Howard’s Absence Has Killed the Myth

Posted by Corey Seidman, Sat, June 30, 2012 07:00 AM | Comments: 20

Ryan Howard hadn’t run the bases in a competitive situation until arriving in Lakewood on Thursday. He hadn’t hit in a game that counted. Until Friday, he hadn’t fielded at game speed.

That the Phillies chose to allow Howard to play first base one night after he made his rehab debut was a positive sign. Howard in his postgame press conference Thursday said repeatedly that he didn’t know what the next step was. He didn’t know if he’d play two nights in a row. He didn’t know when he’d play the field. He had to talk the “guys upstairs.”

Then about 10 minutes later, Lakewood’s director of public relations entered the press room and announced that Howard would play first base Friday night.

The Phillies miss Ryan Howard. A lot.

This season has taught us a lot about the Phillies. One lesson is that, despite what WAR may and may not say, a platoon of mediocre first basemen is not equal to Howard. Forget about the strikeouts and the declining slash-lines. The prior notion that a league-average first baseman could produce as much as Howard is simply not true.

Phillies’ first basemen entered Friday with a season batting line of .261/.321/.417, with 11 homers and 41 RBI. They had 26 walks to 80 strikeouts.

In 2011, easily the worst season of Howard’s career, he hit .253/.352/.484 over the first 78 games, with 16 homers and 62 RBI. He had 41 walks to 88 strikeouts.

Those numbers are nearly identical to what Curtis Granderson is doing this season, and Granderson has been worth 10.8 offensive runs so far, according to Fangraphs. Phillies’ first basemen have been worth 1.4 offensive runs.

Howard had five more homers, 21 more RBI, 15 more walks and eight more strikeouts through 78 games than the Phillies’ 2012 first basemen. Thirty-one more points of OBP, 67 more points of slugging.

That difference of nearly 10 runs between Howard and the collection of Ty Wigginton, Laynce Nix, Jim Thome and John Mayberry could have come at any time. It could have come in the form of a first-inning three-run homer that allowed the Phils to cruise to a victory they didn’t get. It could have come in the form of an RBI single with a runner on third, where Mayberry or Wigginton flew out gently. With how awfully the Phils have performed in close games this season, no single run can be taken for granted.

Howard will return at July 17 or earlier, barring a setback. He is no longer worried about his Achilles’, he said Thursday night, only about recovering his timing at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He won’t be 100 percent during the second-half of the season, but 85 percent of Ryan Howard is still probably more valuable than the league-average production the Phils have received from first base.

Those prolonged myths about Howard being expendable because his WAR said so… those can be laid to rest.

He’s not Joey Votto, he’s not Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera. But he’s a difference-making bat who will give you between a .850 and .930 OPS over the next handful of seasons. Whether that’s worth $125 million, let’s debate it for the 767th time… another time.

Hopefully the first 78 games of the 2012 season explained why we’ve been foolish to take Ryan Howard for granted.

Avatar of Corey Seidman

About Corey Seidman

Corey Seidman has written 210 articles on Phillies Nation.

Corey is Analysis Editor for Phillies Nation and also writes for CSNPhilly.com.

  • Posts: 0 George

    I’ve never taken Howard for granted, and I don’t think the rest of the NL has, either. His is a dangerous bat despite it’s weaknesses in certain situations. Maybe he doesn’t hit lefties well, but even lefties know that if they’re not careful, Ryan will blast them.

    That said, you have unfortunately opened the door to intense debate about his contract, despite your admonition to save it for another time. I probably won’t check back, because I’m sure there will be at least a million comments by Andrew from Waldorf.

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    Corey, everyone knows that we miss Ryan Howard. As George so astutely mentioned, the contract is the thing. Howard offensive performance is very good. His offensive performance relative to expectations created by his contract is not. That’s why people rag on him. But, for the purpose of this thread – the Phils miss him.

    The Dipsy

    • Posts: 0 Teodoro

      Hey guys, long time reader; love the site and the cotmnems.I’m glad May got his feet wet in Clearwater, it’s good for him and even though it wasn’t successful in numbers; here’s to hoping he re-finds his groove at Lakewood. Also good for Matt Way. Nice to see anyone get promoted but he’s been doing well (as has been noted) recently so hopefully he continues.

  • Posts: 1108 betasigmadeltashag

    Avatar of betasigmadeltashag

    For the most part and I know you can not really compare it because it was last year, this is the same team as last year with a better bench. What was their record last year at this point , and what is there record this year, so Ryan is worth that many wins over his replacement. Is that worth 25 million dollars? I know I know we had Oswalt last year and Cliff was pitching shut outs every other time.
    But if you are going to rag on Ryan for his contract, you have to take the same view of zero win Cliff Lee’s contract.

    • Posts: 1135 EricL

      Avatar of EricL

      If you really believe any of that you’re…um…misguided.

