Ryan Howard - Baseball Reference
Ryan Howard - Fangraphs
273 days after tearing his Achilles tendon, Ryan Howard returned to the field. On the second pitch he saw, he doubled to deep center field. The Big Piece was back.
Except he wasn't. Watching him lumber those 180 feet from home to second made it quite obvious that his return was not going to be what we were hoping for. He was never a great runner, but this was hobbling at its worst. How could someone running that awkwardly generate enough bat speed and body torque at the plate? Or contribute on the base paths? Or get to balls in the field? Or plant to throw when needed? In other words, was Ryan Howard back too early from this major injury?
As fans, we have to hope the answer to that question is a clear yes because his performance for the rest of the 2012 season was pretty horrendous. In 292 plate appearances, he posted a 91 OPS+, an 87 wRC+, and a -1.0 fWAR. He struck out in an amazing 33.9% of his at-bats and walked in only 8.6% of his plate appearances (both career worsts). Those are not numbers you want from someone earning $25 million per year.
But maybe all isn't lost. Howard was actually decent in July and August, posting a .779 and .785 OPS in those two months. It was September and October when he was dreadful (with a .601 OPS). Maybe his recovering heel got worn down and wasn't ready for the rigors of day-to-day play? He also was pretty ferocious when things mattered. In "high leverage" situations (as defined by Fangraphs), he had a 1.217 OPS and an amazing .412 ISO. With men on, his OPS was .773 and with men in scoring position, it was 1.044. Howard may not be a clutch hitter (because such a thing doesn't exist), but he was clutch in 2012.
This is the Ryan Howard that Ruben Amaro stays up at night hoping and praying returns in 2013. If the Ryan Howard who finished the season looking lost at the plate with a .219/.295/.423 line returns, Amaro and the Phillies are in trouble.
To shed some inside light on this dynamic, The Good Phight obtained a copy of Ryan Howard's 2012 exit interview with Amaro. Notable for the exit interview, Ryan Howard had recently memorized this study. He also directed Amaro to the photos in this article for reference.
1) How did you let your teammates down this season?
"Of the 31 [NFL] players [between 1997 and 2002] who sustained an Achilles tendon rupture, 21 (64%) returned to play in the NFL at an average of 11 months after injury. In the three seasons following their return, those 21 players saw significant decreases in games played and power ratings compared to the three seasons preceding the injury."
2) How did you let your manager and GM down this season?
"The length of time to allow full activity after Achilles tendon repair is generally thought to be four to six months. The 11 months needed to return to play as a professional football player seems considerably longer. However, there is a major difference between allowing full activity and returning to play in the NFL. Even when the typical patient is allowed to participate in full activity, it does not mean that he or she is adequately rehabilitated to perform at maximal efforts. Studies to determine maximal improvement after surgical treatment are lacking in the orthopedic literature."
3) On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst, how do you rate on the "it's my fault we're in this freaking mess and missed the playoffs scale"?
"Furthermore, in the reviewed 21 NFL skill players who returned to play, there were significant decreases in games played per season (11.67 games per year pre-injury versus 6.17 games per year postinjury) when averaged over the three seasons before the injury and the three seasons after the injury. There were also decreases averaging nearly 50% in power ratings of the returning players for the three seasons after the injury compared to the three seasons before the injury. These data indicate that even in players able to return to their former level of play, the quality of play may suffer permanently."
4) Other than yourself, which player caused this fiasco of a season the most?
"Achilles tendon ruptures can have dramatic career implications for the athlete. These are complex injuries, with surgical intervention being only the first step in the recovery. The ultimate return to function is based on a variety of variables, some of which are controllable by the surgeon, athlete, and therapists. Ultimately, more research will be needed to examine these injuries and their outcomes to determine the ideal protocols for treatment of the competitive athlete."
5) What do you have to say to all the fans you let down this season?
OK, now I'm speaking as Ryan Howard, and not just reciting what I know. To the fans out there, I want to restate something the wise TGP author David S. Cohen wrote before the season started. You want to blame me for being pretty horrible after coming back from one of the worst injuries an athlete can have? Even more, you want to blame me for being pretty horrible yet earning $25 million per year - with four more years left on the deal?
If you do, let me ask you something - if your boss offered you a raise that amounted to much more than you were actually worth, would you take it? And if your boss did that, who would be the fool? You, for taking that money? Or your boss, for offering it to you in the first place?
Of course, no offense meant at all, Ruben.