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Make no mistake, people: Ryan Howard's production is declining

Apr 26, 2010, 5:20 PM EDT

Ryan Howard headshot.jpgI’ve made some comments this afternoon about Ryan Howard likely declining. I’m not a stats guy, though, so I’m just making some guesses, albeit guesses informed by history.  Bill Baer at the Phillies’ blog Crashburn Alley is a stats guy, however, and in the course of assessing the wisdom of the Howard contract extension, he brings some statistical noise that should be unsettling to Phillies fans:

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has
declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in
2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an
infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in
more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against
them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but
so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights,
Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since
2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone
every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate
(swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

This will be a fun ride for two, maybe even three more years, but it
will quickly become tumultuous.

You don’t have to be a hardcore sabermetrician to grok the point: He’s less patient at the plate than he used to be, fewer batted balls are being turned into hits, which could be because of the shift opposing teams employ, but could also mean that he’s not hitting the ball quite as hard as he used to. His ability to hit lefties has not improved and may, in fact, be declining, if that was even possible. He’s striking out less, but there’s a corresponding drop in his power. He is, however, swinging and missing more often than he used to, even though he’s striking out at slightly lower rates.

None of this is to say Howard is a bad player. But it certainly paints a picture of a player who (a) you shouldn’t expect to improve over the next six years, and who will almost certainly decline; and (b) should not be paid upwards of $25 million a year across so many years.

  1. RB - Apr 26, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Man Craig, you’re really taking the Phils to the woodshed over this deal. Not saying I agree with the deal just commentating on the number of Howard posts this afternoon.

  2. juiced du jour - Apr 26, 2010 at 5:43 PM

    Enough already. You really are annoying sometimes.

  3. Scott - Apr 26, 2010 at 6:02 PM

    I have been leading the “Ryan Howard is overrated” charge for a while now, but that article way overstates his decline. His BABIP has only been under .320 once (2008), and was a robust .325 last year, so I’m not sure how he coaxed that from the data (I’m guessing he’s using 2006’s unsustainable .356 as a baseline). His line drive rate last year was identical to his career average (within 0.1%).
    He’s right about the outside-of-zone swing percentages, but the year-to-year declines are fractions of a percent. His swinging strike % has NOT increased every year since 2006 – that is just flat wrong (according to Fangraphs).
    If I were a Phillies fan, I’d be worried about 3 trends: walk rate, precipitous drop in effectiveness vs. fastballs, and decline in HR/FB rate. All data from http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2154&position=1B

  4. seattle matt - Apr 26, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    Ryan Howard makes an interesting topic of discussion because he seems to really split the old/new school of baseball stats. It seems that most fans of baseball hold a justifiably favorable view of Howard as a human being. And if statistical analysis had been completely stagnant over the past 20 years, we’d probably all take a look at this extension and say that his RBIs and HRs are expensive, but worth it. He’s a great guy, puts up HRs, runs, and RBIs out the wazoo, clutch hitter, just totally irreplaceable. But armed with the knowledge we now have, this extension is incredibly laughable. Sadly, the extension was given to a good guy, and we know what tends to happen to players who under produce in Philadelphia.

  5. Brianovich IV - Apr 26, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    seriously, people, calm down about it. If the Phillies are productive for the next 3 years and continue at the pace they’re on now, it’s worth it. And there’s plenty of reason to think they will be a competitive team past 2011. So get over it and let it play out. It will be fine. I’d trade 2 years of an overpaid Ryan Howard for 3 or 4 years of a good team. Don’t worry about the stats, pay attention to the team.

  6. Bill R - Apr 26, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    If you throw the stats out the window and look at it from a team perspective, it’s even worse. Utley is signed at a reasonable rate for the near future. But Rollins, Werth, and Hamels all will need to be resigned in the next few years. The Howard extension basically kisses all of them goodbye. The Phils signed two players on the downswing of their careers to inflated contracts (Polanco/Ibanez) Halladay I’d say is worth 20 mil a year now but who knows next year and the following year. They’ve pretty much purged the minor league system of anything useful. All of the other teams in their division are playing it smart and should have alot more wiggle room financially to add young talent over the next 5 years or so. If the Phils win it all this year, maybe it was worth it. But it’s going to start getting ugly a few years from now.

  7. JayT - Apr 26, 2010 at 7:37 PM

    Wouldn’t the Phillies have to win it in 2012 for it to have been worth it? I mean, they already had Howard for this year and next.

  8. G2 - Apr 26, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    just to torment me, the recaptcha is “and Alberto”
    I’m a Phillies fan and a Ryan Howard fan. I like Ryan Howard the guy and I like Ryan Howard the player. His at bats are captivating and dramatic, matched by maybe two or three guys in baseball. I yell “Ryan” and my two year old shouts back “HOWARD!” I’d be happy if my season ticket money was going to Ryan Howard for $25M this year. but, what? is it seven years out? NO. NO. And NO.
    I hope in 2017, my nine year old son calls me a moron for doubting this signing.
    Even if he averages 50 homers a year over this contract, it’s still a dumb contract. How much more could it cost to sign him in October/November 2011? He’d have to go 300/400/650 and hit about 120 homers and 300 RBI over the next two seasons for this to be a good value.
    His defense has been phenomenal this year.

  9. Joey B - Apr 26, 2010 at 10:57 PM

    I’d agree that his decline is not precipitous, but it’s like with Soriano and ARod. When you start looking at declines, however slight, and think about how long you’ll have this contract, it’s alarming. Start losing 5% a year, and you’ll be looking at paying a merely good player an exorbitant amount of money. These things are usually good for a few years, but in three years, you might be looking at .275, 36 HRs, and a weak fielder.

  10. Ace - Apr 27, 2010 at 4:23 AM

    Maybe it would have been a smarter move, to use some of that money to sign Cliff Lee.

  11. Scott - Apr 27, 2010 at 8:30 AM

    I agree he’s declining, I just think different statistics could have been emphasized in the argument to show it – where a more obvious decline is already being showed.

  12. Joey B - Apr 27, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    It’s actually an interesting study on the cutting edge of free agency. It seems like every year or so, BB management develops a new paradigm for success. It was OPS, it was defense, it was BP, I think we’re in about the middle of a new model where we sign older players to shorter contracts. Abreu and Damon and the like might make poor l/t contracts, but present relatively little risk over two years since at least their first year figures to be healthy.
    Now I think it’s cutting off that last year or two off of the l/t contracts. Soriano is the first to come to mind. If he was actually worth $18-19M today, which he wasn’t, how can he possibly be expected to be worth that when he is 38-39? ARod is already at the point where he figures to go about 34-36 HRs/.295 and sub-standard fielding, and he has almost 8 years of aging to go through until his contract expires.

  13. Route36West - Apr 30, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    You just listed a bunch of players that never have been and never will be Ryan Howard.
    Howards production is going to stay around the same for the next 3 years so even if they waited to sign him then they would have still ended up giving him the same amount of money in the end. So why not get it done now and stop the questions.
    Howards defense is getting better and not worse. Hes getting better at hitting breaking balls and is getting closer to the plate. Which helps him make contact more. All of these things points to better numbers or atleast the same not worse.
    The only people hating on this deal are people who are fans of the Phillies rival teams and dont want to see him in Philly for the next 6 years.

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