You Want Ryan Howard to do WHAT? – Phillies Nation
Analysis

You Want Ryan Howard to do WHAT?

Before we start, I have to say that after spending last night’s gameday post bashing Kendrick…the phrase “egg on my face” comes to mind. I apologize, and only hope that KK continues to pitch like he did last night. But moving on.

There’s a scene in Little Big League (my third-favorite baseball movie of all time), where Billy Heywood, the 12-year-old soon-to-be manager of the Twins, proves his strategic prowess to the Twins brass by playing out a scenario. He suggests that Lou Collins, the team’s star first baseman, swing away in a late-inning situation with runners on. The pitching coach disagrees, suggesting that Lou bunt to move the runners over. I don’t remember the exact scenario, and I can’t find the exact quote, but Billy responds by saying that Lou bunting would set in motion a chain of events that would take the bat out of the hands of the entire heart of the Twins’ lineup.

That said, I think it would be a good idea to teach Ryan Howard to drag bunt.

Here’s the problem. In 2006, his MVP year, Ryan Howard hit .313, with an absurd .356 BABIP. This makes sense, because when Howard hits a ball in play, it’s usually a warning track fly ball or a guided missile somewhere in between the first and second basemen that falls for a hit. In order to combat this, teams started pulling the Ted Williams Shift on him, moving the third baseman to shortstop, the shortstop to second base, and the second baseman to short right field. Within 2 years, Howard’s BABIP dropped to .285 and his average fell to .251 with roughly the same strikeout ratio.

How do we combat this? Well, Howard can continue banging his head against the wall and hammering screaming liners into the right side of the infield for easy outs, or we can get proactive about it. This is where drag bunts come in.

I got the idea when I remembered a situation where Jason Varitek, seeing the infield playing back on him, bunted for a hit in the second inning of Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. If Varitek, quite possibly the slowest non-Molina in baseball, can drop a bunt for a hit, I’m sure Howard, who’s like a train (takes a long time to accelerate but can book it when he’s up to speed) can do the same from the left side of the plate.

The obvious question: why would you take the bat out of the hands of your most dangerous hitter? Well, let’s say Howard learns to lay that slow roller down the third base line with some consistency. If he gets two bunt hits a month, that’s 30 points of batting average, what Billy Williams called the difference between a good hitter and a great hitter. Once that happens, teams can do one of two things: on the one hand, they could eat those two hits and continue shifting, at which point, Howard gets on base for free more or less whenever he feels like it. On the other hand, they could stop shifting so drastically, and Howard can continue spraying liners through the hole as he pleases.

Before we go any further, I should stipulate that Howard shouldn’t go up there looking to bunt in the late innings of a close game with two runners on. But if he’s leading off the second inning of a 0-0 game, why not try it? After all, getting on base is half the battle, and once Jimmy Rollins comes back, Howard will have three all-stars hitting behind him to drive him in. I’m not saying that he needs to go up there looking to bunt every time, but it’s worth trying every once in a while if you’re trying to get the inning started.

So can this work? Believe it or not (and thanks to Corey Seidman for bringing this to my attention), someone’s trying this already. Down in Tampa, Carlos Pena faces a similar shift, and has started bunting for hits. I emailed R.J. Anderson, a really nice dude who writes for FanGraphs and Maddon’s Mission (a truly unique and insightful blog in a world of copycats) to get the take of a Rays fan, particularly one who knows a lot more than I do. Since the start of 2009, Pena has attempted to reach base by way of the bunt 9 times and has been successful 6 times. So he’s trading a 10% chance of hitting a homer for doubling his OBP. Not a bad trade. Quoth Anderson:

In the case of almost any batter, dropping a bunt works best when the defense seems entirely unprepared for it. Say Ben Zobrist is up, and he’s batting right-handed, and the third baseman is playing back, why not drop one if there’s a reasonable chance he beats it out? Worst case, he’s out, and the third baseman has to adjust next time up. Carl Crawford has never been good at bunting and he’s been showing A LOT this year, defenses respond to the threat. And if they don’t? Make them.

The defense knows that if Pena puts the ball in play, it’s usually going to right field. They also seem willing to trade OBP for SLG, that’s a worthhwile trade for the Rays, since they have good hitters coming up still. Maybe you can make the case Los hasn’t bunted enough, since the defense isn’t really adjusting for it yet.

As much as the Ted Williams Shift has become de rigeur for stopping lefty power hitters, it has its weaknesses (Paging Pedro Feliz!), and guys like Howard are going to keep slamming liner after liner into the shift until they start exploiting those weaknesses. As of right now, Ryan Howard’s swinging the bat pretty well, so there’s no real incentive for him to do things differently, but there will come a time this year when that bat cools off, and he’s looking for a way to get on base. I know it sounds crazy, but what’s the worst that could happen?

