I don't know the mechanism by which it happened. Maybe managers and pitchers watched and got scared of the big guy. Or maybe his performance gave him more confidence than his already accolade-rich career did. Or maybe the hills and bridges of Pittsburgh inspired him. Or maybe he slept in a Holiday Inn that night.
Whatever it is, Ryan Howard was a different man after the Home Run Derby than before.
How different? All-time incredible different.
We all are aware of Howard's power spike in the past couple of months, but I wasn't aware of just how much of a spike he's had. His slugging percentage has jumped from a very good .582 (which would be 10th in MLB right now) to an otherworldly .804. That's a 38% increase, far surpassing any of the past Home Run Derby participants I was hoping in July that Howard would emulate. To put .804 into perspective, an .804 slugging percentage over an entire year would put Howard in the company of Bonds, Ruth, Gehrig, and Hornsby, some would call those decent baseball names, as fifth on the all-time single season slugging percentage list.
That Howard had power is not earth-shattering news though. What many of us were uncertain about was Howard's patience at the plate. Until the All-Star break, Howard was below league average with his .341 on-base percentage. However, after his supercharged trip to Pittsburgh, Howard has reached base slightly better than every other trip to the plate (.502 OBP). How good is a .502 OBP? It's good enough to lift Howard from 132nd out of 229 MLB players with 225 or more plate appearances at the All-Star break to eleventh in on-base percentage in the majors now. It would also be good enough for a tie for 21st on the all-time single season on-base percentage list.
His 1.306 OPS? That would be seventh all time on the single season list behind only Ruth and Bonds at their best. Mull that over again: for the past two-plus months, the Phils have had someone of the quality of the best of Ruth and Bonds in their lineup. Is it any wonder the team has surged in the Wild Card race, even without Bobby Abreu?