This is not an article to try to sway anyone in an argument for or against Ryan Howard. Those who like him, like him…and those that don’t, don’t. Of course there are things he could improve upon, but all too often we focus on the shortcomings of our Philadelphia athletes instead of enjoying then for what they are.
Not every player can be Albert Pujols, or Alex Rodriguez, players who, when they call it a career, will be considered among the greatest to ever play the game. Baseball is a game often measured by milestones. Whether they are season marks or career achievements, reaching certain numbers has always been the barometer against which we measure success. Only in recent years have we seen the measuring stick include new categories with the shift from “baseball card stats” to “saber stats,” as sabermetrics gain popularity and credibility.
When did the 30 HR, 100 RBI season become something unappreciated in Major League Baseball? Only 15 players tallied those totals during the 2010 season. How is it that a player who joins that club can be said to have a bad season, or that they are not a good player?
For a long time, such numbers were the benchmarks of a prolific season, then we got into the smaller ballparks, and the steroid-era… and it has now become clear that the years of multiple player hitting 40, 50, 60+ home runs have passed. Ryan Howard likely isn’t ever going to hit the 45 HR, 145 RBI plateaus that some people think he should reach again, so what does it take to be consider to be a great home run hitter anymore?
Let’s go back to the 30 home runs. Ryan Howard now has 29 – after two on Tuesday night – with a month still to play, and his RBI total eclipsed 100 last night with his two-run home run in the fourth inning. He has these totals through 128 games. Baring injury, Howard is a lock to reach 30 homers soon, with a chance to make it 35-110, 35-120, etc, before the end of September. If Howard hits one more homer, it’ll be six consecutive seasons in which he has reached 30-100 (58-149 in 2006, 47-136 in 2007, 48-146 in 2008, 45-141 in 2009, 31-108 in 2010). For decades, this would have been enough to tell you that the player had a very solid season, a notion that has seemed to change as “not making outs” has become the flavor of the week, instead of “driving in runs.”
There are currently only nine players in Major League Baseball with 30 or more home runs this season: Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Mark Texiera, Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols, and Mark Reynolds, Mike Stanton, Lance Berkman, and Dan Uggla.
A few more should reach that mark before the season ends, having 25 home runs already: Prince Fielder, Troy Tulowitzki , Paul Konerko, Jay Bruce, Nelson Cruz, David Ortiz and Ryan Howard, Joey Votto, J.J. Hardy, Justin Upton and Ryan Braun.
That’s only 20 or so players in Major League Baseball that have 25 or more home runs as of August 31st.
Of those players:
- Only one has more RBI than Ryan Howard (Granderson; Fielder and Howard are tied at 102).
- Only Orioles 3B Mark Reynolds, has a lower WAR (0.7 to Howard’s 1.0).
- Only Paul Konerko is a worse base runner.
- Only Mark Reynolds, Dan Uggla, Lance Berkman, Ryan Braun, Curtis Granderson, and Matt Kemp rate as worse defensively than Ryan Howard (according to Fangraphs).
The point is, we know the player that Ryan Howard is, and we know the player that he is not. Likewise, the Phillies knew what they paid for when they resigned Howard, a power hitter that plays below average defense, doesn’t run the bases well, and strikes out a lot. But because they have the rare ability to add a run to the scoreboard with one swing of the bat, power hitters always have, and always will, demand bigger contracts than guys that can’t drive the ball out of the ballpark.
We can argue all we want about if that’s “fair” or “smart,” but power hitters draw fans to the ballparks, and keep eyes glued to the TV. They get paid just the same way NBA scorers get more than assist leaders, and NFL running backs get paid more than the blockers that allow them reach the end zone. It’s the guy that puts the points on the board that gets paid the most money.
Regardless of how much his paycheck is, Howard produces the power numbers that the Phillies knew he could contribute. If they were overly concerned with having a 1B that “gets on base,” they wouldn’t have signed Ryan Howard to his contract extension. They paid for him to hit home runs, and drive in the runners that are on base when he comes to plate, and he does both of those things well.
*(Among my theories for Howard’s excessive contract extension is that the Phillies may have looked at their closest NL competition – viewing the Brewers and Cardinals as teams that could challenge in the coming years; teams that do not have overwhelming resources, nor the ability to add unlimited payroll, and decided to force their best players out of those cities – or at least to handcuff the complementary pieces they could add around them. Ruben Amaro’s aggressive contract offer to Ryan Howard forces the Brewers and Cardinals to choose if they want to spend some 20-30% of their team’s total payroll to extend Prince Fielder, and Albert Pujols, respectively. Fielder can now demand that he be paid as much, or more than Ryan Howard – a player that he is younger than, and likely better than. The Brewers would have to decide if it’s worth $25-30 M per season to extend one player, or if they would be better served spreading that money around to fill multiple spots on their 25-man roster. Again, a theory.
A Brewers team without Prince Fielder is much less of a threat to the Phillies than this 2011 club from Milwaukee. The same can be said about the Cardinals, a team that has often gone with “replacement level players” at many of the spots around Pujols and Matt Holliday in the batting order. The Cardinals 2011 payrolls is $98 M, the Brewers payroll is $85.5 M. The Phillies have forced them to decide if $30 M per season for 7-10 years of Albert Pujols is a wise move for the Cardinals organization. According to Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman, Prince Fielder is thought to be seeking a $200 M contract- and many in baseball would be shocked if the Brewers were the team to offer that cash. Brewers catcher, Jonathan Lucroy was a guest on the Tony Bruno radio show, “Into the Night” (97.5 FM,) on Monday night and said, ”I don’t see any reason we couldn’t (continue to compete next year, even though), everyone knows we’re probably going to lose Prince next year.”
So do we still have such big issues with an “overpay” of Ryan Howard that can actually help ensure that the Phillies weaken the core of one of their top competitors? If Fielder leaves Milwaukee, I think Amaro will have proven once again that he’s multiple steps ahead of most other organizations in baseball.)
Throughout his career, Howard has obviously benefited from the fact that he hits with runners on base, but let’s give the man credit where credit is due. He’s not in the lineup to walk; he’s in the lineup to drive runners in, and to hit the ball over the fence when it’s possible.
If Howard had 39 home runs instead of 29, would that make a difference in the way people perceive him? If Howard was currently 3rd on the home run totals instead of 15th, would people show him more love? And if so, why aren’t those same fans satisfied that he’s 3rd in MLB in runs batted in?
Love him or leave him – he is what he is, and he’s on the verge of yet another 30+ HR, 100+ RBI season. Ryan Howard does the job the Phillies want him to do. Historically, he’s considered a very good player, but that’s not always the case when you play here in Philadelphia, or in this Sabermetric era.