Replacing Ryan Howard At First Base

The news for Philadephia Phillies fans on Friday night was grim. By Saturday, the news was grimmer.

The Phillies were ousted from the playoffs after losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the Division Series. Ryan Howard made the last out of the game, grounding out to the right side. Howard barely made it out of the batter’s box on the play. He ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left leg while starting his run to first base and collapsed in a heap on the first base line as the Cardinals celebrated their NLDS victory.

Howard will undergo surgery to repair the Achilles tendon after the swelling subsides. Estimates on Howard’s recovery time range from six to eight months following surgery, meaning Howard could be ready for Opening Day 2012 or not until June. That’s a fair bit of uncertainty for the Phillies, who face a number of roster decisions this winter.

What should the Phillies do at first base while Howard recuperates?

Nothing

Not literally nothing, but more like a wait-and-see nothing. If Howard’s swelling subsides quickly, the sooner he can have surgery to repair the torn Achilles. Assuming the surgery is successful, the Phillies may be able to pencil Howard in at first base by early April. If so, it’s expected the Phillies would use John Mayberry Jr. at first base until Howard returns.

Mayberry logged 100 innings at first base for the Phillies in 2011 in addition to nearly 475 innings among the three outfield positions. UZR rates Mayberry highest in left field and right field but still prefers Mayberry over Howard at first. Defensively, then, the Phillies likely would be fine with Mayberry at first base as the 2012 season gets underway.

At the plate, the Phillies would be delighted if they got the Mayberry of the second half of 2011. After returning from AAA on July 5, Mayberry posted a wOBA of .408 and a wRC+ of 160 with 12 home runs in 163 at-bats. Over the same period, Howard hit 16 home runs in 258 at-bats, but his wOBA was .353 and his wRC+ was 122.

Mayberry has not shown that he can sustain that kind of offensive output over the long term. But if all goes well with Howard’s surgery and rehabilitation, the Phillies won’t need Mayberry at first base over the long term.

A big question, though, is how much Mayberry figures into the Phillies’ outfield plans for 2012. The Phillies are not expected to re-sign 39-year old left fielder Raul Ibanez but center fielder Shane Victorino and left fielder Hunter Pence will return. Many Phillies fans are hoping to see uber-prospect Dominic Brown as the Opening Day left fielder. If the Phillies go that route, Mayberry can fill in for Howard at first base and then become the fourth outfielder when Howard returns.

Sign a Free Agent

There will be plenty of free agents on the market not named Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder and some of them can even play first base, among other positions. Two interesting possibilities for the Phillies are Michael Cuddyer and Juan Rivera.

Michael Cuddyer

Cuddyer has played his entire professional career with the Minnesota Twins, breaking into the majors in 2001. He didn’t play consistently until 2004 (115 games) but has been a steady presence for the Twins ever since. In his time with the Twins, Cuddyer’s played all three outfield positions, third base, second base and first base. In 2011, he was used primarily in right field and first base with some time at second. Cuddyer has negative career UZR ratings at every position but center and left where he’s logged the fewest innings. He did post a 2.1 UZR at first this season, so perhaps he trending in the right direction.

Cuddyer has a career wOBA of .345 and he’s been consistently in and around that number since 2004. His best season for power hitting was 2009 when he slugged .520 with an ISO of .245. After a down power year in 2010, he bounced back this season to slug .459 with an ISO of .176. Cuddyer’s wRC+ was 124 this season, the same as in 2009.

Cuddyer reportedly turned down a 2-year/$16 million offer from the Twins during the season. With his consistently good offensive numbers and his versatility in the field, Cuddyer will have several suitors this winter, including the Twins. If Cuddyer wants a three-year deal, he’ll likely get it, but not from the Phillies. A long-term deal for a first baseman/right fielder makes little sense for the Phillies, given Howard’s 5-year/$125 million contract extension and team control of Pence through the 2013 season. A one-year deal in the $10 million range would make more sense for the Phillies.

Juan Rivera

Rivera broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2002 but played a majority of his career (2006-2010) with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Before the 2011 season, the Angels traded Rivera and Mike Napoli to the Toronto Blue Jays for Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays then traded Rivera back to the west coast this summer, sending him to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 12.

Rivera is primarily an outfielder, garnering the most time in left field over his career. But in the last two seasons, Rivera’s played 400-plus innings at first base. UZR rates Rivera as slightly above average in left field and just about average at first base. Rivera’s defense at first place as compared to Howard’s is close to wash.