70 Comments

70 Comments

  1. The Dipsy

    April 21, 2010 at 9:32 am

    I have NO problem with Ryan, and Chase for that matter, doing this whatsoever. In fact, I recommend it. I think that in games where the Phils are way down in a game or where these guys are leading off innings that a drag bunt is absolutely fine. This is opposed to trying to hit it to the left hand side which may cause them to alter their swing which I don’t think you want to do. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a drag bunt. The shift on Ryan is so drastic that he could even square up if he wanted to. There is also the slug bunt. Fact is, doing it every once in a while might be a good idea because it would almost always result in a hit AND it may make the defense play these guys a bit more honestly. Great idea.

    P.S. It doesn’t sound crazy at all.

    The Dipsy

  2. RMikes

    April 21, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I love the idea, if he can capably execute to get it past the pitcher. Especially v. lefties, early innings, no one on base.

  3. Manny

    April 21, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I think he did this (maybe out of luck?) a few times late last year… and I loved every second of it. BEAT THE SHIFT, RHYNO.

  4. jim

    April 21, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Great idea!

  5. bfo_33

    April 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

    Great argument, and Dipsy – you hit it right on. The drag bunt would have much less impact on Howard’s swing than trying to go the opposite way (see David Wright last year). Certainly only employ it in the right situation, but even if he doesn’t get it down each time, it would lessen the shift for the next at bat.

  6. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Of all the guys in baseball.. Howard is probably the MOST LIKELY to take the ball deep on any one swing . .

    there are hardly enough times where it would make sense for him to bunt.

    Im guessing the odds of him reaching base on a bunt attempt are probably equal to the odds of him hitting a HR … so why not let him swing away

  7. Richie

    April 21, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I think the most important part of the whole thing is that once he does it once, the pitcher is the one that will be fielding it, and if it is in the pitcher’s mind for even a second while throwing a pitch that is a good thing because most of the ttime the big guy will be swinging away and eat up those simple memory lapses by pitchers.

  8. mikemike

    April 21, 2010 at 10:14 am

    damm I knew the braves would win only chance for phillies is today. 2-7 road trip so far one lost.

  9. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Not feeling this post…

    So you want the guy that has averaged 143 RBI to drag bunt to move the runners forward… maybe I’m the only one who doesn’t see the logic in that but please understand that Carlos Pena is no Ryan Howard. Pena averages 99 RBI per season. He’s a career .248 hitter… there really is no comparison. I understand that some guys want him to be a more complete player (they want that career .280 batting average to be a few points higher) and for the sake of argument, I’ll act like I get it… but even then, asking him to drag bunt wouldn’t make sense. Why? Because he’s not going to be able to drag bunt a breaking ball low and away… which is how every pitcher with any scouting report is going to pitch him. You think anyone is going to throw him a fastball middle-in? If they are pitching him middle-in, I would hope that he’s trying to do more than bunt.

    He can improve his chances of being successful against that shift but it won’t be by bunting. He’s gotta be patient and not try to do too much. He has already hit a few balls on the ground the other way this year… if they pitch him low and away, that’s the best way for him to put the ball in play; go with the pitch drive it through the hole on the left side of the infield. But most of all, he’s gotta be patient.

  10. bfo_33

    April 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

    Don M, I usually agree with you, but not on this one. At best, Howard is going to hit 1 hr every 10 – 12 at bats. With the shift on, he’d be at least .400. I wouldn’t recommend doing it with two outs, two on in the ninth, but if he’s leading off an early inning (2-4), a close game, I think it will add up to more runs. It will also put a little extra stress on the pitcher each ensuing at bat.

    For Vic, I’d teach him how to bunt then have him do it every time except when the bases are loaded or two outs (esp against Atl). For Howard, in the right situation, just enough to open up the shift a bit (maybe once a series or so).

  11. Chuck

    April 21, 2010 at 10:42 am

    My feeling is that EVERY major league baseball player should know how to effectively bunt the baseball. It’s a fundamental thing.

    BUT….only if the situation absolutely warrants it…..and 99.9999% of the time, Howard should be swinging away. Because, yeah, 143 rbis is a good reason.

  12. NJ

    April 21, 2010 at 11:17 am

    I get the everyone should be a threat to do the little things but where does this come from? Isn’t the mood of Howard nothing but love right now because he’s started taking what the defense has been giving him and becoming a complete hitter…? Does the mood have to change so much in 3 games?

  13. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Bear in mind that a good portion of RBI depends on hitters being on base ahead of the hitter, something you just can’t assume or take for granted.

    Rollins, Victorino and Utley are just as responsible for Howard’s huge RBI totals as Howard himself is.

  14. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Except, of course, the RBI Howard has of himself from homering.

