Ryan Howard and the RBI

While the barriers between traditional and advanced baseball analysis are falling every day — hearing David Cone cite FanGraphs during a Yankees-Rays broadcast this week was awesome — there are still certain players who are a wedge between non-saberists and saberists. It’s always the same pattern: one side thinks Player X is awesome, the other doesn’t. Flame wars ensue. Each side cites statistics to back up their position, then declares that the other side’s statistics are worthless.

Ryan Howard is one of those players. Traditionalists love him because he posts huge home run and RBI totals; saberists say he’s overvalued because of those same stats. And so the fight continues — wOBA vs. HRs, WAR vs. RBIs. In the end, the debate isn’t about Howard at all — it’s about which stats you want to believe.

I noticed one of these pro-Howard, anti-WAR columns the other day and it made me curious: Can I explain why Ryan Howard’s 2011 season is overrated without using sabermetric statistics? Can I point out that his contract overpays him without using information that would turn off a casual baseball fan? As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to do — though it’s worth noting that saberists might be dismissing Howard’s RBI “skills” too quickly.

It doesn’t take  fancy stats to show that Howard is having a down year on offensive. If you look at his rate stats, Howard’s posting career lows in batting average and slugging percentage. His on-base percentage is the second-lowest in his career. When looking at Howard’s rate stats in the past few seasons, the slide is pretty pronounced:

Even if you consider that Howard’s OBP and SLG will be lower because to his low average this season, he’s still reaching base considerably less often than he was two seasons ago — and he’s hitting for less power. While he was getting an extra base hit every 8.1 plate appearances in 2009, that decreased to once every 10.5 plate appearances last season and 11.4 plate appearances this year.

That’s not to say he’s not a valuable hitter — his on-base percentage and slugging both are still better than league average — it’s just that he’s not the same hitter now that he was two years ago. His offense is around 12% to 14% better than league average (measured by OPS), putting him in a similar category as players such as Nick Swisher, Chris Young and Billy Butler. Is that good? Sure. But does that make him one of the best sluggers in the game? Not at all.

But if these stats are true, then how does Howard put up such prolific RBI totals? He’s currently third in the majors with 74 RBIs, trailing only Adrian Gonzalez (78) and Adrian Beltre (75). This ranking can be chalked up to two things: opportunity and clutch hitting. Howard has come to the plate with runners in scoring position 141 times this year — tied for most in the majors — and he’s hitting .313/.418/.509 in those plate appearances.

So there’s a bit of skill and luck tied up in Howard’s 74 RBIs. If he were on another team, he wouldn’t necessarily have this many plate appearances with runners on base. But it’s impossible to deny that Howard has been exceptionally good when he’s needed to drive in runners. Not only that, but while “clutch” ability typically varies widely from year to year, Howard has consistently done better in his career with runners on. He has a career .929 OPS, but his OPS jumps to .978 with runners in scoring position. His ability to drive in runners seems to be consistent — he’s performed better with runners on base in nearly every season in the majors — so it’s possible saberists are selling him short by largely ignoring his RBI totals. Part of it might be luck, but part of it might be skill.

Still, the main reason saberists take shots at Howard is because he is treated — and paid — as if he were one of the game’s best first basemen. He clearly isn’t. Even if you give Howard a boost for clutch hitting, who would you prefer on your team: Howard or Joey Votto? Or Adrian Gonzalez? Or Albert Pujols? Or Prince Fielder? All these players have better offensive slashlines than Howard has this season (and last season, for that matter), yet Howard will make the most of them all.

It’s  tough to argue that Howard deserves to be paid like he’s the best first baseman in the majors, no matter which stat you use. I’ll concede that Howard seems to have a talent for hitting with runners on base, but even that can’t compensate for his .342 OBP. He’s a fine player, but he’s not even the third-best first baseman in the National League.




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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.


122 Responses to “Ryan Howard and the RBI”

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  1. Kyle says:

    As a Philadelphia fan, my stomach wrenches every time I am reminded of Howard’s contract.

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  2. Byron says:

    Well done, but I don’t think it’s fair to say saberists don’t value HRs when we’re responsible for pushing attention towards SLG. How many stat favorites don’t have good power? Who supported Russell Branyan a few years ago?

    Also, does the league hit better with men on? Might outpace Howard’s “clutchness”.

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    • byron says:

      Off my phone, so I looked it up. Howard is 41st in OPS with RISP this year. This is an improvement over last year’s 43rd (20th in 2009).

      In High Leverage situations, Howard is 16th in 2011 (right between Daniel Descalso and Michael Morse). 2010 was 56th and 2009 was 1st. So there’s some anecdotal proof that there’s no such thing as “clutchiness.”

      Either way you look at it, Howard may hit better with RISP, but so does the rest of the league, and he still doesn’t look that impressive. He’s tied for 3rd in the league for PA with RISP, which probably has more to do with his RBI production than an ability to hit better with RISP.

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      • jim says:

        howard hits 52% better (152 sOPS+) with RISP than the rest of the NL this year, and 12% over his career… that’s pretty significant, considering he has 2 full seasons worth of PAs with RISP

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      • Pat says:

        please specify, 52% better than the rest of the NL when they also have RISP? Or just their aggregate totals? And what % is he ahead of league average when both are batting without RISP?