Offensively, Rivera doesn’t approach Howard, much less Cuddyer or Mayberry. His final slash for 2011 was .258/.319/.382 with a wOBA of .308 and a wRC+ of 96. Rivera’s greatest attribute this winter may be his availability and willingness to sign an incentive-driven short-term deal. If the Phillies decide to go with Mayberry subbing for Howard at first and with Dominic Brown in left, having Rivera off the bench to play both positions may make sense, at the right price.

The Phillies have options for replacing Howard at first base, internally and on the free agent market. The timing for his surgery and the early recuperation period may determine which of those options the Phillies pursue in earnest.

We hoped you liked reading Replacing Ryan Howard At First Base by Wendy Thurm!

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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yawwwn
Guest
yawwwn

I don’t think it will be hard to replace a 1B who provides only 1.6 WAR over 152 games..

Bill
Guest
Bill

Where are they going to get Howard’s RBI’s? Not everyone can perform at basically their career averages when they come to bat with runners in scoring position.

Telo
Guest
Telo

“Not everyone can perform at basically their career averages when they come to bat with runners in scoring position.”

L
o
L

jake
Guest
jake

Anyone know the RBI to WAR conversion rate?

Telo
Guest
Telo

/\
This could be the best comment on FG ever.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Compare these two players:

[1] Ryan Howard non-RISP
[2] Ryan Howard RISP

Post the results.

His career average encompasses his RISP data, thus making his career average a lot better. We’re not comparing Howard to his career average, we’re comparing his non-RISP self to his RISP self, and to those situations of other players, to see if in fact they would all get the same RBI.

They would not, due to Howard’s [1] increased opportunities with RSIP, and [2] his elevated performance in RISP situations.

I’m not defneding Howard, only calling for accuracy.

aladou
Guest
aladou

CircleChange11, that’s not as funny though.

adohaj
Guest
adohaj

Ryan Howard wRC+

Career bases empty 123
Career men on base 145

Looks hard to replace to me

Brad Johnson
Member

Howard also posted a 5.14 WPA which I believe was 9th best in baseball. He consistently does this. The Phillies will be hard pressed to find an offensive player who can do this.

Part of the reason Howard looks good by WPA standards is that it doesn’t consider defense/baserunning where he earns seriously negative points.

DD
Guest
DD

It also doesn’t consider that he comes to bat with more runners on base than anyone in baseball since 2006. Quantity over quality.

NS
Guest
NS

“He consistently does this.”

You mean every other year, i.e. randomly?

2011 – 5.14
2010 – 1.78
2009 – 6.03
2008 – 2.39
2007 – 3.08
2006 – 8.04

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

It also doesn’t consider that he comes to bat with more runners on base than anyone in baseball since 2006. Quantity over quality.

Do the people that say this stuff know that Ryan Howard is among the league’s best in terms of performance with men on base?

It’s NOT just quantity, it’s BOTH quantity and quality.

Again, I’m not a Howard defender, but if people are going to continue to point out aspects of the situation s and make statements that are incorrect, they should be aware that the Ryan Howard RBI situation has been studied and the data shows something.

Hint; It’s not all opportunities and luck, even that diminishes some of our insults at Ryan Howard.

aladou
Guest
aladou

I believe Howard also has the 4th highest OBI% in MLB since 2007, 3rd highest since 2008.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Sure it won’t, just grab a ROY level 1B (i.e., check Hsomer and Freeman’s WAR).

There are 8 1B’s that had more batting runs that Howard in 2011.

He loses value in baserunning (-1 WAR) and fielding (-0.5 WAR).

Looking at the power/offense numbers of the guys above him, I don;t think it’s as easy as you think you find a 1B that is slightly lower than league average.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

You’re trying to make him look good by focusing on the one thing he’s good at (hitting).

If you disregard the skill set, he’s eminently replaceable. Here’s a select list of 1Bmen who produced a better WAR than Howard in 2010/2011 on a rate basis: Aubrey Huff, Jason Giambi, Gaby Sanchez, Carlos Pena, Michael Cuddyer, Derrek Lee, Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, James Loney, Todd Helton.

Telo
Guest
Telo

eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable
eminently replaceable

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
My echo and bunnymen

When James Loney could replace, something’s wrong.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

No I was saying that he’s not easily replacable.

I don;t give two poops about whether Ryan howard is good. He’s not on my team and he’s not my kid.

But, we gotta stop acting like you can justgrab a Ryan howard out of any minor league system.

That’s making us look stupid.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

You’re trying to make him look good by focusing on the one thing he’s good at (hitting).

By comparing him to two highly touted rookies that are below average fielders and below average baserunners?

What I AM saying is that there’s not many organizations that have a Hosmer or Freeman … so NO, he’s not easily replaceable.

