Where are Ryan Howard’s HRs going?

Ryan Howard‘s HR/FB rate, at 23.5%, is lower than his HR/FB rate in any of his full years of play, in which it was always above 30%. He has replaced some of those HRs with doubles and 23.5% is still a very good rate, but the drop in HRs is interesting and even more interesting is where those HRs have gone.


Ryan Howard has been the epitome of power to all fields. Jeremy Greenhouse previously noted he hits historically high numbers of HRs to the opposite field, and, it seems, prior to this year he hits HRs almost uniformly to all parts of the field (most power hitters hit the majority of their HRs to the pull field). This year, though, almost all of his HRs have been to dead center with very few in the pull field and only one opposite shot. Dead center is not the best place to try to hit HRs as it is the largest part of a ball park.

Next I wanted to see if Howard has seen a drop in his fly ball distances. Again these distances are using the GameDay data which records were the ball was fielded or landed for a HR. Consider two hits, one to center and one pulled, both travel the same distance in the air but then roll to the wall where they are fielded. Since the wall is farther away in center it will be recorded as a longer hit. Thus this method will overestimate the distance of fly balls to center field.


Here you can see Howard’s power to all fields. The average lefty has power to the pull field and drops off to opposite field. Howard’s power peaks at dead center, but is present to all fields. This year he has even more power to center and less power to the pull and opposite fields. This is why his HRs have mostly been to center, he is missing them to the pull and opposite fields and his overall HR numbers are down.

Finally let’s look at the location of the pitches he hits for HRs.


Before this year he hit pitches all over the plate for HRs. This year he has hit fewer inside and outside pitches for HRs, which is probalby why he is missing all those opposite and pull field HRs.

So we know why Howard is hitting fewer HRs, a drop in power to the pull and opposite fields, but it is too early to tell if these differences are small sample size realated or a real shift in true talent.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

26 Responses to “Where are Ryan Howard’s HRs going?”

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  1. Ender says:

    Howard is no spring chicken, I’d be pretty surprised if he hasn’t already seen his best seasons of his career at this point.

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    • Mark R says:

      There’s a distinct downward trend in every facet of his offensive game. Not so good.

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    • Davidceisen says:

      He’s 29. Why would you expect that he’s seen his best seasons?

      Though, to be fair, I don’t think he’ll ever repeat a .436 wOBA.

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      • brian says:

        Players best seasons generally occur in their late 20s.

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      • Kyle Boddy says:


        Player development is not a normal distribution.

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      • Mark R says:

        I don’t think Brian is claiming that player development is normally distributed, and I don’t think such a claim even makes sense (if my stats courses served me well). His claim, which is correct, is that most players peak between about 26 and 29. There are exceptions, but there’s no reason to assume that Howard is one of them. In fact, there’s reason to think that Howard is particularly UNlikely to be an exception in view of his “old player” skillset.

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      • philosofool says:

        Howard also has never made contact well–he swings and misses a lot. There’s pretty clear evidence that as players age, their ability to make contact decreases. Howard can’t afford any loss of contact, nor, given his poor contact skills, can he afford a decline in the results of his contact. His power probably is declining, given his age. And probably his contact rate is too, given his age. He’s not a disciplined hitter, and that combination just doesn’t look like it will age well. When a player whose home park inflates home runs by 16% sees a drop in his power numbers, you have to wonder how age is working for him.

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      • Terminator X says:

        Philosofool – I would be very surprised if Howard’s power is decreasing already, at least significantly so. Who loses their power before they’re 30 anymore? Players can hold their power for a LONG time. They may lose bat-speed and their eyes may deteriorate, but at 29 I highly doubt it’s a matter of him losing power. When you see aging sluggers, their problem is generally an inability to read the movement of the ball as well, or to catch up to fastballs and crank them as well. But when they do (even if it’s just a lucky guess), they can still belt them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re a Mariners fan, correct? Junior’s still capable of obliterating a ball a great distance on occasion, but the decline of the rest of his skills mean that this simply happens less often. The muscles age and wear down, loses bat speed, maybe loses some bat control, but the raw strength is still there.

        The fact that Howard is hitting most of his HR to CF should show that he’s still got a surplus of power. If he has the power to hit them to straight-away, he still has plenty enough power to hit them to down the alleys. The question is, why isn’t he?