  15. beaglicious

    April 21, 2010 at 11:35 am

    I like the idea but I have another question for the statistics junkies. I believe teams adjust their overshift when there is a man on second to limit the baserunner from simply walking to third. In these situations, the third baseman “stays home” a bit more than if no one is on second. I am assuming that if Ryan starts bunting to keep the infield honest the overshift would simply be adjusted like when a baserunner is on second. Do we know if Ryan’s BABIP is higher when the overshift is adjusted for baserunners?

    My thought is that if Ryan’s BABIP is not increased considerably in this situation then the bunt is simply a way to get on base. And, in that case, I would rather not take the AB away from Ryan in most instances.

  16. Manny

    April 21, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Perhaps he should try to do this when he goes into one of his cold streaks…

  17. Chuck

    April 21, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Paul, that sort of like saying…”Well, my Dad got me into this college…but it’s up to me to get the necessary grades to stay here.”

    Same thing with Howard. Utley, Rollins, Vic, Polanco can create all the opportunities they want…but it’s up to Howard to drive them in. And, with men on base, esp with risp, you don’t want Howard bunting.

  18. Ben

    April 21, 2010 at 11:56 am

    good call beaglicious.

  19. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I’m not really inherently opposed to this at all, because, in the long term, dissolving that shift strategy will be an enormous boon to Howard. The only problem is, I’m not sure you can teach him to do it effectively enough to actually conquer the shift — i.e., he’ll be bad enough at it that teams will want him to do it. That’s entirely a hunch though, I have no evidence to support it. I don’t ever recall him bunting, and, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence on B-R that he ever even has in his major league career.

  20. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Chuck, getting on base is the name of the game. When you’re not doing that, you’re making outs. This strategy is clearly not designed for runners in scoring position, because teams don’t usually employ the shift against Howard when that’s the case. But if they did, it would still be valuable — nobody would be covering third, half the infield would converge on the bunt, and Howard would reach base. With Werth hitting behind him, he’s always increasing the run expectancy just by getting on base, and not making costly outs.

    Howard has shown some early ability this year to hit opposite field line drives, so if that keeps up it may be moot, but it’s far too small a sample to know at this point.

  21. The Dipsy

    April 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Getting on base IS the name of the game. Ryan can’t hit a three run homer when there’s no one on base. In that shift, you don’t even have to lay down a good bunt. It could totally suck as long as it goes to the left side past the pitcher because there is no third baseman there. When Ryan leads off an inning I see nothing wrong with it. I would cheer him. You also have Werth and Vic to knock him in (and maybe Ibanez again one day). And against lefties its an ever better idea. Do you make it a big part of his game? No. Just to the point where you could hear the play by play guy go; “Howard has been known to lay a bunt down there every now and then”.

    The Dipsy

  22. mikemike

    April 21, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Where do I get all star ballots for ibanez? hahahahahahahahah. can I write in werth too????

  23. Leo Sac

    April 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    I believe asking him to bunt has as much a chance of being accepted as Shaq shooting free throws underhanded.

    You may remember, back in the day when Shaq was “IT” ,the only way to stop him was to foul him. He sucks at free throw shooting and the suggestion was that he would have much more success underhanded, ala Rick Barry. Shaq bristled at the suggestion insiuating that it was somehow beneath him to try such a stunt. I think Howard would feel the same way.

    I’d just be happy to see him try and take the ball the other way as he did in week one of the season. He had 4 strikeouts during the first 8 games. Now he is back to pulling everything, rolling over on outside pitches and striking out at a much higher rate than earlier in the season. I guess Barry Bonds talk only had a one week shelf life.

  24. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I just can’t see Charlie Manuel, Milt Thompson, or Ryan Howard . . . EVER thinking that it makes more sense for him to attempt to bunt to get on base

    instead of attempting to score with one swing …

    ….
    There are times when – yada, yada, yada..

    I would like to see him HIT the ball the other way more often to keep defenses more honest.. but even with a shift-on the majority of his career …

    he’s a career .280 hitter… with a .374 career on base percentage

    i’m 99% sure that since his arrival in the Major Leagues.. he leads all baseball in both HomeRuns and RBI ???

    His job is to bring runs home (baserunners, or himself)..

    I dont ever want Howard to be known for “laying down a bunt every now and then” .. . . he is, and should be known for “KNOCKING THE COVER OFF THE BALL AT A RECORD SETTING PACE IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HISTORY” That is what scares pitchers.. every pitcher in baseball would LOVE if Howard layed a bunt down instead of trying to hit a HomeRun

    Sincerely,
    Don M

    President of the Anti-Cleanup-Hitters Bunting Campaign

  25. Jeff

    April 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I like Howard but he is just to up and down. Yes he can carry your team for a month but in big games he does not show up. He was nowhere to be found in the World Series. The problem with this team. The bullpen is horrible. Outside of Doc you never know what your going to get from the starters. If our offense is not producing were in trouble. Last night was a heart stopper. We had that win in our back pocket. I hate seeing chipper smile. Hate it. Now everyone is excited about Lidge coming back. REALLY????

