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John Kruk vs. Ryan Howard: Who ya got?

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Which first baseman had a better career with the Phillies?

MLB: AUG 04 Marlins at Phillies
Was John Kruk’s tenure with the Phillies better than Howard’s?
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While taking the Opening Day lineup quiz, I realized that quite a few years worth of first base slots were filled by Ryan Howard and John Kruk. That made me wonder which player had the better career with the team. It also made me wonder who fans considered to be the better player.

Here’s a quick comparison of the two:

“Classic” stats

Kruk (Six seasons): .309 average, 62 HR (10 per season), 390 RBI (65/season)

Howard (13 seasons): .258 average, 382 HR (29/season), 1194 RBI (92/season)

Kruk had the higher average, but Howard had a huge advantage in home runs and RBIs.

“New” stats

Kruk: .400 OBP, .861 OPS, 138 OPS+, 18.5 bWAR

Howard: .343 OBP, .859 OPS, 125 OPS+, 14.7 bWAR

Moving just a bit beyond the basic box score stats, Kruk gains an edge. In his 5.5 seasons with the Phillies, he earned 18.6 bWAR, for an average of 3.4 wins per season. Meanwhile, Howard was worth just 14.7 wins over his 13 seasons, which is a little over one win per season. (Although if you merely took his seven pre-injury seasons, he would have earned 19.2 wins.)

Neither man was helped much by his defense. Kruk’s play at first deteriorated as his mass increased, while Howard was always a disaster in the field - especially when he had to make a throw.

Awards and honors

Kruk: Three-time All-Star, three top-twenty MVP finishes.

Howard: Three-time All-Star, 2005 Rookie of the Year, 2006 MVP and Silver Slugger, six top-ten MVP finishes.

Those who prefer Howard will probably use this section as the main basis for their argument. MVP voters clearly thought he was the superior player, at least in his prime.

Postseason

Kruk: Kruk’s only postseason experience came in 1993 where he performed well.

Howard: Howard was up and down in the postseason. He hit three home runs in the 2008 World Series, and earned NLCS MVP honors the following year. However, he struggled in the World Series against the Yankees, and was particularly bad in the 2011 NLDS, putting up a ghastly .406 OPS.

Media presence

Kruk: He became the face of the 1993 Phillies. He made multiple appearances on David Letterman’s show and was famously portrayed by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live.

He also gained a fair bit of notoriety for this All-Star Game at bat against Randy Johnson:

Howard: Subway endorsement and appearance on The Office (and how is it they didn’t have Howard interact with the Ryan Howard character on the show?) aside, he didn’t have that much of a media presence.

Who’s your pick?

Your preference likely depends if you consider yourself a traditionalist or are more analytically driven in your thinking. For the sabermetrically-inclined, the answer is likely easy: Kruk. For the fans who value awards and big moments, they probably side more with Howard. Yes, his later post-injury seasons were bad, but in his prime, it could be argued that the Phillies never had a better - or at least more dangerous - hitter. He owns the single-season record for home runs, and has the second highest total in team history.

So who do you think was the better player? Please submit your answer below:

Poll

Who was the better first baseman for the Phillies?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    John Kruk
    (106 votes)
  • 72%
    Ryan Howard
    (282 votes)
388 votes total Vote Now

So what do you think? Who was the superior first baseman?