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      • Terminator X says:

        And no offense, but these stats are easy to look up. There’s no need to say “his contact is probably declining” when with one click we can see that it’s not. Actually looking at the stats, there are 3 (4 actually looking at it again) big things that stand out this year: He’s seeing 28.1% sliders, compared to a career average of 19.4% – his previous highest was 20.3% in ’07 (these are coming mostly at the expense of fastballs, down from career average of 52.2% to 45.7%, and changeups, down from career avg of 13.2% to 10.2%). Clearly this is something he’s only indirectly in control of and is simply a matter of more managers/scouts/catchers/pitchers figuring out how to beat him, but it is likely somewhat responsible for thing number 2: LD/GB/FB percentages.

        LD% is down (22.7% to 19.1%), GB% is actually down a tad bit (39.3%-38.3%), FB% is up alot (37.9% to 42.6%). I suspect the increase of sliders has something to do with that, but I’m not sure how much. Without GB/FB/LD percantages by pitch I have no idea how it’s factoring in (is there anyone with those). Of note, we must remember that these are categorized by humans still, and I suspect the margin of error to be rather large. His FB % could well be around 40%, but I just ran those numbers and that would still only bring his HR/FB up to ~24%.

        Third thing is he’s continuing a trend from last year of swinging more, and he’s amping it up big-time. I’m getting tired of typing numbers so just go look at them yourself – he’s swinging more at everything fairly evenly it appears, and he’s making far more contact on balls out of the zone, while his zone contact has dipped a bit. This is probably strongly correlated to the changes in batted ball %’s – presumably outside contact is weaker than zone contact. My first reaction is that he’s swinging more intentionally and that lots of the O-Contact is coming off of offspeed pitches/sliders (seems intuitive that hitters swing at offspeed stuff out of the zone more than they swing at fastballs out of the zone, could be way off) that he’s just getting pieces of, knocking down his LD%. But, his pitch type values show that he’s actually hitting sliders for a significant positive value, while his value on FB/CT/CB has all dipped (this is the 4th thing), so I’m stumped.

        I strongly suspect that the two main factors here are the increase in sliders and the increase in swinging, and that most other changes are dependent upon those (and luck/random variation). There is no evidence that his contact ability nor his power have started to go yet though. He’s swinging more, consciously or unconsciously, and he’s getting more sliders. Those may both be independent of each other, or one may be causing the other, but those are the two fundamental changes that (it seems to me) should be the basis for any discussion of Howard’s 2009.

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  2. brian says:

    So Howard HAS hit a few sliders in his career…

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  3. AB says:

    It’s not just a possible drop in talent as the only conclusion when looking at his HR differences. The missing piece of the analysis is approach. It’s all approach. He has an overly pull happy approach so far this year, especially against lefties

    When he gets white hot during each season (usually Sept), he really lets the ball get deep and takes advantage of CBP to hit fly ball HRs to left field, especially against left handed pitchers. He’ll have months of not being able to hit a lefty with a tennis racket (due a lot to his pull happy approach), and then the light will come on and he’ll have months where he is hitting oppo bombs off some of the toughest lefties in the division, including Gonzalez and Santana

    The one oppo HR he did hit this year was at Dodger Stadium off a pitch six inches off the outside black, 94 mph. When he allows the ball to get that deep on him, he has the talent to do that so much more often

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    • Davidceisen says:

      My thoughts exactly. Howard is streaky as hell. He hasn’t really gone into a really hot stretch this season.

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  4. AB says:

    I would strongly suspect that if one was to do this same spray chart each year on July 1st, they would see similar results (especially re the lack of oppo HRs). When Howard is red hot he is hitting most of his HRs left of center. Even when he is battling a slump, usually with horrible overeager pull approach/poor pitch recognition, he is still powerful enough to crush mistakes, usually to center or pull….but when he is locked in, mostly oppo HRs. He hasn’t been red hot yet, hence fewer oppo bombs.

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  5. Matt S says:

    AB- I agree with your statement on approach for the most part, but what seems strange to me is that if Howard is “pull happy” why isn’t he hitting more pull HR’s. That is the easiest HR to hit and Citizen Bank is shortest at that point. I would guess that he is probably hitting more pull doubles than usual, but I don’t have the time to dig that up now.

