"Could I do this if my left Achilles weren't feeling grand?" - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
One of the big three question marks going into this season, Ryan Howard needs to show that his horrendous 2012 was the result of him coming back from injury too soon and not the result of a permanent collapse in production.
2012 totals: .219/.295/.413, 14 HR, 56 RBI, 71 G, -1.0 fWAR
2013 Bill James prediction: .251/.344/.494, 36 HR, 102 RBI, 150 G
2013 ZiPS prediction: .242/.328/.463, 23 HR, 89 RBI, 112 G
2013 PECOTA prediction: .248/.329/.489, 19 HR, 55 RBI, 348 PA, 1.2 WARP
Going into today's game, Ryan Howard leads the Phillies in RBI and HR and has an OPS over 1.000. Seven of his 13 hits have been for extra bases. He has played in all but one game and is one at-bat short of leading the team.
Of course, this is spring training and not the regular season, so there is nothing we can take from the above statements other than that Howard is somewhat healthy and is off to a good start in Florida. However, if at any time past the first few weeks of the regular season we can say the same things as above (or even anywhere close to them), Ryan Howard's 2013 will be a success.
Understanding that means putting aside any hope that Howard will be worth his absurd contract. In his second year of his 5 year, $125 million extension, Howard is not going to be worth $20 million this year. But, as I've written about before, that's not his problem; that's Ruben Amaro Jr.'s problem.
Probably the most important thing that we as fans can do going into 2013 is to evaluate Howard (and react to him in the stands) based not on that contract but rather based on reality. And the reality is this: Howard is a large 33 year old first baseman coming off an injury that is notoriously difficult to recover from. Moreover, even before rupturing his Achilles, Howard was not very mobile and had shown deteriorating skills at the plate, in the field, and on the basepaths (declining OPS+ and fWAR from a peak in 2006 other than a spike in 2009). In other words, Howard was on the downside of his career before he played a single inning under his ($@!%ing) contract extension.
But that doesn't mean he can't have value, and at this point, that's all we should ask for from him. He needs to stay healthy and not hobble through the year. He needs to field his position with competence (which will put him leaps and bounds ahead of the other corner infielder for the Phillies this year). He needs to have his power return. He needs to hit lefties decently and not be so susceptible to breaking pitches away when he's behind in the count. He needs to walk a bit and keep his OBP in the respectable zone.
So far this spring training, he's done most of this except walk (only 2 so far). And if this is somewhat close to being a sign of what he'll do for the Phillies in 2013, then we should all thank our lucky stars that Howard is not going to be a bust.
He's not going to be an MVP ever again, he isn't going to light up the fWAR, wOBA, or any other advanced metric charts, and he certainly won't even come close to earning his contract, but even so, he can still be a positive contributor to the team. At this point, that's all we can ask of him as fans.