Happy Days, Starring Ryan Howard
With another pair of home runs on Friday, Ryan Howard has now hit 56 this year and 80 for his career. According to Bill Deane, "no player had ever hit more than 76 home runs in his first 1,000 at bats" in the 130 years of major league baseball. Howard has 80 - and he still has 135 at-bats to go!
Deane's research uncovered the following all-time leaders:
80 Ryan Howard (in 865 at bats through 9/8/06)
76 Cecil Fielder
75 Jim Gentile
74 Rudy York
74 Ken Phelps
72 Eric Davis
71 Don Mincher
71 Bob Horner
71 Mark McGwire
68 Rob Deer
Interestingly, there is not one player who is in the Hall of Fame. One of the players not named Howard will be eligible for the first time in the coming election.
There are a lot of first basemen on the above list. Lots of slow first basemen. (Is that redundant?)
Excluding Eric Davis, the players in the group averaged 16 SB and 14 CS for their career. At the high end, Rob Deer stole 43 bases and Rudy York pilfered 38. At the low end, Howard has yet to steal a base while Cecil Fielder bagged two and Jim Gentile nabbed three.
There are a lot of feast or famine types, too. Howard has struck out 156 times in 514 at-bats this year. He has 269 SO in 865 AB for his career. The 26-year-old first baseman is on pace to K 179 times in 2006, which would tie him for 14th on the single-season list with. . .Rob Deer! The latter also had a season in which he struck out 186 times - good for sixth all-time.
STRIKEOUTS YEAR SO HR
1 Adam Dunn 2004 195 46
2 Bobby Bonds 1970 189 26
3 Jose Hernandez 2002 188 24
T4 Preston Wilson 2000 187 31
T4 Bobby Bonds 1969 187 32
6 Rob Deer 1987 186 28
T7 Jim Thome 2001 185 49
T7 Jose Hernandez 2001 185 25
T7 Pete Incaviglia 1986 185 30
T10 Jim Thome 2003 182 47
T10 Cecil Fielder 1990 182 51
12 Mo Vaughn 2000 181 36
13 Mike Schmidt 1975 180 38
14 Rob Deer 1986 179 33
15 Richie Sexson 2001 178 45
Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia
Howard has blasted 24 HR in his last 154 AB. That works out to one every 6.4 AB. During this span, the native of St. Louis, Missouri has put up a batting line of .383/.513/.890 for an OPS of 1.402.
The slugger's home (.305/.409/.664) and road (.318/.402/.694) splits have been about the same for the season despite playing in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank. In fact, he has jerked exactly 28 HR at home and away in an almost identical number of AB (259 to 255, respectively).
If Howard has a weakness, it is definitely his ability to put the ball in play against left-handers. Although his overall production (.283/.344/.584) is quite acceptable vs. southpaws, he has struck out 60 times in 166 AB or once every 2.8x. Including BB (14) and HBP (2), Howard has still K'd in 33% of his plate appearances when facing portsiders. More alarming is the fact that he has a 4.3:1 ratio of SO to BB vs. LHP.
Howard's partner-in-crime, teammate Chase Utley, is maintaining a similar batting average against both lefties (.306) and righties (.302) but his home run prowess falls off the cliff vs. LHP (4 HR in 180 AB) as opposed to RHP (22 HR in 387 AB). As a team, the Phillies have had surprisingly good balance vs. left-handers (.256/.336/.442) and right-handers (.270/.348/.450). Bobby Abreu, who was traded to the New York Yankees in late July, had reverse splits with respect to AVG and SLG but had a slightly higher OBP vs. RHP due to an incredibly high BB rate (69 in 229 AB).
There are a lot of unanswered questions about Howard and the Phillies:
- Can he carry his team to a wild card berth in the final three weeks of the season?
- How many HR will he hit this year? How about for his career?
- *Will* Ryan Howard be named the National League's Most Valuable Player in 2006?
- *Should* Howard get the MVP nod?
- Who is Howard most like? Cecil Fielder? Jim Thome? Adam Dunn? David Ortiz? Or somebody else?
- If you were starting a team from scratch, would you take Howard or Utley?
- Can the Phillies compete for the NL East title next year?
While contemplating the answers to the above questions, be sure to do one thing: enjoy Ryan Howard for what he is - a slugger who is cranking home runs at a faster pace than anyone in the history of the game.