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  6. Sal Paradise says:

    One friendly suggestion — when making plots like this (scatter plots with lots of clumping), it would be helpful to either:
    a) Make the markers open circles so you can see overlap
    b) Make them 50% transparent so you can see the overlap better

    Alternatively, you can just make them smaller, or non-circles so that there isn’t as much overlap. It makes it easier to see the patterns.

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  7. Rich says:

    You ARE aware that Howard always hits way better in the 2nd half, right?

    Howard through 300 AB in 2008: 20 HR
    Howard through 301 AB in 2009: 20 HR

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  8. Derek says:

    Agree with Rich, it would be interesting to see where his home runs go by half as hits not only for a better average, but for more power, in the second half.

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  9. AB says:

    “AB- I agree with your statement on approach for the most part, but what seems strange to me is that if Howard is “pull happy” why isn’t he hitting more pull HR’s. That is the easiest HR to hit and Citizen Bank is shortest at that point. I would guess that he is probably hitting more pull doubles than usual, but I don’t have the time to dig that up now.”

    The approach really manifests itself against LHP. I think he has like 19 HRs vs righties, 3 vs lefties with a sub .600 OPS. Which is far worse than his career platoon split.

    The reason his numbers are down this year compared to say, 2006, is almost entirely explained by 2 things….regression vs LHP, and lack of IBBs. He’s still the same dangerous hitter vs righties, where he is more willing to let the ball get deep (hence the HRs to the middle of the field)

    He has been horribly futile vs LHP so far due to a really flawed approach….he clearly looks uncomfortable getting behind in the count/recognizing pitches, so he gets very eager, pulls off and offers and a lot of bad balls/quality strikes….and basically whiffs

    When he is going good vs LHPs, he takes a left field approach and hits bunches of oppo HRs. This happened last year in Sept after struggling mightily vs LHP before that, he relaxed and started driving the ball out to left. I suspect (hope) that the same adjustment is coming this year

    You really need to watch him every day to get the full picture….he is not losing bat speed or plate coverage that would manifest themselves in loss of power, he just looks lost/extremely uncomfortable most ABs vs lefties (who just throw up junk and get results). When he hits a ball hard to left against a lefty, or starts taking close balls off the outside corner….then watch out, and that’s when the power numbers really start piling up

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  10. Carl says:

    Howard has 22 HRs and 67 RBI with .529 SLG at the all-star break. I hardly think those numbers warrant concern.

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  11. Slick says:

    This site is like working for a corporation. Charts and stats coming out the wazoo that try to justify everything.

    Where is the chart that shows where his homeruns were going when he was jacked up on roids vs the ones where he was no longer on roids?

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  12. NEPP says:

    Obvious troll is obvious.

    There is no reason whatsoever to suspect Howard of PED use. Considering he broke into the league AFTER major testing began and has never failed or even been linked to any PED use whatsoever, it is the worst kind of slander to make such a comment. He’s a huge guy who has always been big. He hasn’t had his hat size jump up or undergone a massive transformation in recent years. He actually lost 30-40 lbs over the off-season and slimmed down. The power is natural.

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    • Kris says:

      There’s reason to suspect anyone of ‘roid use. I almost never look at a guy before I decide whether or not he’s juicing. With that said, I love me some Ryan Howard and would never accuse him of such terrible things.

      However, this post and the Soriano post got the gears a churnin’. Players are definitely going to evolve differently now, and signing a player until he’s 40 is going to prove to be a terrible mistake more often than not.

      I’ve always found it enjoyable how readily people on this site jump to defend players from false accusations of steroid use. The truth is, we don’t know one way or the other.

      I’d assume that stats minded folk would understand how trivial baseball statistics are and how hard the old-timey baseball media jumps on a player for those statistics.

      When someone accuses a player of coming off roids, and thus losing his power, a terrible rebuttal would include “he actually lost 40lbs”.

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    • Tim says:

      actually howard lost a great deal of weight between 08 and 09, and even trimmed down some more this past spring, to help his D. But to say the he’s on HGH or any type of steroid is preposterous. Howard is one of the few respectable athletes in any sport…

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  13. DavidCEisen says:

    And by the end of the year Ryan’s chart displays power to all fields: http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2009_4613&type=hitter

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