Baseball BeatSeptember 09, 2006
Happy Days, Starring Ryan Howard
By Rich Lederer

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.


I think the only easy answer of those questions given is for the last when, with an answer being a resounding YES, the Phils can definitely compete for the NL East title next year.

The other questions, much more difficult, especially the Utley/Howard franchise player tag. To me though, I'd take Howard without thinking twice. Utley's great, but Howard changes the entire strategy a pitcher must use when approaching the middle of the Phillie lineup.

1) I don't think the Phils are going to make. Howard will cool down and then where will they be? I'm rooting for them, though.

2) For the year, I'm going with 64. For his career, he won't break 350. He's just not young enough to rack up truly amazing career numbers and that's a shame because he should have been up at least two years ago. The Phillies have squandered a lot of his value, as well as Utley's. Also, that body is probably not going to age too well.

3) Yes. Howard will be the MVP and

4) I think he'll deserve it.

5) I think Howard is a lot like Thome but, as I said above, is too old to get a chance to put up career numbers similar to what Thome's will look like.

6) Utley would be my first pick for 2B, but Pujols is, has been, and always will be a better player than Howard. And here's the kicker: Pujols is younger!

7) I think yes because the Mets pitching isn't going to look too pretty next year. Glavine just isn't a good bet to continue to look this good and, frankly, Pedro isn't either. The latter won't make more than 26 or 27 starts in a season and is starting to battle chronic, remedyless injuries. Plus, before what seemed to be a resurgence last year (before coming to a more pitcher-friendly park and a MUCH more pitcher friendly ballpark), Pedro's peripherals were starting to erode. The end is near.

Both the Phils and the Mets will score tons of runs next year - a war of attrition.

He should not be the MVP. He is not the best player on his team; that is Utley. He is not the best first baseman in the league; that is Pujols. He is not the best hitter in the league; that is Pujols. He is not the best player in the league; that is Beltran. The MVP should be between Beltran and Pujols.

If the Phillies get the wild card, Howard will get the MVP, and he probably deserves it. Utley should be in the coversation, with Wright, Beltran, and Pujols.
From scratch Id go with Utley. Sluggers at 1b are a dime a dozen, albeit not as prolific as Ryan.

When ESPN radio(in the morning) had their talks going this week about Howard being a 'clean' HR king I found myself getting agitated that they never once mentioned his smallish homefield, to the point that I wanted to see the numbers so I could call in. I was pretty suprised to see the splits so even.

On a (sort of)interesting side note, Im in a head to head fantasy league where you only get players from an actual franchise. Scoring categories are numerous:R, H, HR, RBI, SB, K, TB, E, AVG, OBP, SLG for hitters.
W, L, CG, SV, HR, BB, K, HLD, ERA, WHIP, W, L, CG, SV, HR, BB, K, HLD, ERA, WHIP, K/BB for pitchers.

I joined to have an easy way to follow the White Sox stats and frankly I liked their chances. Well I got the first round bye, and so did the Phillies in a shocker.
the 6 teams that made our play-offs:

(1) Chicago White Sox
(3) The New York Yankees
(4) New York Mets
(5) The Detroit Tigers
(6) Oakland

Our top two teams may miss the MLB playoffs.

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

that is amazing

Bob R. -

Utley is certainly not the "best" player on the Phillies. I think one could more accurately characterize your view by saying that Utley is more "valuable" given the position he plays. I grant that it is extremely close.

However, the numbers aren't that close when it comes to Pujols. Aside from leading him by substantial margins in HRs and RBIs, Howard is nearly dead even with him on AVG, OBP and SLG and may be ahead of him in those by this time tomorrow morning. Additionally, Howard leads him in all the sabermetric categories - RC, ISO, 2dAVG.

So, to recap. Howard's counting stats are better. His rate stats are dead even and he's got an edge in the sabermetric stats.

Also, that Pujols was hurt should be held against him: not being able to play certainly hurts one's value.

In sum, is Pujols, in general, a better player? Yes. Would I sign him to a 5 year contract over Howard? Yes.

Has Pujols had a better and more valuable season than Howard? No, not thus far.

I would say that Utley IS the best player on the Phillies -- his ability to play second base is part of what makes him, ultimately, a better (not just more valuable, whatever that distinction means) player. Howard is the better hitter. Utely, in his advantages in other facets of the game, including his ability to play the middle infield, at least pulls even.

The distinction between value and skill is simply this: over the course of his career, Mariano Rivera has been more skilled than Mike Mussina. Per batter, he gets more outs and prevents more runs. However, Mussina has thrown many, many more innings and, consequently, gotten many, many more people out and prevented many, many more runs.

The way in which each player has been used has created a gap between how skilled and how valuable each is.

"So, to recap. Howard's counting stats are better. His rate stats are dead even and he's got an edge in the sabermetric stats."

Say what?

EqA: .351 to .340, Pujols
VORP: 75.5 to 74.1, Pujols
WARP3: 11.6 to 8.5 (!), Pujols
WS: 32 to 26, Pujols

The way in which each player has been used has created a gap between how skilled and how valuable each is.

That strikes me as interesting, but completely invalid as a comparison. Mo Rivera pitches less often than Mussina. That's what makes him less valuable, skill aside.

One of Chase Utley's skills is the ability to play the middle infield adequately. It's a skill that Ryan Howard doesn't have. And it can't be discounted -- it's not just how they're used. If you put Ryan Howard at second base, he would be a disaster, regardless of which hand he throws with. The same would be true of Carlos Delgado, or Jason Giambi, or Jim Thome, or David Ortiz, or any of a number of other sluggers. At least two of those guys actually did play more challenging positions in the minors, but were moved to first base because they did not have the skill to do it.

In short, you're just wrong.

C. Joseph -

What you fail to understand is that some skills are less valuable than others. The skill required to drop down a perfect bunt is extremely difficult to acquire and very rare but it also isn't that valuable relative to other skills valued in baseball (like hitting home runs).

Similarly, Utley possesses some skills that Ryan Howard simply does not have. In that sense, Utley is more skilled. However, his possession of those skills does not outweigh the fact that Howard excels to a much greater extent in those skills which both he and Utley jointly possess and which are valued to a greater extent in baseball (basically, everything that goes into hitting).