  26. The Dipsy

    April 21, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Damn Don. You are a irritable SOB, arent ya? You Tea Partier, you. Always rebelling against new ideas. Not even willing to give it a try. If you ask me, if you have absolutely no one on the left side of the infield and nobody on you should ALWAYS bunt. Except if you’re Howard, when its a tie game and its late. Don, no one will ever mistake you for being an innovator. Are you one of those guys that cursed passing the ball as a way to advance the ball in the NFL? Love ya babe.

    The Dipsy

  27. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Lidge.. the guy who gave us a perfect season two years ago …

    Yea, really.. I’m excited. He won’t be perfect again.. but he’s an experienced Closer, that every team in baseball would love to have in their bullpen.

    You don’t know what you’re getting from Hamels and Blanton?


    The months that Howard usually shows up to carry the team are August and September.. when games are more intense, aka BIG GAMES .. so you’re wrong on that one

    in the 2008 World Series.. Howard hit .286 , with 3 HRs and 6 RBIs

    he struggled in the 2009 World Series.. but was among the biggest reasons we got there in the first place

    in the NLDS, he hit .375, driving in 6 runs in 4 games
    in the NLCS, he hit .333, driving in 8 runs, in 5 games


    If you’re going to make bold statements.. you should at least know what you’re talking about first

    We started the season 8-5 so far.. with our #3 pitcher, our Closer, and our primary LHP in the bullpen all on the DL. I’d say that’s pretty damn good…

    Maybe if people didn’t expect them to clinch the NL EAST crown by April 21st…. they would worry less ?

  28. Ryan H.

    April 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Ryan Howard shouldn’t change anything. Just keep doing what he’s doing. 50 bombs and 150 RBI a year. don’t change a damn thing.

  29. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    You think that taking the bat out of Ryan Howard’s hands… is an INNOVATION?

    Howard is the greatest Power Hitter of this generation, and people are actually suggesting on here, that he lays down bunts, instead of swinging for the fences..

    Tell me if Im following this correctly?…
    The reason people would want him to bunt is to try to get on base… ?
    The reason want him to get on base is so that he can eventually score a run..?

    ..But, more than any other player in the game today..
    Howard has a great chance of scoring HIMSELF with one swing.. hitting the ball out of the yard

    That is basically asking Howard if he wants to take an Intentional Walk.. which the opposing team would be fine with, instead of having him hurt them and put a run on the board.

    This is just another case of overthinking.. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

  30. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I forgot that games in August and September counted for two wins or two losses apiece. Shucks.

    There’s no more weight on a game in April than there is in September. The games may seem like they mean more because the season is running out, but in reality there is no difference in weight or value when you win a game now or in the late stages of the season.

    The playoffs are different, but the belief that a September game really means more is just one of those intangible notions that really isn’t true if you think about it.

  31. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Also Albert Pujols is the greatest power hitter of this generation. That’s not really debatable.

  32. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    @Don M

    Howard, even in his best season (2006), hit a home run in 8.2% of his plate appearances. He’s certainly good for around 50 a year, but this is about long term gain more than any fundamental change in batting approach. If Howard thwarts the shift, and teams stop doing it, his BABIP will rise, his AVG will rise, his OBP will rise, and all of those hard hit line drives to the right side that you see, which he produces regularly and with ease, will be hits, often extra base hits, instead of loud outs. Trust me, laying down a drag bunt when it is advantageous is not going to hurt his home run totals, but it will increase his overall production in the long term.

    And Paul beat me to it, but Pujols is undeniably the greatest power hitter of this generation.

  33. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Can I be Vice President of that campaign??

    Look, Howard is not without his flaws but producing runs is not one of them… taking the bat out of his hand with men on base is just nonsense. If you could poll every manager today and ask, “If you could trade a $5 foot long in return for a guarantee that Ryan Howard will sac bunt with men on first and second” every one of them would say yes. You sac bunt with Howard, you’re playing into their hands.

    I hate when this team loses… yes, I am excited about Lidge coming back, really. Why aren’t you? He was injured last season… he tried to play through something he shouldn’t have been playing through. The year before that, he was pretty good (need a reminder, “Brad Lidge does it again and stays perfect for the 2008 season.”). Even if he’s not perfect, he’s going to help this team… we’re better with him than we are without him.

  34. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Who is talking about men on base? The shift is usually not on when there are men on base. Do you people even read things?

  35. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    We’re not talking about bunting with men on base, Chuck. A quote from Mike’s piece:

    “Before we go any further, I should stipulate that Howard shouldn’t go up there looking to bunt in the late innings of a close game with two runners on. But if he’s leading off the second inning of a 0-0 game, why not try it?”

  36. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    If you think about the increased pressure.. the intensity of the games

    Nobody ever says a team or player CHOKES if he/they have a bad month of April or May …. But do that in September, when everything is magnified… ala NY METS

    … so yea I’d say those are BIGGER GAMES… they count the same in the standings of course.. but they are played under brighter, hotter lights.