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      • jim says:

        @pat, what, do i have to do all the friggin work here? even though it’s posted below, here’s an explanation of sOPS+ and tOPS+, AGAIN:

        tOPS+: OPS split relative to player’s total OPS; a number higher than 100 indicates this batter (pitcher) did better (worse) than usual in this split; a number lower than 100 indicates the batter(pitcher) did worse(better) than usual.

        sOPS+: OPS split relative to League’s OPS split; a number higher than 100 indicates this batter(pitcher) did better(worse) than the league in this split; a number lower than 100 indicates the batter(pitcher) did worse(better) than the league in this split. League averages are for the major leagues as a whole and include pitcher batting.

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      • gnomez says:

        Can someone please explain the concept of this “Daniel Descalso” to me?

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      • Joe R says:

        sOPS+ isn’t Park Adjusted, I don’t believe.

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    • Romodonkulous says:

      This is a great point. Gotta compare the differential in Howard’s “clutch” production vs league avg “clutch” production.

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    • jim says:

      the NL this year has a 106 tOPS+ with RISP, 104 men on, 96 2out/RISP, 94 late&close, 102 high leverage (all from B-R)

      howard’s 2011 sOPS+ and PA count in those categories: 152/143, 129/222, 206/69, 163/66, 162/100

      howard’s career tOPS+ and PA count by those categories: 112/1352, 113/2170, 117/619, 102/670, 116/911

      we may be nearing the point where we have to admit that he is “clutch”

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      • byron says:

        Jim, what’s the difference between tOPS+ and sOPS+?

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      • Travis L says:

        Don’t you think we should look at his career numbers for those situations? If his regular line is depressed due to bad luck/etc., that would skew his proportional RISP lines by quite a bit.

        I know this is oft repeated, but if Howard actually has a skill that allows him to dial it up a notch during clutch time, doesn’t that imply he underperforms the rest of the time?

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      • jim says:

        tOPS+ is a players OPS split relative to their total, while sOPS+ is the split relative to the league total

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      • jim says:

        “Don’t you think we should look at his career numbers for those situations? If his regular line is depressed due to bad luck/etc., that would skew his proportional RISP lines by quite a bit.”

        again: howard’s career tOPS+ and PA count by those categories: 112/1352 (RISP), 113/2170(men on), 117/619(2outRISP), 102/670(late&close), 116/911(high leverage)

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  3. Sean says:

    Could part of the change in batting with runners in scoring position be the work of the effects of runners on defensive alignments? Howard is one of the most “shifted” players in baseball, and as a Phils fan, I see that a lot of what would be surefire hits be taken away by the shift.

    However, with runners on base, the defense has to compensate at least in some way. The third baseman usually moves closer to third base with runners on 2nd/3rd and the shortstop will generally also move a little closer to his natural spot.

    It may not be everything, and it may not be meaningful at all, but it’s something to consider with Howard’s production. And I also hate his contract.

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    • Goodness, this is why I love FanGraphs readers. You guys are so smart, and notice the obvious things that I completely forget about.

      Well said, and I have no doubt that’s a huge reason for his “clutch” ability. But wow, I guess that gives us a good example of how much the shift is hurting Howard.

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      • domingoes says:

        I think this is conventional wisdom to most guys who watch Howard get killed by the shift as often as he does.

        A few years ago I would have never said it, but if Howard just bunted down the third base line every time the shift was on things might improve all around. It would certainly be interesting to watch.

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      • RC says:

        Not sure how to look up the numbers, but if you want to look at a similar player (as far as frequency of the shift goes, look at Ortiz)

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      • OBP says:

        How much could bunting for base hits every time the shift is on help the Phillies? If getting on base is the best thing a hitter can do for his team (especially when no one else is on, and hence Howard is facing the shift), wouldn’t it make sense for Howard to become a great bunter and get singles all day?

        Obviously, people don’t want to see Ryan Howard bunt all the time – they want dingers. But it seems like if it was actually possible for him to become a dominant bunter who could bunt most strikes, the Phillies could benefit immensely from a guy who gets on base all the time.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I don’t think all hitters have the same run value for just getting on base. Ryan Howard on first base isn;t going to have the same run value that Brett Gardner is due to differences in speed, baserunning skill, and the batters behind them. Ryan Howard’s greatest value to the Phillies is likely his extra base hits (or was).

        We want guys on base for certain, but we also want our guys with the highest ability for extra base hits to try and get extra base hits.

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      • Jon says:

        What about his HR% in clutch situations? True outcomes should be insensitive to defensive alignments.

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    • El Jefe says:

      I had the same idea as you, and there’s a number of stats you would have to look at that might be able to back this up, but it’s kind of difficult. For what it’s worth, if you check Howard’s splits, he is hitting .223 with bases empty, .274 with RoB, and .307 w/RiSP this year. For his career those are .266, .285, and .282. So he is clearly better with runners on over the course of his career.

      I think you could best see the effect of the shift by looking at his BABIP though. Assuming his contact rate is the same with bases empty as it is with runners on (I’m not sure if we can find this), his BABIP should be lower with the shift on, as many potential hits are scooped up. Sure enough, his BABIP this year with bases empty, RoB, and RiSP looks like this: .246, .344, and .373. On his career its .316, .334, and .340.