      I’d respond in more detail but it seems like such an obvious troll post that I don’t think it’s worth my time.

  • Posts: 0 JDG

    So Howard hypothetically may have added 10 runs to the Phillies offense had he been active in 2012. That translates to 1 win.

    Ryan Howard is worth 1 win more than his replacements over half of a season. 1 WAR.

  • Posts: 0 Jeff Dowder

    Isn’t the pitching the main reason why this team is so bad? I don’t think their record would be that much different with Howard in the lineup.

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    The record would not be that much different with Ryan in the lineup. Their offense is actually better this year than last year. And Ryan can’t pitch.

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Corey Seidman

    JDG – Yes, it translates to 1 win in a vacuum, based on very imperfect criteria.

    I don’t think 67 points of slugging, 30+ points
    of OBP, etc. is worth just one win over what we’ve seen. Like I said, those 10 runs could have come at any time. And the WAR –> wins translation doesn’t account for a team with as many one-run and extra-inning losses as the Phils.

    If anything, Howard’s absence should explain why the WAR to wins translation isn’t gospel.

  • Posts: 1135 EricL

    Avatar of EricL


    First, the loss of Utley was much more significant than losing Howard, because the difference in production between Utley and his replacements is larger than the difference in production between Howard and his replacements. Halladay being injured for the better part of the year didn’t help either, nor did the season-ending injuries to 3 key bullpen pieces. I’d be much more comfortable with a title something along the lines of “Injuries have killed the myth.”

    Second, I don’t know the source of your optimism. You say he’ll post something between an .850-.930 OPS for the next handful of seasons. Well…why? He posted a .831 last season–as you pointed out, the worst season of his career, but also in line with his trending decrease in power–so how can you say that he’ll top that? He may, but to bank on that level of production seems overly presumptive. And this season especially looks questionable. You pointed out that the replacements have posted a .261/.321/.417 line to this point, with 11 HR. You later mention that 85% of Howard is probably better than what they are running out there right now. I find that too, to be questionable. 85% of Ryan Howard’s numbers from last season project to .215/.299/.411 with ~14 HR (and you might reasonably argue that the HR numbers would be even worse with the lost off power from his lower body). That’s not better than the replacements. And if you factor in his immobility on the field and his being one of the worst baserunners in all of baseball even prior to this injury you’re almost certainly downgrading, if he is indeed at something like 85%.

    I could be convinced, in fact, that had Laynce Nix not gotten injured the L/R platoon at first between he and Wigginton very well may have outperformed Howard for the rest of this season. The injury, however, forced Wigginton and Mayberry into action against RHP and they’ve performed quite poorly.

    Finally, I find the notion of throwing out WAR comparisons by focusing only on offensive statistics counterproductive, as the whole point of WAR is to get a more comprehensive account of the value a player provides in all facets of the game. I think most would agree that Ryan Howard is certainly an above average hitter, due mostly to his tremendous power. That, however, is only one component of WAR, so you can’t say, basically, “He’s a great hitter, and his replacements have been mediocre and the Phillies have lost a bunch of games, so WAR is useless here!” because you’re ignoring the two portions of the game in which he is significantly worse than average (fielding, base running) and which detract from his value overall. (You’re also assuming that Howard’s absence is in large part responsible for the Phillies poor record, which, as I said above, is not at all clear.)

    • Posts: 0 Corey Seidman

      Ive watched every inning of every game this season. There have been several 3-6-1 double plays Howard wouldn’t have made. Aside from that there has been very, very little that Wigginton/Nix/Mayberry have done defensively that Howard couldn’t or wouldn’t. Howard, despite his deficiencies, is also one of the better first basemen in the league at making scoops.

      I trust my eyes and the eyes of anyone who covers the team better than defensive metrics. That’s why I ignored them and focused on the batting runs component of WAR.

      You took the next step and calculated what 85% of Howard would be. Mine was probably an ill-advised sentence. I said 85% because that’s the percentage Howard put on himself Wednesday.

  • Posts: 0 Jeff Dowder

    If the Phillies had the Nationals pitching staff (including bullpen), there’s a good chance that they’d be on top of the division. This mess has nothing to do with not having Howard.

    • Posts: 2071 Brooks

      Avatar of Brooks

      Review your stats Jeff – in 2009, the Phillies pitchers had a combined 4.16 ERA and yet the team won 93 games and went on to the WS. Blanton, Hamels and Moyer (3 of the 5 starters) all sported an ERA over 4 and the team lead in wins that year was between JA Happ and Jamie Moyer with a whopping 12 victories. The BP was really in shambles as Cholly did not give up on Lidge (his ERA was 7.21 and his record 0-8).

      Of course there were some hitters back then and 224 hrs to boot.

