Things are going well for the Phillies, holders of the best pitching staff in all of the land, leaders of MLB in wins, and in Vegas, the odds-on favorites to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy come October.
But it’s Monday, and we are coming up on 48 Phillies-less hours, so of course, someone needs to take the team down a notch.
Enter Sean Forman, the creator of Baseball-Reference.com, (which is really the greatest website in forever. The Play Index feature will keep you busy for hours.). Forman drops on us a rather random and out-of-the-blue article on Ryan Howard’s shortcomings and overratedness in the New York Times Monday. The gist? That Howard is way overvalued and that the statistics exists to back it up. To wit
Among N.L. batters who have qualified for the batting title entering the weekend, Howard’s .831 O.P.S. was just 23rd in the league. Among N.L. first basemen, he ranked seventh, below average for the 12 qualifying players.
In fact, if we look at a wide array of sabermetric measures, Howard never cracks the top 10 and is typically well down in the pack. And this is just considering hitting. If we combine hitting, defense and base running, WAR (wins above replacement) rated him as the seventh-best player on the Phillies this year.
A quick aside: This article isn’t particularly relevant, if you ask me. It’s not timely, and the genesis of it seems to come from a place of “I’m bored, what is there to talk about today?” Pointing out the flaws in Ryan Howard’s game is nothing new, and seems to exist only for the sake of existing.
But anyway, the article is heavy on some jargon that some of the more casual fans might not be familiar with, but the general idea is that Howard is quite fortunate because he has more opportunities to drive in runs than almost anyone else in the game. But when you strip away the RBIs (which, let’s face it, are super-dependent on other players), Howard’s flaws are more pronounced and more visible.
It’s a story that’s been beaten to death, resurrected, and then beaten to death again. We get it: Ryan Howard is paid a lot of money for a guy with his particular skill set. He’s going to crush homers with reckless abandon and drive in a ton of runs, but he’s also going to strike out a lot, not walk, and have his fair share of troubles in the field. Does that make him a bad player? No. Despite his shortcomings, it’s clear, at least to Phillies fans, that Howard has carried the team at times.
Say what you want about Sabermetrics; whether or not you view them as a vanguard to a statistical revolution where we assess players in a completely different, but perhaps more efficient and thorough manner, or whether you think they are borne of some evil that exists only to devalue such statistics like wins and RBIs, one thing is true: Ryan Howard has flaws in his game. He is going to pummel balls with righteous fury and swing at sliders that are two feet outside of the strike zone, but at the end of the day, he’s our slugger, he’s our guy, and he’s our first baseman. Enjoy it while you can.