    Albert Pujols is the greatest PURE HITTER of this generation

    Ryan Howard is the greatest POWER HITTER of this generation… when it comes to purely hitting the ball out of the park.. Howard does it more

    Obviously Pujols is WAY better all-around, for average, contact, even SLG%… but Howard hits HR’s more frequently (probably the reason he K’s more too)

    Pujols since the 2006 season: 171 HRs, 507 RBIs
    Howard since the 2006 season: 201 HRs, 587 RBIs

    Exactly 30 more HRs.. 80 more RBI’s from 2006 until today

    Please.. please.. please… no more bunt talk

  37. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    It does make us feel better when our stuff is actually read and thought about for longer than the time it takes to write a comment, Phylan, that’s for sure.

  38. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Ok, and since the 2006 season, here are the number of men on base that each player had when they came to the plate in those seasons:

    Howard
    2006: 509
    2007: 501
    2008: 483
    2009: 500

    Pujols
    2006: 427
    2007: 440
    2008: 436
    2009: 475

    Howard has averaged, over those 4 seasons, more than 50 additional runners on base per year (215 total) during his ABs. And you wonder why he gets more RBI? Sure, he hits like he always does, but guys are on base ahead of him, something that’s almost completely context-dependent.

    You give Pujols those extra opportunities and this whole RBI disparity isn’t even a question.

  39. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Let me be clear… Pujols is the greatest hitter and player by far and it’s not even close

    BUT

    in 9 full seasons, Albert has hit 40+HR 5 times (never hit 50)… Howard has hit 40+ HR 4 times in 4 full seasons (hit 50 once). If the purest measure of power is hitting home runs, Howard has the edge based on raw home run numbers.

    BUT

    Howard plays in a hitters park… surely helps his case (although most of his homeruns are of the “no doubt about it” variety) and Pujols has wayyy more extra base hits (which means he’s hitting the ball hard when it’s not leaving the park).

    Conclusion: I wouldn’t say either of them is “undeniably” the greatest power hitter without a clear definition of power. They both average 23 intentional walks per season…

  40. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I’d rather Howard swing than bunt …in the 2nd inning of a 0-0 game.. because with one swing, he could make it 1-0 Phillies..


    I like the IDEA.. and that people are thinking of ways to fix flaws. . .

    I just think the word “BUNT” should not be mentioned with the name RYAN HOWARD.

    I’m fine with him trying to HIT the ball to that side.. and make teams play more honest defense. but you dont have Power Hitters bunt because you are in effect, taking the bat out of their hands.

    ..
    I never WONDERED why Howard got more RBIs.. our offense is clearly better than the Cardinals. My point is.. that Howard has been terrific in his cleanup role the past few years. … he’s a POWER HITTER. And if he switched his focus to learning how to bunt . you are taking away his tool.. his bat.. and the chance for him to create a run with one swing


    If Howard hits a HR every 10 plate appearances or so..

    How often would he successfully bunt, and succesfully score.. would it be greater than once every 10 times?

    Its not an experiment that I’d ever like to test..

    Its NOT like he’s a terrible contact hitter.. a .280 career average (and yes I realize that if he lays down a few bunts.. even unsuccesfully.. that there is the chance that defenses play more honest.. and a chance his average then goes up higher against non-shifts.. etc…… but its just too complicated, and not something I ever see the coaching staff trying to get him to do)

    Let the man do his thing

  41. Chuck

    April 21, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Which illustrates my point from before. It’s one thing for Utley, Rollins and Vic and now Polanco to get on base. Great. But Howard’s job is to drive them in. Which he does.

    Howard…and everybody else should know how to bunt…..but again…99.9999% of the time he just should not do it. It’s just NOT his game. Period. So does that qualify me to be Sec’y of State of that campaign?

    ——-

    Lidge.

    I’m MORE than ready for his return. Seriously.

    Last night, with two outs….even if Lidge gives up two runs….there is NO WAY Troy Glaus hits a slider in the dirt. Game would be over.

    Will Lidge blow some saves. Yeah, probably. But his presence is sorely needed in this pen right now.

  42. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Yea im def not trying to compare Howard to Pujols in any real sense…

    PUJOLS is better in EVERY single aspect of baseball.. (except for fashion, with that stupid clunky chain around his neck)

    If Albert swung for the fences more.. Im sure he could hit 60 Hrs.. but he would rather rock the .334 Career Batting Average !!!


    I guess question to the stats guys.. . .

    How often would you TRULY want to see Howard ever attempt a bunt? … It would only really make sense with either NOBODY on.. or just a Runner on 1st

    but a chance to drive in 1-2 runs… is more important than just a chance to get on base.