Wishging something to be true does not make it reality. I’m dealing directly in facts, not trying to skew the data or conlcusion one way or another. I’m not trying to be funny or sound smart ripping or praising Ryan Howard.

I’m looking at the numbers and seeing what they say.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

And, CircleChange, my response to your assertion that he’s not easily-replaceable is that he could be easily replaced by guys like Aubrey Huff, Jason Giambi, Gaby Sanchez, Carlos Pena, Michael Cuddyer, Derrek Lee, Russell Branyan, Eric Hinske, James Loney, Todd Helton.

Are you saying that the Phillies couldn’t easily grab one of those guys, or someone like them?

Jake
Guest
Jake

Eric friggin’ Hinkse?!

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

Aubrey Huff is no replacement. Seriously, he’s been below replacement level 2 out of the last 3 years. You could use his 6 WAR 2010 to show that he’s a cpaable rpelacement for a whole host of All-Star 1Bs.

With some of the guys you mention, you’re looking at their platoon splits and extrapolating that out to a full season. Could Giambi and Branyan even play a full season?

Lee, Helton, and Pena could all likely put up a league average season at 1B.

You could have also mentioned Casey Kotchman.

Strider
Guest
Strider

This was actually posted by someone below regarding Ryan Howard. “You’re trying to make him look good by focusing on the one thing he’s good at (hitting).” Um. Yeah. He’s paid to hit. Specifically, he’s paid to drive in runs. You can quote all of the made up statistics you want, like WAR. He strikes out a lot. He’s slow, and mediocre defensively, but he drives in runs. In fact, he’s one of the best in the history of baseball at the thing he was hired to do. His at-bats per RBI numbers are in the top 10 of all-time! Ahead of a guy you may have heard of named Joe DiMaggio. Ahead of a guy I know you yahoos have heard of, Albert Pujols. Somebody below said he was “a below average player the last two seasons.” Really? More RBI’s over that span than precious Pujols. More than Votto. In fact, the only two in all of baseball I can find that beat him in RBI’s over that span are Cabrera and Cano, and both by 7 RBI or less over two seasons. If you add in the three years before that, Howard crushes everyone in baseball. Not just some. EVERYONE. Bottom line: criticize him all you like for not being the perfect all-around player, but don’t claim he’s not valuable. If I’m putting together a lineup and looking for a cleanup hitter to get guys across the plate, there’s nobody better.

DD
Guest
DD

nobody better….unless a LH reliever is on the mound. Or any LH pitcher.

See my comment above from 1:15 PM – Quantity over Quality.

NS
Guest
NS

The dogma is strong with this one.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

Just because you pay someone a great deal of money to do a particular thing, doesn’t mean a) that thing is useful; b) that thing is worth what was paid; or c) that thing is a skill that actually exists.

Strider
Guest
Strider

So, how does saying Howard gets to hit with Runners on base make a valid argument against my point that he is a great RBI guy? Isn’t that what he’s supposed to do? Hit with guys on base? Sacrifice flies? I don’t deny he’s not the perfect player; he has many flaws. But I think each player has a role on a team, from the utility infielder to the quick center fielder, from the pinch hitter to the cleanup. Howard’s job is to get those runners you mentioned (and himself, when possible) across the plate; and he’s pretty good at it.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

What other metrics look at it how much his below average fielding and well below average baserunning take away from his above average bat.

The elite power hitting Ryan Howard that puts up 50+ batting runs is extinct, and along with it is the Ryan Howard that knocks in 140+ runs in a season.

He’s now a 20-30 batting run player that loses 15 runs to baserunning and fielding. In other words, he’s paid like a 50 HR 140 RBI player, but he’s only a 30 HR 110 RBI guy. There are other 30-100 players that are extremelly valuable because they walk a lot, play good d, etc. Howard is essentially a power only player, whose power is almost half of what it was.

However, detractors can no longer just refer to the default “well anyone could get those RBIs with his opportunities” because the data shows that not only does he get a lot of opportunities but hits very well in those chances, better than most others.

Ryan Howard is valuable and the people that say he isn’t do not likely realize the value of an average MLB 1B … quite a hitter. Howard gets overly criticized because he’s now paid like a 5 WAR player but is only a 2 WAR player.

If baseball was hitting only, he’d be more valuable than he is. baseball is not hitting only. Not in the NL.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

I believe, if you convert $$$ to WAR to RBI’s, he’s paid like a guy who should hit 200 RBI’s a season. I did the math and everything, I promise.

Luke M
Guest
Luke M

Not sure if serious.

jim
Guest
jim

lol, this post is funny

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