October 27, 2010

Defending Ryan Howard.

From MG, one of my favorite commenters on the excellent Philadelphia Phillies blog known as Beerleaguer:

"Ryan Howard led the regulars this postseason in AVG (.303), OBP (.395), SLG (.424), OPS (.819), XHB (4), and TB (14)."

Yet the amount of shit being piled upon Howard, the number of times he's been appointed "official postseason goat," is absurd. You'd think he had a series like Pat Burrell's 2008 World Series rather than one that came very close to his career norms.

Ryan Howard had a .900 OPS in the National League Championship Series. That is higher than his OPS for the 2008 season, in which he received the second most votes in the National League MVP race. It was also higher than his OPS for the 2010 season. Meanwhile, Raul Ibanez's NLCS OPS was .513. Jimmy Rollins came in at .624. Chase Utley had a meager .561.

The Phillies were generally awful at the plate this postseason, and Ryan Howard did indeed come up small in terms of power. The reason he was offered a $125 million extension is because he socks dingers, a lot of them, and inspires a great deal of fear in the cleanup spot. This wasn't exactly the role he played in the playoffs, I'll admit that.

But he was on base all the time, and he led the team in extra-base hits. The blame should be spread around, and he certainly deserves some of it. But to imply that Ryan Howard came up small this postseason is to ignore the facts and focus on what you want Ryan Howard to be.

He's not Albert Pujols, and he's unfortunately not Reggie Jackson either. His hot streaks are legendary, and his powerless streaks are even more so. On a Phillies team that suddenly had no hope but the long ball, everyone expected Howard to provide a few. And when he didn't, it became his fault that the rest of the team was struggling.

More postseason facts: Rollins hit 1-11 with runners in scoring position (RISP). Shane Victorino hit 2-10. Jayson Werth hit 2-9, Howard hit 1-7 and Ibanez hit 1-6. Placido Polanco and Utley were the only success stories in that department, at 3-6 and 2-6, respectively.

Howard does sit right in the middle of that sad, sad group. But MG also notes that Howard had only one game (Game 6 of the NLCS) where he had more than one more at-bat with RISP. In that game, he went 1-3. More often than not, people just weren't getting on base in front of him. If Victorino, Polanco and Utley had been on second base for a few of those Howard singles or doubles, the RBIs would have been there. It's even more proof that RBIs are an overrated, outdated statistic.

Ryan Howard has holes in his swing, gaping ones that many teams have taken advantage of. He's poor against left-handers and it doesn't seem likely that he'll challenge 60 homers again. For whatever reason, this year his on-base and slugging percentages dropped while his batting average went up. It's enough to make baseball stat geeks go insane, and it's probably not conducive to Howard remaining a premier hitter as his lengthy extension comes to an end.

But consider this. Howard missed 19 games this year with injuries and struggled to find his swing in at least a dozen more, but he still ended the season eighth in the National League in home runs and fourth in RBIs. Even though he's "gone Hollywood" with his Entourage appearances and Eagles game attendances, he's still driving in runs and doing his job. He's still quite the slugger, and while he may never match what he did at the plate in 2006, he's arguably the most important hitting cog in the Phillies machine.

Ninety percent of baseball teams, and cities, would kill to have a Ryan Howard. He did his part in bringing Philadelphia a championship in 2008, and he did his part in attempting to bring home another in 2010. The Phillies ultimately fell short, but you'd be foolish to blame that on Ryan Howard.


Peter said...

and he missed out on his chance to invest in the tequila of the future!

H said...

Oh hey there king,

Didn't get a chance to talk some mess yet...someone needed to file a missing persons report sooner because your whole offense disapeared!

Congrats on the dynastic appearance of your squad, it will likely continue for a few years. And if you're lucky the giants will overpay for Werth. Though he is pretty great.