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Analyzing Howard: It's Breaking Ball Or Bust

While Shane Victorino, Pat Burrell and others enjoy a strong offensive postseason, Ryan Howard isn’t getting much done. Is it a slump? Nah, just smart scouting.

Let’s look at Howard’s at bats in the Dodgers series, to this point:

(FB = fastball / CU = changeup / SL = slider / CB = curveball … la = low & away / green = ball / orange = foul / red = called strike / maroon = swinging strike / blue = in play)

AB 1 vs. Derek Lowe – SL-la / SL-la / SL-la / SL-la / CU-la / SL-l – groundout to 2B
AB 2 vs. Derek Lowe – FB-a / SL / SL-l / SL-la / SL-la / CU-la – groundout to 2B
AB 3 vs. Derek Lowe – SL-li / SL-la / SL / SL-l – groundout to 1B
AB 4 vs.  Hong Chih-Kuo – SL-a / FB-la / FB-l / SL-a – flyout to CF
AB 5 vs. Chad Billingsley – CB-l / CB-l / CB-li / CB – strikeout swinging
AB 6 vs. Chad Billingsley – CB-h / CB-l / CB-l / CB-a – strikeout looking
AB 7 vs. Joe Beimel – CB-la / FB / FB-i / CB-la / FB-la / FB-hi – walk
AB 8 vs. James McDonald – CU-a / FB-i / CU-a – groundout to 1B
AB 9 vs. Clayton Kershaw – FB / FB-i – flyout to LF

Howard has seen 39 pitches in the two games. Of them, 15 were sliders, 10 were curveballs, 10 were fastballs and 4 were changeups.

Let’s look closer at the fastballs:

Derek Lowe gave him a fastball way off the plate to start his second at bat in game one. Easy take. Chih-Kuo stayed down with his fastballs, and were easy takes. Beimel challenged Howard with two fastballs, the first a take, as Beimel had just walked Utley and Howard had a 1-0 count. The second was a little more inside, and Howard missed that. His third fastball was a wild throw, and Howard took the walk. McDonald also challenged him inside, and Howard fouled it. Finally, Kershaw dialed up two heaters above 95, and Howard took the second one to left field.

Clearly, Howard is struggling with inside heat, and Dodger pitchers are keeping away from him otherwise. They’re also doing a fine job keeping the ball low —  23 of the 39 pitches were low enough to be considered balls. The big man has only seen five pitches that punched the meat of the zone — three were off-speed that he couldn’t handle, two were fastballs he took.

At some point a pitcher — who’s not gas-throwing Kershaw — will make a mistake and give Howard a pitch to smash. Is it better for him to take everything and rack up walks, or should he keep swinging at the middle of the zone, hoping a fastball flies in there? While the offense has picked it up in the series, that question could define a few big spots during the rest of the series.

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