up short.
Another thought: With little help behind him, pitchers (especially RHPs) may be pitching more carefully to Howard with RISP.
Perhaps it just a matter of being more selective.

I would love to see how he would produce if he were higher in the order but don't see it happening this season.
Howard is the combined reincarnation of Poncho Herrera and Dick Stuart. He belongs in the AL as a designated hitter. Hopefully that's were he's headed in exchange for front line pitching.
It seems that the Phillies biggest problem in this area is that their best hitter with runners on, hits in the wrong spot in the lineup. Since Abreu has the best OBP, it would make sense to have Utley hit after Abreu to give him more RBI opportunities, on which he seems to thrive. Instead after two of our best OBP guys, Utley and Abreu we have Burrell and Howard, who have struggled this year in RBI situations. I know this has probably been debated endlessly, but the 2 spot is probably not the best place to maximize Utley's RBI skills. If Utley hit behind Abreu, (or even Abreu and Burrell) he could be a 130 RBI guy if his average with RISP stays that high.
RE: GIDP ... Stayed tuned for tomorrow's post. The stats that you cited are very interesting and make a nice counter-point to my article. Maybe this is a fluke? Maybe he is just trying to put the ball into play and he hasn't been successful. I'm less persuaded by the idea that pitchers are pitching around him: Aaron Rowand hits #6 and I can't see teams taking the risk of allowing Howard on base. Still, I loved your post. Thanks for the comment!
I would be inclined to believe Howard's problems are based on the lineup -- even with Rowand -- and that he probably starts pressing when guys are in scoring position.

He's only hit 3 of his 22 HR with RISP. He's hit 13 with the bases empty.

Although he's cut down on strikeouts, he still fails to put the ball in play one-third of the time when runners are in scoring position (actually 35%). He only strikes out 23% with the bases empty. So it it's either the pitches he's seeing, or his pitch selection -- or, most likely, both.

I would guess he's pressing in those situations. His batting average was .143 last year with RISP and 2 outs. This season it's .216 -- so it appears he gets worse as the stakes get higher.

Maybe he is over-rated? Hopefully, he's just young and overanxious.
Interesting analysis of Howard and his season so far. Still, I think RISP is really a fluke stat, especially for individual players. Often the sample sizes (# of ABs) are quite small and lead to some crazy standard deviations and variances. Usually, a player's career RISP numbers will reflect the league RISP during his playing career.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?