      I’m not going to run any statistical tests, but it seems to me that with runners on, Howard goes from around average to exceptional, and I’m willing to bet the BABIP change from the shift could be why. Thus, he puts up mad RBI totals year after year, because he can hit freely with runners on.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      However, with runners on base, the defense has to compensate at least in some way. The third baseman usually moves closer to third base with runners on 2nd/3rd and the shortstop will generally also move a little closer to his natural spot.

      If Ryan Howard hit the ball on the ground to the left side, that might matter. He’s a pretty standard lefty batter … if he hits ground balls, he pulls them (top hand rolls over).

      Shortstops and 3B’s move closer to their “regular spots” when there’s a RHB at the plate. No way they shift closer to the 3B line when Howard is batting.

      Fielders will still play the batter’s tendencies. With runners at 2nd & 3rd, the left side fielders will be playing more “straight up” (rather than double play depth) as you describe. But, with Howard up, they’d still play him to pull. It’s not like they’re holding the runner on 3B or shading to make a play at 3rd or anything.

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      • Mcneildon says:

        I’ve seen most of Howard’s at bats over the last six years and the third baseman and shortstop definitely alter where they play depending if there are runners on second or third. For instance, if there is a runner on third, the third baseman will be much closer to traditional positioning. The reason for this is that the runner on third oftentimes has been Rollins, Victorino, or Utley. The opposing team can’t just let one of those three have a 40 foot lead off third base. The same applies when it is a runner on second. Otherwise a steal of third becomes much more likely and probable. In these scenarios, the shortstop plays behind second base instead of over in the traditional second base spot like he would with no runners on or a runner on first.

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  4. Barry Jive says:

    Howard’s numbers are better with runners on base, especially with runners on 2nd and 3rd, because teams have to adjust the heavy shift they play against him with none on. It’s not necessarily a “skill” because it’s still situational, but he surely has added value with runners on base that isn’t factored into most SABR measures.

    And not to defend Howard’s albatross of a contract extension, but it doesn’t kick in until next year, at which point Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder will have signed their own behemoth free agent contracts and Adrian Gonzalez’s $22MM/year extension will have kicked in. Howard makes $20MM this year as part of an $18MM/year contract that bought out his arbitration years. It’s possible that by next season the only two bargains on that list are Votto and Cabrera.

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  5. jim says:

    votto’s SLG is below .500? wow, what’s going on there?

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  6. Danny says:

    His slash line with runners on (.313/.418/.509) shows most of his improvement comes in the batting average department. Might this improvement come because teams cannot employ the exaggerated shift as much in this situation (especially with a runner on 2nd base) as they would with the bases empty? He doesn’t really seem to be driving the ball more with guys on base, just hitting for a higher average.

    Just a thought…

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    • Danny says:

      and I see I was beaten to this by Sean and Barry while I was typing out my response. Oh well, great minds do think alike :)

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  7. Noah says:

    Howard’s making $20 Million, this year, it’s the final year of a contract with an AAV of 18 million, which would drop him to 4th on the chart.

    The extension, which he undoubtedly will not earn, does not kick in until next year, at which point he may remain in 1st or fall to 3rd, depending on the deals signed by Pujols and Fielder.

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  8. Hans says:

    If you count intentional walks and sacrifice flies as non-events, Howard is a career .266/.366/.562 hitter with runners in scoring position. (I’m doing this quickly. Someone might want to check the math, but I think that’s right.) That’s a .928 OPS with RISP against a .929 OPS in all situations. Drawing intentional walks obviously has value, and you can’t just discount it from the discussion. But I’m not sure if Howard’s .974 OPS with RISP is measuring his ability to hit well in the clutch, or just his ability to be at the plate with runners in scoring position and draw a bunch of intentional walks.

    I haven’t looked it up, but my assumption would be that all big sluggers have a better OPS with RISP, if only because intentional walks and sac flies artificially inflate their on-base percentages.

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    • Hans says:

      In the last paragraph, I should say intentional walks jack up your OBP and sac flies jack up your slugging percentage. Combined, they jack up your OPS with RISP.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        Am I missing something? How do sac flies jack up SLG? Or OBP for that matter? In fact, sac flies lowers your OBP.

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      • DavidB says:

        SF doesn’t count as an AB, so a fly out hurts your SLG if no one is on, but doesn’t hurt if it’s a sac fly.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        So now what doesn’t hurt you counts as jacking up your SLG? He could just not play the game and it wouldn’t hurt his SLG either, does that count as jacking up his SLG?

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      • John R. says:

        If you fly out with nobody on, it’s an out and your SLG goes down. If you hit the same fly ball with a runner on third and less than two outs, it’s a sac fly and your SLG stays the same. If a hitter performs identically in those two situations, his SLG will be higher with runners on because those sac flies aren’t counting against it.

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    • Barry Jive says:

      Career sOPS+ with Men On:
      Howard 113
      Gonzalez 107
      Votto 118
      Cabrera 102
      Fielder 99
      Helton 105
      Pujols 106
      Teixeira 112

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  9. MonteroSmash says:

    who the hell is that writer that wrote that anti WAR column and why is he so stupid

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  10. Tommy says:

    In a completely unsurprising turn of events, the article cited was written by a man using an aol.com email address.

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    • Phils Goodman says:

      It’s Bill Conlin. He was just inducted into the Hall of Fame the other day.

