Monday, July 25, 2011

The Confusing Value of Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard has come to be a kind of crucible for player-value arguments. Simply look at the comment section of his player page on Fangraphs, for example, to see the wide variety of views on what Ryan Howard is worth to the Philadelphia Phillies. The most accepted view is that Ryan Howard isn't worth the money he is being paid by the Phillies. And Fangraphs' value system seems to favor that view. According to that site, Howard's play was worth $5.3 million last year and with a hundred games in the books this year, his value isn't that much better at $4.5 million.

Of course, the value-added calculations are based on the overall game of the player and includes batting, fielding and base running, the position the player plays, etc. Ryan Howard will never add value with his base running and his fielding has never been rated highly. But then you see a list on and see that Howard leads the majors in go-ahead plate appearances this season. In other words, during Howard's plate appearances, his team went ahead 25 times or one more than Adrian Gonzalez, a player that is universally seen as having a great season.

So what do we make of Ryan Howard? Runs batted in is a statistic that has truly fallen out of fashion in the value-based community. And yet, it's the RBIs that non-numbers baseball people point to as Howard's great value to his team. This is Howard's eighth season and he's already driven in 823 runs and leads the NL with 75 RBIs this year. So who do we believe? Is Ryan Howard the greatest run producer since Lou Gehrig, or is he simply an overrated and overpaid player? Howard's current WAR of 1.0 is so far down the list of leaders that he's hard to find on the list. Yet, twenty-five times, his plate appearance put the Phillies in the lead, more than anyone else in baseball. Confusing, isn't it?

This author used Howard as an example of players who refuse to beat the defensive shift that is deployed against him. There was a statement made on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball last night that hitting into the shift costs Howard and others some fifteen points on their batting averages. And indeed, Howard is only batting .246 this season and his OBP is off as well from previous seasons. Oh, he's walking just as much, but his batting average is dragging that statistic down.

But let's get back to Howard's ability to plate runs for his team. Over the years, 19 percent of all base runners on base when Ryan Howard had a plate appearance scored as a result of that plate appearance. That is the same percentage as Albert Pujols has in his career. The major league average over that time span has been 15 percent. But Howard's percentage of runners scored from second with no outs is below league average for his career.

What about leverage? Leverage is a calculation that rates plate appearances by how important they are to the game in progress. Close games in the late innings are examples of a high leverage situations. How does Howard fare there?  These are the slash lines for Howard's career in leverage situations:

  • High leverage: .300/.393/.617
  • Medium leverage: .275/.378/.564
  • Low leverage: .262/.356/.525

That seems to show Howard's ability to get it done when his team needs him to do so. Ryan Howard's clutch rating by Fangraphs is fourth in the majors this season. And Howard is 13th in the majors in WPA (win probability added). That's important hitting.

After looking at these statistics and after doing a bunch of reading on what others say about Ryan Howard, this author is just as confused at how valuable a player Ryan Howard is. Depending on what you look at, he's either one of the most important cogs on a contending team or he is one of the most overpaid players in baseball based on his overall value in dollars compared to his contract. So let this post stand as an open ended question. The arguments are always interesting.

1 comment:

L.C. said...

R. Howard is a very important player to the Phillies mix in terms of chemistry. If you let him go, he will come back to not hurt you. Great players don't abide by the numbers, fans do. Players play the game to win, and a true skill at winning is overcoming obstacles that are thrown at you on and off the field. Howard is learning the key to playing "Ball", just do it. Love the "Fans", hate the Umpire, enjoy the critics, that is the apple-pie of the game that leads to longevity, and Howard is learning to master those key elements that lead to success on and off the field. He is a "Great" player, but more important to the "game" is that he is a "Great" man, and he is dealing quite well with some ups and downs of the "Game" that most of his critics would never understand, because you have live inside of the diamond to know what is important and when it's Show-Time.

From A Philly Fan in New Jersey L.C.