EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a few days old but I wanted to promote it anyway, great work from JoshuaR. - WC
I have been reading the site for a while but have not commented that much. This is the slow time of the year for work for me so I have been delving into the baseball season. I am somewhat new to in depth use of sabermetrics (caught on about August of last year, but am still learning).
I wrote this up on Howard today and am hoping for some feedback. I just moved to Baltimore so I am not able to watch as many games as I have the past few years. Part of writing this is to see how I interpret the stats while watching a handful of games and comparing and contrasting that with what people see on a daily basis.
I am sorry if this has been discussed in length already this season but like I said, I am a little late to the party. Any feedback is appreciated (except for grammar nitpickers).
After having a K% of over 30% in each season so far in his career for the Phillies, Howard has so far been able to curb his strikeouts, down to 25.2% so far this season.
However, we see a different struggle for Howard this season which is a major drop in his power. Let's discuss his new challenge in 2010.
As I started researching this idea, I knew where I was going with it from the begining but I found some interesting trends in my research. My overarching idea is that Howard is making more contact this year but is actually a worse hitter than last season. Let me back up my claim.
My first interesting point is that while Howard's K% is down as noted above, his percentage of swings outside the zone has increased from 27.3% last year (the highest of his career and on an increase over each of the past 5 years) to 35% this season. So even though he is swinging at more pitches outside the zone, he is striking out less. This is obviously because he is making more contact outside the zone (46.7% up from 41.8% last season).
So what impact has this had on Howard this season? His tendency to swing outside the zone (while making contact) has raised his average to .295 so far this season (including a .352 BABIP) but has seen negative trends in his other stats. His BB% has dropped 3 percent to 7% which has led to a drop in his OBP to .349 (from .360 last season). So yes, his average has increased which is a positive but I think we all know the more important OBP is an indicator he is actually regressing as a batter.
The main reason I made this thread is to highlight his lack of power (with the above stats coming through later) so far in 2010. His slugging percentage rests at .505 (down from .571 last season) while his wOBA is down as well. The reason behind this is due to the number of singles he is hitting this season. Last year, for the full season, 50% of his hits were singles, 22% were doubles and 26% of his hits were home runs. This season, 65% of his hits have been singles while only 16% have been doubles and home runs, respectively.
This can be attributed to the fact that he is swinging and connecting on a higher percentage of balls outside the zone. Instead of waiting for pitches to drive in the zone (and risking a strikeout) Howard has been reaching for pitches outside the zone and hitting lazy singles. I believe this is a negative for Howard, as he is most useful to the Phillies driving balls into the gap and over the fence and driving in Rollins, Polanco, Utley, etc (when healthy).
I think that waiting for pitches in the zone to drive and regressing to his normal K% of around 31% would be more useful to the Phillies that Howard improving on his contact rate. Although the past 6 weeks or so have not been great for the Phillies offense, Polanco and Utley were getting on base at a fairly steady clip at .349 and .383, respectively. The opportunities are there, Howard just needs to wait for pitches in the zone (where his percentage of swings has decreased to 70%, another poor sign as this indicates he is swinging at bad pitches and watching good pitches).
Do you think this can be attributed to a small sample size, Howard pressing too much at the plate or another indicator??