But maybe some of you out there are under the impression that replacing Howard this year is different. The drop-off would still be huge from Howard to Gload/Ransom, but not as huge as in years past. After all, Howard has an .884 OPS this year, which is pretty much equal to his career-worst .881 OPS of 2008. But even in 2008, Howard was stilling hitting the ball hard, as he had an ISO of .292, and he was getting on base with a walk-rate of 11.6%. This year, in contrast, Howard has an ISO of .236 and a paltry walk-rate of 7.5%. Not surprisingly, those are both career lows for Howard. And, without much power, he's been labeled nothing more than a singles hitter.
However, as we all cross our fingers on the results of Howard's ankle examination, Howard's 2010 is not yet over. He has more to do on the field, and if he performs more like his second 52 games than his first 52 games, the year-end production we'll get from Howard should be quite familiar.
What's so special about 52 games? Well, Howard has played in 104 games this year, so looking at his season in two 52 game chunks cuts it right in half. Also, coincidentally, after his 52nd game, Howard hit a nadir in his OPS for the year -- at .786 (not counting his early-season small sample size OPS).
So how have the two Howards compared?
In some ways, the Ryan Howard of the second 52 games is very similar to the Ryan Howard of the first 52. They have roughly the same career-low walk and strikeout rates and their batting average on balls in play are not meaningfully different.
However, the big difference between the two Howards is that the second-52 Howard is clobbering the ball. Over the last 52 games, Howard has posted an isolated power percentage among his career best years of 2006 (.346) and 2007 (.316). His OPS is better than it has been in all-but his MVP year of 2006 (1.084). Each of his extra-base hit types are up - from 7 doubles to 10, from 1 triple to 4, and from 9 home runs to 14.
The mediocre overall stats Howard has for the year mask this marked improvement over the past 52 games. If Howard returns from his injury quickly, another 52 games like these most recent 52 will put him on track for another productive season, one in which he is decidedly not a singles hitter.