Lets get this out of the way right up front. Ryan Howard's contract sucks. There's no debate on that point. Even if you take it back to the point of the extension, and include his fWAR from 2010, the Phillies have paid him $79,000,000 for exactly 1.8 wins. if you round that up to 2, just include the buyout on the last year, and use an inflated $6,000,000 per win, to break even on the deal Howard would need to put up 25 wins over the next three seasons, or roughly 8.5 per year.
That's not ever going to happen.So lets get that out of our heads. We're not discussing his contract here, or whether it was a mistake. What we're doing is trying to figure out what to do with him.
What's that? You CAN'T FORGET ABOUT THAT ALBATROSS??
Welcome to the rub folks.
When it comes to Ryan Howard I have a theory. Because that contract is so bad, it's nearly impossible for the smarter fan to separate the REALITY of who the player is from the reality of the contract. The deal is bad! We have to cut ties! Eat the money! He sucks!
The truth is none of that is true. Well, there are parts of it that are close to true, if you add some caveats, but for the most part, aside from limiting the team from spending his money elsewhere, there's not a whole lot that makes sense when it comes to doing anything other that realizing that Ryan Howard is here to stay.
The deal is bad. But it's not about the deal, it's about the player. Is the player really bad?
The reason you cut ties is to give the financial flexibility back to the team. A trade, unless it's for an equally bad contract? Doesn't help there if they eat cash.
And as you'll see below, he doesn't suck as bad as you think. He's been hurt and horribly misused.
For those that are unaware, Ryan Howard can't hit left-handed pitching anymore. I can't explain why, maybe it's the shift, maybe it's mental, who knows. But over the last two seasons among first basemen with at least 100 plate appearances he's pretty much ranked dead last unless you consider Ike Davis and Garret Jones competent comparisons.
Well, he's been first in a few categories, too, like K% (a whopping 43.5%) but in the categories that matter?
wOBA: .251 9th worst
wRC+:52 9th worst
SLG: .352 18th worst!
ISO: BB%: 4.1% tied for 4th worst
His slash line in 193 PA is 173/223/352 with 9 HR 29 RBI 8 BB and 84Ks.
And to really make things insane:
His slash line over that period against Mike Minor, Paul Maholm, Josh Edgin and Wade Leblanc in 36 AB's?
.388/.405/1.055 with 1 walk, 3Ks and 7 of the 9 home runs.
Against EVERY OTHER LEFTY HE'S FACED:
.113/.193/.100 2 HR, 7 BB 81Ks.
Let that sink in for a minute. Of the 31 hits (9 home runs, 5 doubles, 17 singles) that Howard has had versus left handed pitchers, 14 of them, 7 of the home runs and 3 of the doubles, have come against 4 pitchers.
Against everyone else, over two years, and 165 at bats, he's managed to get a hit a whopping 17 times. 13 of them have been singles.
You don't want me to break that out to include just left handed relievers either cause its even uglier.
Simply put I don't know if there is a worse hitter versus LH pitching in baseball the past two years.
Don't believe me?
Here's Michael Martinez' splits.
Yup. In 115 career plate appearances vs LHP, Martinez has managed a 207/212/252 line with 1 HR, 1 walk and 17 K's and that's still better than what Howard's done.
But there's another Ryan Howard
There's the guy with a .370 wOBA .273 ISO, 132 wRC+, and a .275/.360/.518 slash since 2010.
Seriously. Among first basemen with a minimum 1000 plate appearances vs RHP since 2010, Ryan Howard ranks:
5th in ISO, 7th in OPS.
If you open that up to ALL PLAYERS? he's 10th in ISO, and 20th in OPS.
And he did most of that ON ONE LEG.
So to recap. On one leg, sapped of power, over the past four years, Ryan howard has still been one of the most elite hitters in the game vs. right handed pitching.
Now here's the thing to realize. Over that period of time, that .275/.360/.518 slash you see vs RHP? Add in the LHP and it drops to .258/.336/.480.
Elite becomes average.
1873 total plate appearances. 594 vs LHP, 1279 vs RHP. just 31% of the plate appearances have been against LHP, yet that's been so bad that his slash and peripherals have dropped significantly.
But consider this: 420 plate appearances of Ryan Howard (roughly 70% of 600) at a .275/.360/.518 slash?
With virtually anyone else hitting against LHP?
Against righties Howard is still and will continue to be a beast.
Ryan Howard hasn't been bad. He's been hurt, he's been unlucky, and he's been horribly misused because he makes so damn much money. Look, I loved Charlie Manuel but one of the biggest things that led to his demise was his stubbornness. And with Howard he was stubborn.
He should never start against a LHP every again, until he can show he can hit LHP.
And the real key is that when the game is late, and close, and there are runners on second and third and you're down by one run, and Howard comes to the plate and the Braves pull Kris Medlen and bring in Luis Avilan, Ryne Sandberg has to have the brains and the balls to bring in Kevin Frandsen, and Ryan Howard has to have the ability to swallow his pride and suck his ego way down into a place of no return.
But there is absolutely no way that anyone should look at Ryan Howard and say he's useless if he's healthy, or he's washed up, or they should trade him and eat half his salary.
No. The Phillies need to adjust and adapt and use him properly. Because 70% of the time, you want Ryan Howard at first base, unless you have Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis or Joey Votto, because since 2010, those are the only first basemen to hit RHP better than him.
Don't forget about Ryan Howard. Don't hate him, don't discount him, and don't think he's done.
Just hope the Phillies get it. Because if they do, and he's healthy? He's a difference maker. See, I don't care if Howard produces enough fWAR to pay out the contract. I care that SOMEONE produces in late-and-close situations to drive in a run and win a game. I care that Howard produces and is healthy enough to be a huge factor. A BIG PIECE if you will.
And when it comes to winning in 2014, platooning Howard effectively is the biggest piece of all.