    Maybe if the Phillies are UP a lot, against opponents they see alot.. any team from the NL EAST…. It would make sense for him to drop a bunt down the 3rd base side.. Try it a few times and word would spread quickly.

    but I just dont think its something that other teams would care about because if Howard wants to get a bunt-single . . . instead of try to hit a HomeRun, I really think that other teams would 100% fine with that. Which maybe illustrates why WE shouldn’t be fine with it

  43. Philly Texan

    April 21, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I’m with Don.

    Howard should never be bunting. Yes, he might get on base to lead off an inning, but then what? He’s not going to steal second. And he’s just as likely to hit a solo home run or a double, which I’ll take every time.

    Also: it will take a lot more than a drag bunt or two to get teams out of the shift. It just won’t have an impact except to put a slow guy on first base at the expense of an extra base hit. (Remember it’s not just home runs. Howard hit 37 doubles last year. Don’t know about you guys, but I really like lead off doubles.)

    I’m all for bunting and for getting on base when it’s warranted.

    But 40-home-run, 140-rbi guys don’t bunt. Ever.

  44. Amazinsux

    April 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    God, forgive me for this, but I agree with Don.

    Howard bunting…. is kookie-talk!

  45. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Please read this carefully before responding.

    He isn’t “just as likely” to hit a home run or a double, that’s the whole point. Howard’s on base percentage last year was .360. He, like every other hitter, makes outs more often than not. But you can dramatically reduce the amount of outs he is making with this strategy.

    Why? Last year, 68% of the line drives that Howard hit became hits. 19.4% of the ground balls he hit became hits. The league average for line drives becoming hits was 72.4%, and for ground balls becoming hits it was 23.6%. Why were Howard’s lower? Because an inordinate amount of his grounders and liners are going right into the shift. The defense, with that simple strategy, are actively increasing the amount of outs he makes. Those percentages are over 700 or so plate appearances, so we’re not talking about just a few hits he’s being robbed of here. This is a much greater loss of value than a simple solo home run can make up for.

    Howard will not have to succeed at the drag bunt many times, and teams will stop shifting. When that happens, those percentages I listed earlier will go up to the league averages. That’s a lot more hits — he’ll see a rise in his average, on-base percentage, and yes, even his slugging percentage, since some of them are liable to be for extra-bases. You have sacrificed nothing here, and made a tremendous gain. Explain to me again why this is such a bad idea?

  46. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Boye, based on those numbers, Howard knocks in 29.45% of those men on base. Pujols knocks in 28.52% of those men…

  47. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    By the way, re: the ridiculous Pujols/Howard comparisons, Pujols has consistently bested Howard in slugging percentage and isolated power. There is more to power hitting than just home runs.

  48. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Which hits that would be OUTS in the SHIFT … would be EXTRA BASE HITS without the SHIFT??

    If you are making an out on the ball to shallow RF …. without that guy there.. it becomes a SINGLE to RF .. right?


    I guess my best arguement would/should have been about the numbers with PENA, while they are very good numbers… How many times does he have to do it before teams react to it and change their defensive strategy for his at-bats?

    Like it was stated above.. Im sure the opposing team would MUCH rather have him with a higher OBP% due to him bunting.. than have a higher SLG% due to him swinging ?

    This is the great part of baseball debates, is that you guys have me thinking WAY DEEPER into the thought of why a bunt from him might be a good idea every once in a while

    I just think that to open up the defense.. he would have to bunt so frequently.. that the bat coming out of his hands so often, would be a Negative, not a Positive to the Phillies lineup

  49. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    OK… so no men on base…. you poll managers around the league and they’d rather see Howard bunting than swinging away in that situation.

    And I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how Howard is going to drag bunt a breaking ball low and away…

    He’s not the fastest guy out of the box… it’s going to have to be a pretty good bunt to get him to first. It might not have to be perfect but if it’s playable by the pitcher or catcher, he’s out. How many failed attempts would people stomach before we gave up on that experiment?

  50. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    right.. I had already said that Albert has a higher SLG% ….

    Not sure what “Isolated Power” is.. but I know that Howard hits more HR’s than Pujols does…

    and while you can argue that Howard plays in a more HR friendly home ballpark … I would then say that isn’t that all the more reason Howard should try to hit a HomeRun ?

    This seriously is a GREAT topic for today.. .. there really isn’t a “right” answer

  51. Michael Baumann

    April 21, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    Dear Don M and Chuck-
    Leading off the 4th inning of a tie game (a situation in which I’d have Howard bunt for a hit), a solo home run increases a team’s chances of winning by 19.6%, according to Walkoff Balk (http://bit.ly/3lAkr) A single (a bunt single, in this case), increases that probability by 11.5%. By that (admittedly crude) measure, a bunt single is worth about 60% of a solo home run in that situation. Considering that Howard’s more than 6 times more likely to get a bunt single than a home run (using Carlos Pena’s success rate), that shows a clear advantage for the bunt over the “swing-from-the-heels” approach.
    Another way of looking at it is that if Howard makes it to first on 2 of 3 bunt attempts (as Pena has since 2009), he slugs .666, about 100 points better than he slugs now in all situations. If you poll opposinig managers on whether they’d rather have Howard bunt or swing away with the bases empty, I’m sure they’d say bunt, and, at least according to these numbers, they’d be wrong.

