Howard Avoids Arbitration For Good

We can all rest easy from now on safe in the knowledge that we no longer have to hear about Ryan Howard‘s arbitration demands again. Today the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Howard agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract.

The $18 million average annual value matches Howard’s arbitration request for this, his upcoming fourth year of club control. This contract buys out Howard’s remaining three arbitration years, and does not have any control over what was going to be his first free agency year, following the 2011 season.

Howard will hit free agency going into his age 32 season, still young enough to probably get another mega-value contract, though if anything like this winter’s trend continues, he may not be looking forward to the 6-8 year deal that he would have gotten as little as last winter in a similar circumstance.

Eric Seidman took a look at Howard’s projections when the arbitration demands were leaked and came to a conclusion that Howard would account for about 4.2 wins. I’m a little more pessimistic on Howard, thinking he’s more about on the 3.7-win level. At that level, Howard is still around the $18 million mark in value, though a tad under and given the falling amount that teams are paying per win, this could get worse as time goes on.

Furthermore, we usually expect players to take a 10% discount when they sign multi-year deals to account for the long-term security that they get and to mitigate some of the risk the teams assume when they sign players to market value for more than one year. Given that, I project a fair deal for Howard at about $15 million per year, making this an overpay on Philadelphia’s part if Howard were a free agent.

Given that he’s not, and that his value is tied to the arbitration process, this looks like even more of an overpay on the surface, the typical 40/60/80% suggesting that for these three seasons, Howard should earn about $27 million instead of the $54 he will get paid. The problem is that the arbitration process works in favor of Howard in this case because it overrates the aspects of the game that Howard excels at (power) and underrates that which he lacks (position, defense). So the Phillies had to balance against what they would expect Howard to win in arbitration rather than receive on the open market. All in all, this looks like it is close enough to a fair deal, though perhaps siding a tinge on Howard’s side.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

14 Responses to “Howard Avoids Arbitration For Good”

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  1. Nick says:

    I think your wrong about your assessment of Howard’s worth. Projecting him as a 3.7 WAR player seems very pessimistic. In his last 3 years he has been worth 3.1, 4.2 and 6.9 WAR. In each of those 3 years his defense has been right about average and his playing time has been constant. If you take his 3 year averages he been exactly +0 runs on defense, -12 runs positional adjustment and +23 runs for replacement level. I think that is a pretty good projection for what he will do next year, in which case he would be around 11 runs above average before you even consider batting.

    According to you projection, you consider him to be around 26 batting runs above average. That would lead to roughly a .375 wOBA. I think that is a gross underestimation of Howard’s skills weighted too much buy this years “bad” numbers. Two things changed significantly this year from his previous two years. 1) His intentionally walks were cut in half, and 2) His BABIP was about 40 points below his career average. The Phillies lineup this year looks to be much worse than last years. The essentially are replacing Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez as protection for Howard and you can expect some regression from Jason Werth and Shane Victorino. Coupled with his monstrous September last year, I think it is safe to say that Howard’s IBB totals will go back to 06, 07 levels. On to the BABIP factor, he wasn’t quite as unlucky as it seems when comparing this years BABIP to his career. His career BABIP has been skewed mainly by his .363 mark in 06 and his .336 mark in 07. However, he only had a .289 BABIP this year, which is definitely lower than what we can expect. According to Ryan’s Glass’s series on expected BABIP, Howard should have had a .308 mark. That would drastically alter his slash line to be .262/.349/.557. I don’t really want to do the wOBA average calculations for that right now, but I assume it would raise it close to .380. If you add on the increase in intentional walks then it probably increases it close to his 07 wOBA of .396.

    In that case you are expecting Howard to be around .20 points worse than he has ever been and you aren’t even including the potential for another 2006 type year.

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    • Projections strive to hit the median value of likely results and they certainly do include the potential for another 2006 type year, just as they assume the potential for an injury shortened year or a continuing trend in decreased wOBAs as Howard has seen the last three seasons.

      You seem to be focusing exclusively on Howard’s upside. For one, an average of Oliver, CHONE and Marcel projects Howard to get 557 at bats which means the 26 or so runs over average I projected for Howard comes out to a wOBA around .383, not .375.

      .383 by the way is a little over his weighted average of wOBAs from 2007 and 2008 and a little under his weighted average of wOBAs from 2006-8.

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    • buttsecks? says:

      Maybe it’s a regional thing, but you and I have seem to have very different definitions of the word drastic. Like, drastically different definitions. You realize those 26 points of OPS are almost meaningless in a weighted average, right?