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      • Scott G says:

        Yea, it’s pretty unbelievable really. For those of you who read FJM, he was picked apart on there from time to time. As a matter of fact, his writing is so poor, that FJM dedicated one of their few available “re-union” posts to ripping him apart.

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      • Tommy says:

        I checked, and technically he wasn’t elected into the Hall of Fame, but was given the J.G. Taylor Spink award. I guess he did some nice beat writer work some years back, but has spent his last 10 year or so grand standing against statistical analysis and social media. Scott G…I remember that FJM reunion post now…didn’t realize it was Conlin. One day these guys will all retire, but then what’s the fun in that?

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  11. Rick says:

    While I agree that Howard is overpayed, RBIs are overrated, etc, etc I would like to point out one thing. See, Howard is a notoriously slow starter. If you look at his career splits, his August and Sept slash totals are through the roof (July as well, but this year and last brought his career numbers down). Which is why he got that huge contract in the first place. While he has struggled this year, I feel his past years have been underrated because people fail to see what he did at the end of the season. Yes, the entire season matters but it always seems like people fail to see Howard as he really is. Yes Votto, Pujols, Gonzalez are better than him but he does get bashed an unfair amount

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    • Ken says:

      As a Met fan I’m certainly not going to defend Ryan Howard, but have we so quickly forgotten that this guy kills the baseball in September every single year.

      If he does so again (a decent possibility at least) then his numbers this season will be fairly comparable to last year’s, thus negating one of the major points of this article.

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Exactly how does it matter that he hits better in August and September? A game won in April or May is exactly the same as a game won in August and September. I give him no credit for being able to hit better in the 2nd half. Instead of helping us down the stretch, he could have helped us coast to the finish line.

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      • Pat says:

        Not the point being made. The point is that we are judging him for this season based on incomplete information. They are contending that if he holds true to his previous form, his numbers at the end of this season will be better than the ones we are judging him on now.

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Also, last year his OPS in Sept. was 939. If he “repeats” that this year, his OPS at the end of the season would still be pretty sad.

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Let’s be real, Howard’s reputation as an “RBI Guy” came from 2006-09 when he averaged 50 HR and 143 RBI for those seasons.

    It’s kinda hard NOT to consider him a great slugger or “RBI guy” when looking at those numbers.

    You could take those 50 HR, 140 RC, .386 wOBA, etc and put them in essentially any lineup[ and he's a productive "run driver inner".

    The current situation sees him as becoming a 30-100 type of hitter, where those 20 fewer home runs drastically changes the situation.

    Traditionalists love him because he posts huge home run and RBI totals;

    He USED to.

    If he were still a 4 WAR player, his contract wouldn't be "that" bad (but still bad). Now that his WAR is in the league average range, the contract is an eyesore.

    Saberists have always pointed out that anyone could get 100 RBI in the Philly lineup, while [1] ignoring how Howard performs with runners on (not everyone does that), and [2] ignoring his 50 HR 140 RBI average from 06-09 (even fewer batters do that).

    During that time he had 32 more homers than the next guy (Pujols) and 81 more RBI (also ahead of Pujols). His wOBA was 11th.

    In short, his reputation as an “RBI guy” was not built on what he did in 2010 and 2011, so I don;t know why we look at those seasons to evaluate whether he is or not. Well, I know why we’re doing it, I just don;t agree with the practice.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Heading off the argument before it even starts … I called Howard a great SLUGGER (2006-09), not a great player. Just remember a time in the past where referring to him as an elite POWER HITTER turned into a lecture on how Howard was not an elite player.

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  13. Shaun Catron says:

    Jeez what is up with Tex’s Batting average? His babip is getting ridiculously low, I don’t even know if its attributed to the shift, a change in his swing or plain old bad luck.

    But if his average creeps up to .260~.270 his OBP should be around .360 that would put his triple slash around .262/.362/.519 give or take. Tex is too good of a hitter to hit .240 even though his drop in LD% is a tad concerning as a Yankees fan.

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    • Joe R says:

      I also noticed suddenly I hear far less people talking about how great a defense Teixeira is.

      Clearly this means batting average is the ultimate defensive statistic.

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  14. Phils Goodman says:

    You can’t write this article well without mentioning the overshift. Howard is a different hitter wRISP not because of luck or randomness, but because he faces a completely different defensive alignment — one where his extreme LHed pull-hitting doesn’t go right into the teeth of defense that’s designed to neutralize him.

    Howard is overrated by the glamor stats, but at the same time, wOBA (and thus WAR) and all other rate stats have begun to systematically undervalue him because of his extreme wRISP splits.

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    • Dustin says:

      I believe you can write the article without mentioning the shift. David Ortiz has the very same extreme shift, and yet has a .294/.381/.554 season under his belt.

      Blame the teeth of a defense all you want, but I’d love to see some stats on that shift before I blame a shift that other players successfully neutralize.

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      • Bender says:

        It could be that other players successfully neutralize the shift because they can adapt to it better. Ortiz might be putting up better numbers against the shift because he alters his approach. For example, waiting back on the ball and driving it to left or being more selective about what he swings at.

        Howard has never been known for his ability to recognize pitches and situations and alter his approach accordingly. He’s pretty much a grip and rip it type player. That worked better when he was getting more fastballs to hit. Now he’s getting a higher percentage of off speed stuff and he can’t hit it over or through the shift like he once did. (For comparison’s sake, Howard is getting 45% fastballs this year; down from 51-53% in his peak years. Ortiz is a 52.7% this year.

