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Ryan Howard, Re-Reconsidered

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The Phillies slugger has gotten a lot of attention lately for the, let's say extremism, of his offensive results. Sportscenter noted last night that since last year's all-star break, a stretch of 165 games, Howard leads all big-leaguers with 51 home runs, 149 RBI, and 227 strikeouts. After today's big game--yet another against his hometown Cardinals--those numbers stand at 166 games, 53 jacks, 152 RBI, and 228 strikeouts. The strikeout came in his last at-bat of the afternoon, giving him 125 for this season to go with 27 homers and 83 RBI--all league highs, of course, and the last a Phils pre-all star break record with three games to play. It ended a string of 12 plate appearances without a whiff, which tied his previous high for this season (May 26-28). He's currently enjoying a 13-game hit streak, over which time he's hitting .351 (18-51) with 8 homers and 18 RBI. 

Jason Weitzel at Beerleaguer offered a great take on Howard earlier today: 

Here’s what we know about Howard, in this his fourth season as a regular contributor. He can’t field and he’ll start slowly. During this time, other players will need to carry the offense, and Beerleaguer will entertain a flood of posts on why he should be traded. He’ll become more productive as the season wears on. Eventually, he’ll get the point where he can carry them, like last night, for example. For the sake of comparison, measure him only against himself. He's a different animal.

I think this is substantially correct--but it's in the nature of baseball fans to draw comparisons, and "measuring him against himself" doesn't really work because the track record isn't yet long enough. Howard might be the most intensely frustrating hitter I've followed in 30 years of fandom; his lethargic three-pitch strikeout against Pedro Feliciano after the rain delay Sunday and the first-inning GIDP last night, on which it looked like he hardly even bothered to run, are but two examples. His defense is probably described as "Stink, With Episodes of Shocking Competence." But he's also got four multi-homer games this season, and he recently got to 150 career bombs in fewer games than anyone in baseball history (495; runner-up is Eddie Matthews, in 569 games). 

What's confounding for the Phillies is what to do with Howard going forward. As we've discussed endlessly on this site and elsewhere, he's not a particularly young player and not very likely to age well, given his body type. He's probably going to make something like $13-14 million next year, going up from there. With the possible exception of strike zone judgment, all his negatives are likely to get worse going forward. But how do you deal away the greatest power hitter of his generation?