      This year, the team ERA is 4.15 and the Phils are still headed on a downward spiral, with or without Utley. Its not just the pitching.

      • Posts: 0 Ken Bland

        I think Jeff’s point carries validity. I can remember toward early September last year when there was a big deal made about the Phils team ERA being right around 3.00. The Nats team ERA is 3.12, and that rose from 3.01 after a 10-9 game against the Rockies just the other day. All he said was there’s a good chance they’d be on top of the division. He said nothing about dominating. In ’09, you could get away with inferior pitching more so than against an improved 2012 lot. And as Raul produced good if not spotty numbers, Werth having an overall good year, and Howard and Chase breing productive, a pretty good offense carried that pitching staff. Take an earned run a game off the current club’s numbers, and saying there’s a good chance they’d be at the top of the division seems plausible.

        It’s not just the pitching, but it’s a very large part of it.

      • Posts: 0 Jeff Dowder

        Brooks – You know as well as I do that this bullpen is horrendous. It has a chance to be historically bad.

        Even leaving the starting rotation out of the equation, let’s review the stats:

        Tyler Clippard 1.89 ERA
        Craig Stammen 1.48 ERA
        Sean Burnett 1.57 ERA
        Ryan Mattheus 1.75 ERA
        Tom Gorzelanny 3.89 ERA
        Mike Gonzalez 2.16 ERA

        What do you think would have more impact on this team – having Howard for a full season or having that bullpen?

  • Posts: 571 Bruce

    Avatar of Bruce

    Of course, the Phillies missed him and in the worst way. His very presence in the clubhouse and on the field is a hugh factor for the team and certainly the opponents give him that due respect.

    In regards to last night’s game, to see another bad outing for Cliff Lee is the last thing the Phillies need to begin a nine game stretch against N.L. East teams as they head to the All-Star break. I don’t want to be melodramatic but personally for me, I see these nine games as the moment of truth in assessing the team’s chances for the playoffs. Sure, there are 83 games left in the season but time is no longer a luxury when the team basically have to play .600 ball the rest of the way in order to leapfrog the other four teams and win the division.

    Right now, I’m afraid the Phillies may not be able to compete at the highest level against those very teams in the N.L. East especially without Halladay and Howard and the musical chairs being played with the inexperienced young relievers. With a season high high seven games below .500 and sinking deeper in the cellar, my hopes for the team are also sinking.

    What I’m seeing is a team weighted down with so many problems and may be not be able to resolve in time. Their bullpen is in disarray with relievers being called up with little or no major league experience to replace the injured (Stutes, Herndon and Contreas) and others whose failures have resulted in losses the Phillies can’t take back. Injuries also affected the starting rotation with FOUR starters having been on the DL during the season (Hamels is the lone exception). It’s worthwhile to note that the ERA of team’s starters since Halladay went on the DL on May 29 is now 5.16. We all know how much the loss of Utley and Howard during the first half of the season meant to the team.

    What can one say about Lee’s ineffective starts of late (5.68 ERA in his last eight starts, and an 8.64 ERA in his last three)? It’s somewhat a mystery and perhaps it started with his 15 day DL that began on April 21. Is it a slump (pitchers and hitters alike goes through that during the season)? As fans we don’t have the advantage of the coach and teammates being on the field and getting a close-up look at him on the mound. We don’t know if his problem is mental or physical. Whatever it is, he has to rebound quickly if the team are going to have any chance to turn it around for the second half of the season.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    This will go on forever I guess.

    Some people are 100% invested in this guy.

    Reminds me alot of Donovan Mcnabb.

    Last year when healthy Ryan howard was 36th in OPS.


    It was .835. But the author here chooses to say the next few years you can expect .930 coming off an injury.

    His slugging percetage fell right after shortstops Jose Reyes and JJ Hardy.

    He was healthy all year LOL and now hes had an achillies injury.

    The is the exact type of laughable stuff I come here for though I guess.
    I cant wait for his return. Too bad they will be 15 out by then.

    But of course with him here theyd be in first

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    Lefty can vouch for this.

    That this team would suck and the people would say it was because of Howards absense was possibly the easier to predict then Haleys comet.

    Expected. Just didnt think there would be a column like this.

    And like I always said with Baumeister. Thanks for the work and submitting a column.

    I generaly do not attack the columns here. And dont mean to start.

    Carry on Phillies nation.
    Nice to see Pence cant run the Bases like he cant field.

    But he sure can hit.

  • Posts: 0 Mike

    Anyone who couldn’t have predicted these struggles without Howard are fools. They lost all 8 games he was out those last two weeks of September and won the remaining 4 when he returned. This team sinks or swims around Ryan…

    • Posts: 3085 Chuck A.

      Avatar of Chuck A.

      Can’t wait to see what someone from someplace called Waldorf has to say about that statement!

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