        Thats mostly Howard’s fault for not making the adjustment and recognizing pitchers are gonna throw him less fastballs than in the past. But it may also be a result of the lineup around him not being as threatening as it had been in 2007-2009.

        Now that the lineup is almost intact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Howard’s fastball count goes up, which should help push his power and average numbers up to a more respectable level

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I would say with runners on, Howard probably gets more fastballs … and that alone could be it.

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      • RC says:

        It could just be that David Ortiz is a better hitter than Ryan Howard right now.

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      • Pat says:

        Is it statistically significant that Fenway is very conducive to left-handed hitters going the other way? Without doing any research, it certainly appears to have inflated Adrian’s avg and thus obp. So maybe forcing Papi to hit the ball to left isn’t as detrimental as some routine flyballs in other stadiums (CBP) are turned into hits by the green monster.

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  15. aladou says:

    Lots of talk about RBI opportunities, but nobody’s mentioned that since 2006, he has the 4th highest OBI% in MLB.

    Since 2008, he has the 3rd highest.

    Related article here: http://www.thegoodphight.com/2011/7/21/2286206/ryan-howard-has-made-the-most-of-rbi-opportunities

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      To look at all aspects of the situations would require objectivity.

      That’s not how it works.

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      • aladou says:

        I don’t claim to be objective (he has a horrible contract, but I’m still a fan).

        Can you elaborate on “that’s not how it works”?

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      • Mcneildon says:

        I don’t think he’s criticizing you. He’s mentioning that observers in general, especially in the traditional media, don’t look at it objectively.

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      • aladou says:

        Ah – thanks.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Yep.

        Start with an opinion, then find data that supports it. That’s how it works.

        In this case we’re examining whether Howard is an “RBI Guy” a couple of years after the reputation was formed/earned.

        If all of Howard’s seasons looked like the 2010-2011 version, he likely wouldn’t be known as a “run producer”. By now, Howard is just an easy medium to use to poke jabs at fans that use different stats.

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      • aladou says:

        No, I think the media would still look at the RBIs and see 4th in the NL in 2010 despite missing time, and leading the NL this year, and he’d still be called a run producer, despite mediocre OPS/wOBA numbers.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Ryan Howard: RBI Rankings:
        —————————
        2006: 1st
        2007: 2nd
        2008: 1st
        2009: 1st
        2010: 4th
        2011: 1st

        I don’t think there’s a universal definition for “run producer”, but it seems within an acceptable range of usage to call a guy at the top of the RBI leaderboard a “run producer”.

        This article is looking at Howard and RBI totals, so I don;t want to talk about his wOBA and walk rate.

        His ability to drive in runners seems to be consistent — he’s performed better with runners on base in nearly every season in the majors — so it’s possible saberists are selling him short by largely ignoring his RBI totals.

        I agree with the author’s conclusion.

        Still, the main reason saberists take shots at Howard is because he is treated — and paid — as if he were one of the game’s best first basemen.

        This is true … and ridiculous. Why don;t saberists mock Ryan Howard’s home runs. Isn’t it possible that he was paid for HR and not RBI? He led the majors in HR from 06-09, averaging 50 a season. Averaging 50 a season.

        The answer is there’s nothing to mock there.

        Ryan Howard simply serves as opportunity knocking to beat a dead horse and burn a strawman. That’s how it works.

        The author of this particular article went about it in an objective way, IMO.

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  16. Jon says:

    The question that naturally occurs to me is, assuming that Howard has a “clutchness” skill, how much should we adjust our perception of his value?

    Here’s a reasonable attempt: From 2006 – 2011, Howard accumulated a “clutch” of +4. That means that he produced about 4 +WPA more than we would predict based on his stats and situations. So this is approximately how much we need to add to his WAR over that period.

    From 2006 to 2011, Howard produced 19.7 WAR, good for 34th in baseball. If we add 4, he goes up to 23.7, good for about 26th in baseball. I think that gives us a good idea of how much Ryan Howard was worth in that period.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      This is wrong on two levels. First of all, you can’t add Howard’s WPA to his WAR total and then simply compare it against everybody else’s WAR total. Secondly, one can’t simply add WAR and WPA. They measure two different things.

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      • Jon says:

        WAR and WPA have two different methodologies, but they have the same unit (wins). So you can add them together and you still have a number that’s denominated in wins.

        Assuming average clutch-ness is around zero, the WAR+clutch value of rankings won’t be much different than the WAR ranking. Other players might move around too, but Howard will probably end up around 26th in the new ranking.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        They’re wins, but they’re wins measured against two different things. One would have to measure Howard’s WPA against a replacement WPA to add it with WAR.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        From 06-09 he was 2nd in WPA (19.54). During that same time period, 365 (out of 1600) players posted WPA’s greater than zero (including non-qualifiers. Only 107 qualifiers did.

        So, in Howard’s case, his 19 WAR (from 06-09) is probably very close to the 19 “Wins” via WPA over replacement level that he probably has.

        If I am reading your comments right, are you suggesting to add Howard’s WPA over RL to his WAR? If that’s the case, his WAR may double.

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    • Phils Goodman says:

      Theoretically, the average player has a wPA of zero. Zero WAR is replacement level, not average. 2-2.5 WAR is average for a full positional season.

