Monday, August 28, 2006
Jim Konstanty won the 1950 MVP award because he saved 22 games for the Phillies and won another 16, finishing a total of sixty-two games that season which saw the Phillies win the National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers largely on the strength of the Phillies 30-16 record in one-run ballgames. Konstanty was the most valuable player to his team: without Konstanty preserving those tight games, the Phillies would probably have faltered and fallen short that season. But Konstanty probably wasn’t the real MVP that season. It was probably either Stan Musial or Ralph Kiner, two players who had phenomenal seasons but played on teams that were not involved in the pennant chase.
As I look at Ryan Howard I am struck by two thing:
1. Ryan Howard is easily the Most Outstanding Player in the National League right now. The only player who comes close is the Cards Albert Pujols.
2. Ryan Howard is also the most important player on the Phillies as well.
Since Bobby Abreu left the Phillies haven’t missed a beat on offense, scoring an NL-leading 147 runs in August, 25 better than the Cincinnati Reds. The Phillies have also led the NL in On-Base-Percentage and Slugging Percentage. There are a few reasons for why the Phillies have played so well this month, two of them being that Jimmy Rollins and David Dellucci are both having terrific months, but the major reason why the Phillies have led the NL in runs scored since they dealt Bobby Abreu and why they’ve had the NL’s best offense all season is Ryan Howard. No player means more to their team than Ryan Howard.
Consider: Ryan Howard has hit 46home runs (best in the NL), roughly one-quarter of the Phillies total home runs, and has 121 RBIs, or roughly one-fifth of the team’s RBIs. As I write this Ryan Howard has 105 Runs Created (second-best in the NL to Soriano’s 111), roughly 16% of the team’s runs created. Few players ever account for such a high percentage of their team’s offense.
Consider the effect on the Phillies offense if Ryan Howard is removed from the equation: in the month of August the Phillies had a .471 slugging percentage. Subtracting Howard’s Total Bases and At-Bats lowers the Phillies slugging percentage for the month to just .450. Subtracting Howard’s total bases and At-Bats from the Phillies season total lowers the team’s slugging percentage from .446 to .427 … Simply put, the Phillies impressive power hitting is almost solely a product of Ryan Howard’s quickness and skill with the bat.
When the Phillies dealt Jim Thome to the White Sox I worried that Howard would see a sophomore slump after winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2005. Quite to the contrary, Howard has been better than ever:
GPA / ISO / Runs Created per 27 Outs
2005: .302 / .278 / 6.1
2006: .325 / .322 / 7.5
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
Gross Productive Average (GPA): (1.8 * .OBP + .SLG) / 4 = .GPA. Invented by The Hardball Times Aaron Gleeman, GPA measures a players production by weighing his ability to get on base and hit with power. This is my preferred all-around stat.
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Walks per plate appearance (BB/PA): BB / PA = .BB/PA Avg
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula ESPN (where I get it from) uses: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times (Total bases + .26[BB - IBB + HBP] + .52[SH + SF + SB])] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF). ESPN’s version is out-of-date, however, I’d note. James adjusted RC after the 2004 season ended.
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Impressively, Howard already has a league-leading 121 RBIs, meaning that he more than eclipsed Pat Burrell’s team and league-leading 117 from last year with an entire month left to the season. I suspect that Howard will end up with 140 RBIs when the season finishes up. I never expected Howard to do so well that he’d essentially become the focal point of the Phillies offense, but here he is.
Another thing that impresses me is how choosy Ryan is at the plate. Bobby Abreu was a picky hitter and he seemed to sacrifice a lot of the power in his swing for being such a discriminating hitter. Ryan is picky as well – averaging 4.02 pitches per plate appearance, up from 3.94 last season – but he isn’t sacrificing any power. He’s drawn an impressive 66 walks in 540 plate appearances, meaning that when he isn’t hitting home runs he’s still contributing to the team by milking plate appearances and getting on base. In contrast, Ryan Howard didn’t walk much in 2005. This year he rounded out those skills and made himself a much more complete player.
Ryan’s power at the plate is impressive: if he keeps up the pace he ought to finish with nearly sixty home runs, which would shatter the Phillies old record of 48 set my Mike Schmidt in 1980. Back in ’80 Schmidt carried the Phillies to their sole World Series victory with his bat, hitting 41% of the team’s home runs and 18% of their RBIs. Ryan Howard is basically doing the same thing today for the Phillies with his bat.
Howard’s sole competition for the MVP rests with the Cardinals Albert Pujols. While Pujols has a better slugging percentage and would probably be even with Ryan had he not been injured earlier this season, Ryan is clearly more important to his team. With Bobby gone, the Phillies have heavily relied on Ryan’s bat to generate runs. Albert Pujols has Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen backing him up. Chase Utley is doing a great job getting on base and hitting doubles, but he is no power hitter like Ryan. Howard is the Phillies offense. I submit that however you define MVP, as Most Outstanding Player or as Most Valuable to his team, Ryan Howard is your man. Say it with me Phillies fans:
Wildcard Watch! The wildcard race tightened up a little this weekend. Too bad the Phillies couldn’t have played last night and closed to within a half game of the Reds. I’m sure the Phillies would have preferred to have had today off rather than taking a rain-out yesterday, remaining in New York, and having to play and then travel home to start their series with the Nats Tuesday night. Still, things are going well for the Phillies. Let’s see what happens tonight.
1. Cincinnati: 67-64
2. San Diego: 66-62 (0.5)
3. Philadelphia: 65-64 (1.0)
4. San Francisco: 65-66 (2.0)
5. Florida: 63-66 (3.0)
6. Arizona: 63-67 (3.5)
7. Houston: 63-68 (4.0)
8. Milwaukee: 62-68 (4.5)
9. Atlanta: 61-68 (5.0)
10. Colorado: 61-69 (5.5)