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Spring Question: Has Ryan Howard Rediscovered His Swing?

It’s amazing what an offseason will do to a guy. Remember last offseason, after Ryan Howard won the NL Most Valuable Player award, it seemed he reported to camp heavier than before. Supposedly the appearances, dinners and Subway spots took a toll on him. What resulted was a season of ups and downs, beginning with an injury, ending with a flourish and in between, a totem pole of strikeouts.

This offseason has been kinder to Howard, as he reported to camp 10-15 pounds lighter. He also got a nice monetary boost after winning a landmark arbitration case. The results have been staggering:

8 G / 2 R / 3 2B / 1 HR / 4 RBI / 4 SO / .478 OBP / .727 SLG / .455 AVG

Sure it’s a miniscule sample size, but the proof seems to indicate Ryan Howard is back to his old self.

Last year, many commentators, analysts and fans remarked Howard fit into the groove of pulling the ball. This graph shows his 2007 balls-in-play — he made a mammoth amount of outs to the right side of the infield. Maybe he was trying to swat more than 58 home runs. Maybe he was trying to eclipse his MVP season of 2006.

Whatever the case, he’s hitting well so far this spring.

As you remember, Howard was out for almost a month with a quad injury. Before it, he was hitting a paltry .204. When he returned, he began finding the ball again and slicing it into other areas of the field, bringing his average up to a tune of .258 within one month. He would top out at .279 July 22, but never hit less than .256 the rest of the season. Optimally, you’d like Howard to match his .313 mark of 2006, but at the very least, you have to be happy with what he provided late last season.

Now he’s driving balls into center field and the left-center field gap. What a great sign. When he’s hitting all ends, he’s seeing the ball clearly. We can’t just expect a .320 year from the big man, but it’s very possible it’ll occur. I’m calling 49 home runs, 130 runs batted in and a .316 average. Who’s with me?

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