      I like how you cherry-pick stats, too. You used Howard’s unlucky 2008 BABIP when it was beneficial to your case but conveniently chose to ignore how his BABIP drastically exceeded his xBABIP in previous years when it didn’t suit your argument. I’m not saying xBABIP is right and I’m not saying it’s wrong, but you can’t use something when it agrees with you and ignore it when it doesn’t. That’s called fascism and it’s wrong.

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      • Nick says:

        I love how you cherry-pick quotes. You should be in the media… ba-dump-a-cha. I did say that his 06 and 07 BABIP’s were way to high. And you are right, that would change those numbers from those years. But the argument I was trying to make was that his 08 season was a fluke in terms of a really low BABIP and the 17 less intentional walks, which combined DO make a big difference in wOBA.

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      • buttsecks? says:

        So why not adjust those lines too? Why only adjust the ones beneficial to your agenda? You say his BABIP was 45 points below his career average, but it was only 25 points below his expected career average. You’re obviously such a huge fan of xBABIP; why only use it when you see fit? How come those same 20 points of difference that were so drastic when they served to prove your point don’t seem to matter when they undermine your entire argument?

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      • Nick says:

        When did I say that I was such a huge fan of xBABIP? I only mentioned it once. The point is that in 08 he was unlucky, no?

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      • buttsecks? says:

        The point is also that his prior good luck more than cancels out his recent bad luck and yet you only chose to incorporate one of them.

        I also just saw your post in the Magglio Ordoñez thread. Are you honestly telling me that a 20 point swing in BABIP for Ordoñez, who strikes out two and a half times less frequently than Ryan Howard and is subsequently impacted far more greatly by large swings in BABIP, would “not ridiculously” affect his performance while the same 20 points for Howard would “drastically alter” his batting line? Given the difference in their balls-in-play rate, 20 points of BABIP for Magglio is effectively ~14 points for Ryan, yet the impact on Ryan is far greater?

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      • Nick says:

        I used a bad choice of words. My quote for Ryan Howard was: “That would drastically alter his slash line to be .262/.349/.557. ” Obviously that line isn’t drastically better than his real slash line of .251/.339/.543. You should read more into my actual analysis rather than my poor choice of adjectives.

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  2. NYRoyal says:

    His projections take at least his last 3 years into account and weights the data accordingly. He’s simply not at all likely to see another 6+ WAR season again. 3.5-4.0 WAR seems much more likely. So he’s wildly overpaid in this deal, given his service time.

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  3. JH says:

    Howard is a weird case where because of home run totals the arbitration board seems disposed to overrate him relative to market value. The Phillies almost certainly got a discount from what they would have had to pay from Howard’s escalating arbitration awards.

    One-dimensional sluggers at first base continue to be a ridiculous market inefficiency.

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  4. CMC_Stags says:


    You did your math wrong….

    “In each of those 3 years his defense has been right about average and his playing time has been constant. If you take his 3 year averages he been exactly +0 runs on defense, -12 runs positional adjustment and +23 runs for replacement level. I think that is a pretty good projection for what he will do next year, in which case he would be around 11 runs above average before you even consider batting.”

    He is 11 runs above REPLACEMENT by your math before batting. That’s 9 runs below average. The 4 projection systems that Fangraphs has listed project Howard at 25.7, 26.5, 37.0, and 43.2 Runs Above Average.

    Assuming your math was correct, that puts him at 16.7, 17.5, 28, and 34.2 Runs Above Average for WARs of 3.67, 3.75, 4.8, or 5.42.

    That is – based on your playing time and defensive estimates – his range of Wins Above Replacement… Matthew’s “conservative” estimate of 3.7 WAR falls right in line with your estimates combined with the Marcel and/or Oliver projections. Why you are attacking him for going with that number is beyond me…

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  5. Joe says:

    Who cares about defense? :)

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  6. Conballs says:

    JH – you are right. This signing is not about WAR and comparing Howard to the open market. It’s about the avoidance of headaches, appeasement of fans, and the selling of merch. Howard was probably a little afraid he would lose his arbitration case, and that’s why I think he came off his high horse and signed this deal. The value of the signing means the Phils can now budget properly going forward. It also puts a price-tag on Howard in case of a trade.

    Howard is a unique player because he affects the game beyond his win value. Like others have said, the arbitrators take a different approach. You can complain about it, but it’s reality, and in case we have forgotten, it’s about money. Howard will make the Phils more money than all other 3.7 WAR players. So as much as I hate to give Amaro credit, this signing has advantage-Phils all over it. We’ll revisit in 3 years…

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