Monday, February 11, 2008
This is a big deal too. Ryan Howard, the 2006 N.L. MVP, is a star and a vital part of the Phillies roster. He’s 28 and had blasted 129 home runs is what basically amounts to just two and a half seasons. He’s a bona fide superstar, a player who gets his name noticed by the media – no small feat playing in Philadelphia as opposed to New York – and is in many ways the face of the Phillies. Without his massive, towering home runs, the Phillies would be hard-pressed to move runners along and score runs without his home runs. Not impossible, mind you, but Ryan Howard makes scoring runs a lot easier.
So Howard is important, if not vital, to the Phillies ability to score runs on the field. There is also the thorny issue of race relations. The Phillies history in this regard is pretty grim. They were the last National League team to integrate – and even then they did so grudgingly and their sole black player was a utility infielder. No team was harder on Jackie Robinson. The team’s refusal to integrate following their successful 1950 pennant race cost them dearly when the Braves, Giants and Dodgers utilized integration to spring-board to greatness in the 1950’s. In the 1960’s the racial divide between Dick Allen and the Phillies mostly white fan base boiled over and saw Allen quit Philadelphia in a huff.
Now the Phillies have a black superstar and there is the awkward question of how will the team react when its most valuable black player wants more money. The Phillies inked a long-term extension with Chase Utley last year (7 years, $85 mil), so if the Phillies don’t try and lock Ryan Howard up now, things could be tense and the Phillies might lose Howard to free agency following the 2009 season (which, I believe, would be Howard’s walk year. Correct me if I am wrong). How would it look if the team gave a long-term deal to Chase Utley, a white player, and they didn’t ink Howard to a long-term deal as well? … Although, to be fair to the Phillies, Chase Utley was willing to sign a discounted deal in exchange for a long-term contract. Had Utley tested the free agency waters, he would have been able to sign a multi-year megadeal with the Yankees or the Mets or the Red Sox, but he took a discount to stay with the Phillies, something Ryan Howard, who wants to be paid like Albert Pujols (he’s seeking $10 mil in arbitration, which would be a record, and as much as $20 mil a year in the long-term), doesn’t seem willing to do.
Which makes for a nice lead in to our next topic … Pujols vs. Howard. Howard seems to be fixated on the idea of being compared with Pujols, perhaps the finest player in the National League, a future Hall of Famer, and perennial MVP candidate. Howard himself defeated Pujols for the MVP in 2006 amidst much acrimony by Pujols, who plainly felt he was the better player, and the pundits, who argued that Pujols was the stronger player. One area that the pundits really seemed to focus on was the difference between Pujols and Howard defensively. I have a feeling that the Phillies will make Howard’s defensive abilities at first base a major issue in arbitration.
First base defense is usually a non-issue. First baseman are typically your slow-footed sluggers who would be too slow to play in the outfield and too awkward to play the infield. In the N.L. in particular, since there is no DH, this is where the sluggers like Howard and Pujols go to.
The difference between Howard’s skills and Pujols are considerable, however. In the last two seasons – I’m just comparing those since those are the two full seasons Ryan Howard played – Albert Pujols has been one of the top defensive first baseman in the game. In 2006 he ranked second in the N.L. in Relative Zone Rating (RZR), at .831 to the Dodgers Nomar Garciaparra’s .835 … Ryan Howard was further down the list at seventh, with a .789 RZR. Pujols got to 93 balls hit outside of his zone to Howard’s respectable 51. That is a difference, right there, of 42 plays, or outs, Pujols made and Howard didn’t. Howard committed fourteen errors to Pujols six.
Confused about what I’m talking about? Here is a definition of RZR:
Relative Zone Rating (RZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
Last year, Pujols led the N.L. in RZR at .843 … Ryan Howard was sixth at .723 … Pujols once more bested Howard, getting to 51 balls hit outside of his zone to Howard’s 21. Pujols made eight errors to Howard’s twelve. Dave Pinto’s Probablistic Model of Range (PMR), a nice stat that measures how many plays a player makes vs. how many they are projected to make based on various factors like the pitchers, the park, etc., rates Albert Pujols very well (about 14% above-average in 2006 and 13% in 2007) vs. Howard (9% below in 2006 and 5% below in 2007).
This is a major difference between the two players and this is the weakest area of Howard’s game. Once George Will argued against the exclusion of a Phillie – Richie Ashburn – from the Hall of Fame by noting Ashburn’s defensive achievements in the 1950’s and asking why denying a double on defense was valued so much more than hitting one at the plate. In comparing Howard and Pujols, Pujols defensive skills and their value is a major factor. If they both give the Phillies and Cardinals 300-320 bases at the plate a year, why not note that Pujols gives the Cards another 50-60 with his glove while Howard gives the Phillies 10-20?
Will the Phillies exploit this area in arbitration on the 20th? Will this lead to soreness on Howard’s part? We shall see.
Though I would like more updates, I have to say that you do a great job.
Super Johan AKA Mike is a 13 year old who I banned from my blog, and now is looking for someone to talk to because he's a loser.
There are a few differences between Utley and Howard's contract status. I believe evryone is making this arbritration thing to be more than it is. I have seen what Howard has said, and he has not indicated any problems. I believe it is the media just stirring the pot. Next year will be the likely year that Howard will land that multi-year contract like Utley. So don't fret over this too much as I believe it is blown out of porportion.