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    • jim says:

      you’re adding WPA to WAR?

      you know WAR already accounts for offense, right?

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      • Pat says:

        What he’s trying to do, essentially, is weight runs created in a “clutch” situation as being more valuable in regards to a win. Whether right or wrong, you would have to go through this practice for every player to come up with an accurate re-ranking of Ryan’s value.

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      • jim says:

        but isn’t that what WPA/LI is?

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  17. bleh says:

    Perhaps Howard hits better with RISP because the pitcher is in the stretch? Some kind of weird timing or mental thing (which wouldn’t be unusual for him).

    Any way this can be tested statistically? Maybe check his stats against relief pitchers with the bases empty (assuming most don’t pitch from the windup ever). Not sure this addresses the topic really, but would be interesting to know.

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    • Jon says:

      Howard hits fastballs much better than breaking balls. If pitchers throw more fastballs with runners on (to reduce wild pitches and stolen bases) then he would perform better.

      But I suspect it’s mainly the shift. Here are his career BABIP splits:

      Low leverage: .316
      Med leverage: .328
      High leverage: .352

      Bases empty: .316
      RISP: .340

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    • test says:

      The problem there being he gets to see a lot of specialist lefties, who aren’t comparable to starting lefties directly, and would drive down his numbers a lot.

      Although one could compensate for that effect by seeing how much better lefty hitters do in general against LH starters as compared to relievers.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        That’s what I was thinking … the guy that can’t hit lefties likely gets to face more than his fair share of them with RISP.

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  18. Dan in Philly says:

    Any chance that the fact Fielder and Pujols haven’t gotten their monster contracts makes Howard’s look worse by comparison?

    The problem as I see it is a lot of Howard’s comps (as listed above) are either in arb years or are playing out a contract signed coming off down years, or are having really, really good years. It seems to me the best comp for Howard is probably Mark Teixiera, who is having a slightly better year so far and gets paid slightly less.

    If all players became free agents each year, it would be easy to determine who is getting overpaid/underpaid, etc. But the economics of baseball is a funny thing, and RH’s value was determined by the Phillies’ FO to be worth locking up long term at a high price sooner rather than later. It’s sure easy to ridicule them when he’s mired in a slump, but the odds are very great he’ll recover and generate fine value for the club. Call him overpaid, and maybe in absolute terms he is, but I think his value to the Phils is more than they are paying him.

    Anyway, let’s wait until this offseason and see how Albert and Fielder get paid before any more comps to those gentlemen, ok?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Phillie697 says:

      Teixiera, 2.6 WAR up to this point. Ryan Howard, 1.0 WAR. That’s not “slightly” better. Ryan is a below-average to average defender, and is a slight liability on the basepath, flaws that Tex does not share. He needs to hit significantly better than Tex to make up for those deficiencies, but instead, he’s hitting worse.

      And as I posted above, his Sept. OPS last year was only 939. If that’s the kind of “recovery” we’re looking at, his OPS won’t even be above 850 for the season at the end.

      Even if Albert and Fielder get contracts more than the $25 million Howard will be paid, they would actually have EARNED it. Fielder is on pace for 5 WAR this season, and Albert’s WAR over the last 3 seasons? 9.1, 8.9, 7.5. Even this year he already has 2.8 WAR, as much as people talk about his season-long “slump” and the injuries he suffered.

      And please don’t use the “his value to the Phillies is more than they are paying him” argument. I’m a Phillies fan and I don’t even want to make self-serving arguments like that. You know what is more valuable to the Phillies? If we didn’t sign him to that damn contract and become players this off-season in the Pujols sweepstakes. How does that factor into Ryan’s “value,” or the lack thereof?

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      • Double D says:

        Fielder and Pujols haven’t EARNED the contracts they’ll get this year, they, like Howard, will have DESERVED it based on past performance. Only AFTER the contract is signed and played out can you say the guy earned what he got paid.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        Except Howard’s extension doesn’t kick in until this year… And Howard didn’t earn the extension either, since his WAR the three seasons preceding to it were 3.7, 3.0, 4.6. Prince Fielder actually compares favorably to Howard all things considered, except Fielder is 5 years younger than Howard would be when both of their monster contract/extension kick in. It’s just a bad contract all around, and while Fielder still has a chance to prove he might be worth it, Howard already has proven he isn’t.

        It’s just a bad contract. There is no way to defend it. Stop taking it as if people are bashing Howard personally.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. JRE says:

    One thing to keep in mind is that most of the 2008 Phillies team (including Jamie Moyer) got a pay bump after bringing home the championship trophy. Next year, Fielder and Pujols will probably get more money than Ry Ry, so let’s capitalize on this discussion while we can.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • CircleChange11 says:

      That’s what I thought when the deal was made. He was being “rewarded” for past accomplishments like ROY, MVP, WS Champ, etc … not necessarily that he would be the best 1B in MLB over the next 6-7 years.

      The crazy thing is that PHL seemed to be competing with themselves for his contract and just went nuts with the money. Obviously, I guess, they thought Howard was going to keep up the 45 HR 140 RBI seasons for quite some time.

