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.

how_hrs

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.

how_pow

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.

hr_pitches_loc

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.



Print This Post



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



Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ender
Guest
Ender

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.

Mark R
Guest
Mark R

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

Davidceisen
Guest
Davidceisen

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.

brian
Guest
brian

Players best seasons generally occur in their late 20s.

Kyle Boddy
Guest

brian,

Player development is not a normal distribution.

Mark R
Guest
Mark R

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.

philosofool
Guest
philosofool

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.

Terminator X
Guest
Terminator X

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?

Terminator X
Guest
Terminator X

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.

wpDiscuz