  52. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Is Ryan Howard as good a bunter as Carlos Pena ?

  53. Chuck

    April 21, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    “He’s not the fastest guy out of the box”.

    Right. Which is why this just won’t really work.

    Howard, once he gets rolling down the line…..he’s like a freight train. But GETTING to that point…..the ACCELERATION…..will take more time than he has to be safe.

  54. The Original Chuck P

    April 21, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Don’t take this as a personal attack… I appreciate the back and forth and I’m sure that if we sat down, we would like each other.

    We’ll agree to disagree but I see the point… if Howard could be as successful as Carlos Pena, of course it would make sense to give it a shot but I still don’t like where it gets you. Let’s say Howard drops down 5 bunts this year, would that be enough to entice managers to take off the shift? Probably not. And I think that you’ve gotta separate Pena from Howard; Howard’s .280 batting average is about 40 points higher than Pena’s. If he’s swinging away, he’s gonna hit more singles than Pena would, which is as good as that bunt single (and a few doubles, too). Pena, even with that bunt success, is still a career. 248 hitter.

  55. phillyboy

    April 21, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    there is no way ryan should ever bunt EVER!!!!this man is paid to knock the cover off the ball,which he does very very well!!! leave the bunting to guys like vic,rollins,even though he sucks at it!!!!

  56. Michael Baumann

    April 21, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Don and The Chucks-
    First question: I have no idea if Howard’s as good a bunter as Pena. I know for sure he’s never bunted since coming to the majors, and I’d speculate he hasn’t bunted since middle school or something. At the very least, he’s rusty. If he can’t learn it, he can’t learn it, and I’ll stand corrected. But that’s the kind of question that we won’t know until he tries it in a game.
    Also, isolated power is slugging percentage minus batting average.
    And, finally, Original Chuck, the dissolution of the Ted Williams Shift is the best-case scenario, and frankly, I don’t see that happening unless he bunts once a game in various situations, which even I don’t think is a good idea. If they keep shifting, they’re giving Howard license to bunt whenever he can get it down. Those extra 2 bunt base hits a month could be rally-starters, and in my mind, having that man on base in front of Werth and Ibanez is reward enough.
    If this argument were a slam-dunk, more than one team would be doing it, but I think it’s at least worth exploring. If it works, you’ve got a valuable new offensive weapon. If it doesn’t, you’ve given away a couple outs in the early innings of a couple early-season games.
    Thanks to all for your candor and civility–it’s been a great back-and-forth so far.

  57. Paul Boye

    April 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I wish my Howard vs. the Shift project had enough to go to the presses with tomorrow, because the timing is perfect.

  58. Chuck

    April 21, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Paul….

    Work all night. C’mon, you can pull it off.

  59. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    So who are the League’s Leaders in “Isolated Power”:

    Im guessing the same guys we already know are the game’s best.. . .

    Pujols, Howard, Fielder, Braun, Utley, Hanley Ramirez, Arod, Texiera, Jason Bay.. ?

  60. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Don M, I went to look up all time career leaders in Isolated Power, and I was, um, surprised:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/careerleaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&type=1&min=1000

    I guess I owe you an apology on the ISO point.

  61. Phylan

    April 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    That link doesn’t work quite right, click the “ISO” column to sort it highest to lowest, and you’ll see what I mean.

  62. Brooks

    April 21, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Ryan Howard should not bunt unless it fits.
    So far, I have seen him break the shift I believe 3 times – poking a double down the left field line, poking a single where the SS would play – I;m excited.

  63. Don M

    April 21, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    No apology needed for anything.. I understand the point you are making.

    its just that My whole problem with this extreme SABERmetric shift in baseball…

    Is that usually it tells you that the players you already know are the best . . . ARE IN FACT, THE BEST

    ..
    It does serve its purposes with showing things like LUCK of pitchers vs. what you could except as “normal”

    Like Clayton Kershaw should be dominant looking at his BattingAverageAgainst..
    but he often walks a lot of people, and he doesn’t yet go very deep into games..

    so there are always “other” stats that you can look at..

    I still think the most useful stats are the ones we already know and love..

    with WHIP.. K/9.. and BAA now very useful for pitchers
    and OPS% among the most useful for hitters (but generally those hitting stats already show as the guys with the highest averages, and best power-stats already show as tops in every “BACK OF THE BASEBALL CARD” catergory

  64. George

    April 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    There are a few questions here that are in order.