      There’s likely going to be quite a handful of overpaid 1B’s here in the near future.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. Bob says:

    While I don’t argue that Howard is over paid, its tough to tell by simply comparing him to other first basemen’s contracts because players like pujols, fielder, and votto are due for big raises soon. Their contracts are a function of either old contracts or young players.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. Gordon Brown says:

    Todd Helton is making 10.7 Million this year his new contract signed before 2010 from Cot’s Helton’s “$19.1M 2011 salary and $4.6M 2012 buyout converted to $4.6M signing bonus in 2011 and $6M salary for 2011, with $13.1M deferred to 2014-2023 at 3% interest
    12:$4.9M, 13:$5M”

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    • Dan in Philly says:

      Helton is being discussed as comback player of the year, which means there’s a pretty good chance he’s outperforming his contract anyway, making such a comp a little suspicious.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Nate RFB says:

    When you look at wOBA, which takes out IBBs as I recall, Howard’s numbers are:

    RISP: .387 781 PA
    Career: .386 4196 PA

    So yeah.

    With simply men on base for what it’s worth he does have a .401 wOBA in 912 PA.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Franklin Delano Romanowski says:

    Look, Howard is one of the premier run producers in the league, and on top of that he leads the league in putouts, meaning he is the best or one of the best at the two things that help you win games, scoring runs on offense, and making outs on defense. You guys can complain all you want but his performance is still fantastic. He’s put up an average of about 130 RBIs the last five years and is one pace for about 120 this year, making him one of the most consistent run producers in major league baseball. It’s no secret the Phillies locked him up to that team friendly deal, they rightly see him as a cornerstone of clutchness and a bedrock for the foundation of a winning team. No one in their right mind would dismiss Howard’s ability to get runs across the plate, get big hits in the clutch, play excellent defense, and make his teammates better.

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  24. novaether says:

    There are some very good points in the comments section. I’d also like to contribute the fact that fans like watching a guy who hits a lot of HRs and gets a lot of RBIs. While Howard may not earn his contract in terms of WAR, he at least earns more of it because he brings in fans and makes the team money. As a small piece of evidence, he has the 18th best-selling jersey in the MLB:

    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2011/03/23/Marketing-and-Sponsorship/MLB-jersey-sales.aspx

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Yeah… I’ll bet you put Votto or Fielder on the Phillies they’d have those marketing appeals. You get more attention when the TEAM wins, and the TEAM wins when it signs smart contracts, not dumb ones.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        I want to add, I don’t blame or hate Howard the player at all. I think we can do better at 1B RIGHT NOW by looking around the league for undervalued assets, which adds to the frustration I have with that contract. That said, he’s still productive enough not to be a drag, so it’s not like I mind him being the Phillies’ 1B. However, defending his performance in relation to that contract extension is just absurd.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        You get more attention when the TEAM wins, and the TEAM wins when it signs smart contracts, not dumb ones.

        We’re talking about major league baseball right?

        Seems to me the top 3 teams in our power rankings (BOS, NYY, PHL) each have at least one dumb contract.

        Crawford, lackey, ARod through age 42, Howard, etc aren’t exactly team friendly deals.

        Some teams can afford to overpay due to their resources. Some can’t.

        Want to go through the 2010 Giants and see how many “smart contracts” they have?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Phillie697 says:

        So now you advocate signing dumb contracts? Just because the Phillies can absorb a bad contract doesn’t mean they SHOULD. And any bad contract signed by any team, rich or poor, does not help them win, that includes Howard’s contract. If nothing else, Phillies could just be making more money and still have the same number of wins.

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      • Ari Collins says:

        Big money teams can afford to build through FA, which is, by definition, overpaying. But the Howard contract wasn’t even through FA; it was a contract extension given years before he hit FA. An extension which, instead of getting a discount for taking on the additional risk of signing before they had to, paid more per year than the player would have gotten had he been a free agent then.

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    • jim says:

      morneau, ellsbury, strasburg, and kinsler are above him, and aside from strasburg, they’re hardly very marketable.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • The Nicker says:

      Unless the jerseys are bought at the stadium, the revenue is split between all 30 teams.

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  25. PJ says:

    Does any of this take the shift into account?

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  26. hunterfan says:

    I’m not going to do a statistical study, but the eye test tells me a large part of Howard’s “clutchiness” are due to the fact he’s mostly a pull hitter and, with runners on, defenses can’t play a pronounced shift against Howard.

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  27. BillyT says:

    Gonzalez’s extension averages $22/M per year. Counting this year’s $6M-ish salary, his avaerage over the life of his contract is roughly $20M per year.

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  28. Bobby Yost says:

    I did an article FJM’ing this article a couple of weeks ago. The writer was Bill Conlin, who was actually a part of the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown recently, receiving some award.
    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/767056-beating-that-dead-horse-ryan-howard-and-rbi

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  29. dbroncos31 says:

    Howard has the misfortune of playing in today’s era. I can’t think of a guy hurt more by LOOGYs and the shift than him. If he played in the 90s, he would be considered one of the best hitters in the game. Not that he isn’t overpaid, but imagine him in an era where he wouldn’t face the LOOGYs and the shift so often.

    Career .299/.398/.626 vs. RHP, .285/.396/.595 with men on base.

    Sucks for him that he plays now.

