I’ve got three numbers for you -- .795, 43, 5.
.795 is Ryan Howard’s OPS, which is the sum of his on-base percentage (.326) and slugging percentage (.470), and it gives us a pretty good idea of the level of acumen that he possesses in terms of getting on base and hitting for power. It’s a pretty good statistic that tells us a lot of about a player without needing us to delve too deeply into other numbers. At present, it tells us that Ryan Howard isn’t living up to the expectations set forth for a power hitting corner infielder, as it ranks seventh among National League first basemen who have at least 170 at-bats, well behind leaders Joey Votto (.995) and Prince Fielder (.963), and just above the Mets’ Daniel Murphy (.789).
While Howard is known to be a notoriously slow starter, it’s fairly disconcerting that he’s struggled so mightily in the last month or so, especially after he ended the month of April with a .290/.351/.560 line – good enough for a .911 OPS. He was hitting for power, average and taking his free passes.
Since then, he’s been an entirely different player, hitting .208/.307/.400 to the tune of a .707 OPS over the last 34 games, which brings us to the second and third numbers: In that span, he’s struck out 43 times, while only walking five times.
Tuesday night’s game was a sort of microcosm of those struggles, as evidenced by his two strikeouts against a pitcher who couldn’t find the strike zone for the better part of the night.
You put those three numbers together, and you get a really good idea as to why the offense has been struggling. At the risk of being cliché, when Howard goes, the Phillies go.
It’s no secret that he can carry the team, which he’s done on numerous occasions in the past, but he can also drag a team down when he isn’t getting the job done. His strikeouts pile up, and his almost steadfast refusal as of late to take a walk is completely counterproductive to the entire effort of the offense.
He is already at a disadvantage thanks to having to hit into the shift, so the last thing he needs to do is get himself out. And while you can defend against line drives, you can’t defend against a hitter’s patience. If those five walks in his last 34 games are any indication, then it appears that Howard doesn’t have much of it these days. We’ve seen countless at-bats this year where he looks like he just wants to murder a pitch, and others when he is looking for the right pitch. As far as plate approaches are concerned, it’s night and day, with the resulting difference being a groundout to the first baseman or a screaming line drive over the centerfield wall.
Granted it's only June, and it’s not very likely that Howard ends the season with such a low OPS. However, until the rest of the team can gel as an offensive unit, the Big Man needs to hunker down and wait for his pitch, otherwise it might be a long summer for the slugger.