    One, can Howard bunt? Pop-ups to the pitcher or catcher are worse than a liner to the second baseman out in right field. I’ve seen some of Howard’s rockets get mishandled.

    Two, even if he can lay down a bunt once in a while, would it really alter the shift much? I can see the SS and second basemen being in the same exact spot while only the third baseman moves back some. And no, it wouldn’t be that effective against lefthanders, because on his follow through a lefty is always aimed toward third.

    Three, if the offense on a particular day is bad enough to warrant Howard bunting for a hit, is having a slow man at first really going to start a rally?

    It’s a nice idea, and might get Howard on once or twice a season, but should be attempted at first only in Spring Training games, and only then after a LOT of practice.

  65. philsgirl

    April 21, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    So the arguments for Howard trying a new bunting strategy to be, thus far:

    Pro:
    1) Howard bunting would be able to thwart a shift, therefore raising his OBP, and potentially runs scored, while avoiding an assumed need to change current mechanics to hit to the opposite field
    2) If Howard succeeds at the bunt, it would not take long before the shift is stopped, and avg, obp%, and slg% all go up.
    3) In fact, in certain situations, even if the shift is on but the bunt applied, Howard’s slg% goes up if he follows Carlos Pena’s stats (reaching 2/3 times).

    Con:
    2) He has already shown his ability to go opposite field ( briefly) and taking the bat out of the hands of a power hitter would be foolish in any situation.
    3) We have no idea how he’d do at bunting.
    4) He would suck at bunting anyhow since he’s slow as cr*p
    5) He’d have to bunt more than warranted since teams wouldn’t change the shift based on a few successful bunts, unless Howard bunts at least about once a game, and we give up those potential hits (including multi-base or homers –or outs) for probable definite bunt singles only a couple times a month.
    6) A successful bunt is essentially an intentional walk to Howard (assumes his bunts would be successful), which is something we’d be seeing other teams do if they were just afraid he’d do more than get to first, let alone homer (all assuming no one on base, or no RISP in in which case the shift probably wouldn’t be on anyhow).

    Maybe something nice to try experimentally in non-critical situations, but reading all this, I almost hate to admit agreeing with the Chucks and Don M. Working on his patience and having him try to just hit for getting hits rather than going for the fence may be a better strategy than Howard bunting. I remember seeing a review of his stance and mechanics when he homered vs. struck out, I think on the MLB network, and it was interesting that his front foot was planted prior to homers, still coming down when struck out. Don’t know how how many pieces of footage they reviewed for that conclusion, only showed one example of each. I love reading these pieces that teach stats and really make you think; it’s not all about ranting and raving and being on opposite sides.

    Also, hope I didn’t p*ss anyone off by mis-reading or –representing your comments. Everyone here knows stats better than I, no matter how long I’ve been watching the game. But Howard’s meat and potatoes, when he’s hot, is as a long-ball hitter, isn’t that right?

  66. derekcarstairs

    April 22, 2010 at 8:54 am

    If Howard could consistently go the opposite way on breaking balls from lefties, that would solve his biggest problem at the plate. That’s what Howard needs to work on, not bunting. He should also be more selective and draw more walks. Howard does not have a problem facing right-handers, so no fix is needed there.

  67. BuntAway

    April 22, 2010 at 9:40 am

    I’ve been saying this for a year now. And like you said not all the time, not late in the game or with people on base bc the shift isn’t so extreme then. But every now and then, or maybe when he isn’t swinging well against that pitcher, he should know it will work just by the check swing hit he got last night. However one key element, we need to test his bunting skills before we 100% encourage this lol, maybe he can work with the pitchers on bunting.

  68. Don M

    April 22, 2010 at 9:53 am

    I’ve know read that two people “hate to agree with me on something” …?

    I never knew that my being positive about the team, the front office, etc.. and trying to be a voice of reason was such a radical viewpoint.

  69. philsgirl

    April 23, 2010 at 2:56 am

    At least on my end, just a joke, Don M 8)
    It’s just that someone on this site once pointed out various groups of people who tend to comment similarly on emotionally-charged issues or generally defend management/the FO. “Supporting” vs. always “being positive about” are not exactly the same thing (just ask Nick Turturro). I’d venture to say that even many comments seen as negative are made with the reason that the poster is passionate about and therefore supports their team. And I think of a “voice of reason” as an ideally impartial, non-emotionally involved party. Hopefully very few of us on this site *aren’t* Phils fans, so there goes a lot of the impartiality and the ease of being a true voice of reason.

    A topic like this sparked a really good, well-argued discussion, and I *like* giving credit to those who convince and teach me with a good argument. No actual hatred involved. In fact, Don M., you’re more often than not trying to calm the more excitable of us no matter what the situation, and as a voice of reason in that sense, at least by me, deeply appreciated! Ironically, I doubt that you’ll ever read this, it’s a really old thread, but I checked it to see if there were any further nuggets here.

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