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  30. miffleball says:

    It’s funny that everyone knocks howard b/c “anyone could drive in 100 runs in the phillies lineup”

    Phillies team runs scored rank:
    2011: 13th
    2010: 7th
    2009: 4th
    2008: 8th
    2007: 2nd
    2006: 4th

    clearly the phillies are a very good offensive team, but if everyone on a team that scored more runs was bashed for being on a good offensive team, all you’d have left as great hitters are pablo sandoval and ichiro

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    • Phillie697 says:

      I think the point is that RBI isn’t a good measure of a player’s talent. It just describes what happened, i.e. there were people on base when Howard got some hits.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        i.e., there were people on base when Howard got some hits.

        People understand that Howard hits in the middle of the lineup for a reason right? They put him there so that he does hit with men on base. That’s when extra base hits, especially home runs, are so valuable. Sometimes people talk as if it happens by accident.

        Guys that hit 3rd or 4th will bat with guys on base more often than other lineup salots. What folks need to show is that Ryan Howard [1] gets more opps to hit with guys on base and [2] does it less efficiently than others, and therefore is over-rated.

        What the data shows is that he [1] gets lots of opps to hit with guys on base, and [2] elevates his performance in those situations.

        The ‘problem’ with the data is that it goes against some fundamental beliefs of saberists and does not lead to the “right” conclusion. At this point, it’s an integrity issue …. and that bothers me.

        I think a great example is Tony Bautista and his mocked 100 RBI season. He was negative in WAR. Saberists make it sound like a terrible hitter racked up 100 RBIs (BP:BBTN). But he hit over 25 HR for 5 consecutive seasons, and nearly had 4 100 RBI seasons during that span. What happened was he never walked, had an incredibly low BABIP (.225) and negative defensive value. It kills me that saberists use examples like this to state that just about anyone can hit get 100 RBIs in most situations. They can’t.

        Tommy Herr had 110 RBI in 1985 with only 8 HR. This is an extreme case. It was possible because Vince Coleman hit in front of him and stole 110 bases. Most other guys are going to have to hit for high extra base numbers to get 100 RBIs.

        Adam Dunn had a 40-100 season where he was 0.9 WAR. That doesn’t mean almost anyone can drive in 100 RBI if put in Dunn’s place. Dunn drives in a lot of runs because he hits a lot of homers.

        Ryan Howard, from 06-09 hit more homers and drove in more runs than anyone in baseball. I don;t see why folks hold that against him. The Phillies overpaid … so now we have to point out how over-rated Ryan Howard is at every opportunity? Why?

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    • Jason B says:

      “clearly the phillies are a very good offensive team”

      Hang on a minute – “clearly the phillies WERE a very good offensive team”

      /fixed/

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  31. smitty says:

    There are some stats around that describe guys as good RBI men and Howard does well there. Bill James has note that he drives in more runs than expected. (In 2009 he was the best in baseball by far in getting RBIs is what James defines as clutch situations.

    You can also look up RBI percentage at Bill James online. (It’s in the RBI analysis section). Howard does well there. When I last looked at this, Howard was 4th best among NL 1Bmen and well above average.

    The shift hurts him as a hitter as he loses many hits into the teeth of the defensive alignment. Opposing teams can’t use as radical a shift against him when there are guys on base. I think that’s a big part of the reason he drives in more runs than expected given his overall numbers.

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  32. shthar says:

    This article is pointless.

    It’s no better than a study from the 20s for crist sakes.

    howard vs LH and RH pitchers is two different batters.

    One is a monster, usually.

    And the other should really be platooned during an off season.

    Mashing both those batters #’s together and trying to make sense of it is a complete waste of time.

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  33. squads says:

    There is a ton of poor SABR analysis floating around these days. This article was posted right the point in the season where Howard traditionally catches fire. As expected, he has done just that since this article was posted. In a half a month he has dragged his .792 OPS up to .831. His XBH/PA is now under 10, which is better than his rate last year.

    September is usually when he really turns it on, with a career .441 wOBA. That is a monster track record and if he is anywhere in the ballpark of that number, he will end the season with better numbers than last year.

    And just one more feather in his cap that evades the rate stats…he has 620+ PA in every full season he has played. So the formula is simple: play alot of games x knock the cover off the ball with runners on = massive production. Howard evades wins on paper and provides them in reality.

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  34. YourSFGiants says:

    The talk about the shift is significant, but at the same time, you’re ignoring the fact that every player usually has a defense shifted in some sort of way. I don’t mean an actual shift, but you understand what I mean.

    Spray charts exist for a reason. It’s not that Howard isn’t a good hitter, it’s that he’s a one-dimensional power hitter who provides no value outside that.

    The ultimate goal as a baseball player or team is to score runs. That, is more than driving in runs. High OBP or OPS, or even wOBA are all examples.

    Howard may consistently have 100+ RBI, but it doesn’t measure how he’s impacting his team.

    Once again, he’s not a bad hitter for a 1B, but to compare him to the rest because of HR’s and RBI is just stupid.

    RBI =/= run creation.

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  36. RAEF says:

    well, with his injury, the contract really looks bad now, and the contract wasnt just bad because of the numbers mentioned here, its due to the toll age was going to take on him, even before this injury.
    his decline against left-handers has made him a much easier out in those clutch situations than he used to be (opposing managers keep a lefty around to face him late, and you are pretty confident you’ll get him out).
    these numbers also dont take into account how hot and cold he runs; he can carry a team for a month- but he can kill it for another month; most superstars are more consistent

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