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Don't blame Ryan Howard

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There's too much crap out there blaming Ryan Howard for the mess he and the Phillies are in. The front office is to blame, plain and simple.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This has not been a good few days for Ryan Howard and the Phillies.  We and everyone else on the internet have covered it extensively.

I want to add one important thing to the mix: as bad as Howard's contract has been and as bad as Howard is playing right now, don't blame him for this mess.

I'm going to copy something I wrote in 2012, right before his horrendous contract started:

Imagine you're Wilson Valdez. You're a decent fielder, can pitch in a clutch, but are absolutely horrendous at the plate, and will never amount to anything more than backup middle-infielder. You regularly have an OPS+ that brings back memories of disco, Nixon's impeachment, and endless lines at gas stations. In 2011, you were paid accordingly and made $560,000. Your contract was up at the end of last season, so you started negotiations for a new contract. In the process, your employer's representative, Ruben Amaro Jr., offers you a 4 year contract worth $40 million. Let's say you're intimately familiar with WAR, VORP, OPS+, and wOBA and know that the offer is way beyond what you're worth to your employer. Do you take the offer?

For everyone who answers that question "no," please consult your local classifieds for the next meeting of "Prevaricators Anonymous." For everyone else, the next question is "who's to blame for that overpriced contract, you or your employer?" Even if you were a hard-ass negotiator during the salary talks, it's still the employer who offered the asinine contract. There's just no reasonable way to blame an employee for the employer offering a ridiculous contract. Why? Because no employer has to offer a ridiculous contract. Every employer is free to just not offer it. But when the employer does, no sane employee would refuse. The $10 million per year for four year Wilson Valdez contract would be Amaro's fault, not Valdez's. Amaro would be the stupid one; Valdez would be the lucky bastard doing nothing more than what any human being would do.

Every Phillies fan should keep this hypothetical in mind this year as we watch Ryan Howard in the first year of his absurd five-year $125 million contract. By almost every measure, the contract was ludicrous. Barring a miraculous return to his 2006 form, he will be drastically overpaid this year. But any fault and vitriol you want to direct over the contract needs to be aimed at Ruben Amaro Jr., not Ryan Howard. Howard just did what any honest person in the world would have done -- he took his employer's outrageously generous offer.

These words ring just as true now as they did in 2012.  Ryan Howard is blameless here; all blame lies on the Phillies.

Ryan Howard is guilty of one thing, and one thing only - having been very good in a way that fools traditional baseball people into thinking he's more valuable than he really is.  Take his 2006 MVP season.  That season, Howard hit 58 home runs and drove in an astounding 149 runs.  Amazing numbers.

His fWAR that season was also very strong - 5.8, good for seventh in the NL.  But it wasn't the best, not at all.  Albert Pujols had that honor, leading the NL with an 8.2 fWAR, almost 2.5 wins more valuable than Howard.  In fact, Howard wasn't even the best position player on the Phillies.  Chase Utley was 3rd in the NL with a 7.0 fWAR.

Advanced metrics told the real story - at his peak, Howard was a great power hitter who benefited from having players hit in front of him who got on base.  His on-base percentage was inflated by his intentional walks which slowly disappeared, he was not very good in the field, he never figured out how to hit the down and out breaking ball, and as teams shifted more and more against him and his body aged, his utility at the plate decreased.  Most people who understood baseball analysis understood this in 2006 (or knew it was coming) when he was MVP and in 2010 when he got his contract extension.

The problem is that this skill set fooled the people who run the Phillies because they are not among the people who understand these things.  They like RBIs.  They like HR.  They like big cleanup hitters who win MVP awards.  Beyond that, they don't ask much.  And for those reasons, Howard got his payday.

And again - for that, the Phillies are 100% to blame; Howard gets none.

Remember this in the coming days/weeks/months(/years?) as this drama gets uglier and uglier.  Because it will.  Many people are going to point fingers at Howard, saying nonsense like "how can you play like that when you're paid so much?" or "how can you smile when you're stealing money?"

Remember whose fault it is that Howard is making that much money.  It's not Howard's.  He took what was offered.  The blame goes to the offerers - Ruben Amaro Jr., Dave Montgomery, and any other Phillies front office officials who thought it was a good idea to put a $125M contract offer on the table for Ryan Howard to sign.

Because if you think otherwise, if you think that somehow Ryan Howard is at fault for signing that contract even if he knew he would never be worth it, then you're fooling yourself into thinking that he did something other than what every other person in the world would have done . . . including you.