Howard's Power Revisited

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer has an interesting post up today on his blog, wherein he drops some quotes from Ryan Howard on his perceived (or real) lack of power production in 2010.

“It’s funny to me because everyone talks about my power numbers,” Howard said. “‘Oh, Ryan, your power numbers were down.’ I think everybody forgot I was out for a month, that I was hurt. I was right there with everybody on the leaderboard in home runs and RBIs. I don’t really think that was an issue.”

Gelb notes in the next paragraph Howard’s drop in slugging percentage from before (.528 in 407 AB) and after (.441 in 143 AB) the injury that cost him time.

Was Howard just unlucky; victim of a one-off fluke that shouldn’t hamper him in 2011? Is it a result of being pitched differently? Or, pessimistically, is Howard just declining, as early-30s sluggers are wont to begin doing? Dissection after the jump.

In the middle of last season, about two weeks prior to his injury, I noted that Ryan Howard’s power seemed diminished. Yes, even though he was slugging just below .540 at the time of that post, something seemed off. Indeed, when your career slugging percentage is closer to .600, these are the criteria by which you are judged.

It’s true, as Gelb notes, that Howard was putting more pitches in play that weren’t going over the fence. Howard has always had a particularly high BABIP, in spite of the shift, so last year’s .332 BABIP holding hands with his .276 average doesn’t necessarily foretell a tremendous drop in batting average.

One thing that does appear to be a trend, however, is the falling rate at which Howard’s fly balls are reaching the seats. Per Fangraphs, here are Howard’s home-run-to-fly-ball ratios, from his MVP campaign in 2006 through last season:

  • 2006: 39.5%
  • 2007: 31.5%
  • 2008: 31.8%
  • 2009: 25.4%
  • 2010: 21.1%

Is it that he’s not squaring up the ball as well, preventing him from getting the proper charge in a pitch? Is it the the drop in fastballs seen since 2006, and the consequential rise in sliders? Using the BaseballAnalytics heatmap tool, there seems to be another potential culprit lurking.

Take a look at Howard’s slugging percentage on balls in play by the location in the strike zone at which Ryan made contact from 2008-2010, and the corresponding plots of his hits.




The two most notable holes that seem to have developed over the past two seasons are pitches middle-in, and those down-and-away. Howard built a reputation on having extraordinary opposite-field power, being able to launch outer-half pitches into the left field bleachers with such casual effort that it was almost a bit stunning. The past two years have seen a drop in those hits.




See what I see? Not only has the pure volume of homers to left dropped – understandable, given the lower total in 2010 with little help from the injury – but the spray has a more distinct pull feel to it, as well. That’s subjectivity at its finest, so if you don’t necessarily see the hit plots the way I see them, that’s understandable. To compensate, an interesting number I derived from the same Analytics tool: on pitches on the outside half of the plate and in the strike zone, Howard’s in-play slugging went from .852 in 2008 to 1.043 in 2009 to .796 in 2010, across a fairly consistent – if still small – sample of 137 to 159 pitches in that area those years. It’s also worth noting that, prior to his injury, Howard was slugging .784 on those outer-half pitches. Those are all big numbers, and a near-.800 SLG on anything is good, but a drop-off is noticeable.

Is it too soon to cite decline? Maybe. It could be that Howard is trying to compensate his approach to attack the shift, trying more to exploit the left side of the infield than the left side of the bleachers (an approach I prefer less than whichever one he used to help him hit 58 home runs). It could be, again, that 2010 was a one-off fluke, and Howard still has a couple of years of good power left in his bat.

Or, worst of all, Ryan Howard could be dead red in decline, with a year to go before his five-year, $125 million extension kicks in.

Let’s hope it isn’t that.

Click to comment


  1. The Dipsy

    February 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Howard is not in decline. Power hitters go into decline when they can’t catch up to the fastball anymore, see: IBANEZ, Raul. This is certainly not true in Ryan’s case. As for the shift, for good or for ill, Ryan has shown very little interest in going to left despite the stacked right side. I believe Ruyan’s down season was due to his injuries and that he could not get support from his ankle.

    There always has to be something to write about.

    The Dipsy

    • Paul Boye

      February 18, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Then what explains the diminished power on the outer half and the low slugging numbers pre-injury?

  2. Publius

    February 18, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    The fact that in on the hands is one of the developing holes I think indicates that Howard is indeed slowing up on the fastball, regardless of injury. Now if that spot becomes bright red again a la 2008, then we won’t have to worry so much, but I doubt that will happen.

  3. Don M

    February 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    The Dipsy is such a hater . . . this is a fair topic to write about, especially because Howard talked about it yesterday..

    I didn’t read the above article (yet) but I think I read in numerous places that Ryan Howards saw more OFF SPEED PITCHES/ BREAKING BALLS than any other hitter in baseball last year ..?? Which if its true, would have to also make the rare fastballs that he sees – seem that much faster than they did in the past .

    If someone is throwing you stuff at 85 all the time.. when they do hit you with the 93mph .. it probably seems more like 95-96 .. which if you aren’t geared-up for, is tough to hit.

    The same way we give great pitchers props for disrupting a hitters timing .. you have to think about that approach with Howard too. If he can learn to lay off the junk-away … and focus on good swings at good pitches, you will see all of his numbers climb… But batting 4th in a sometimes sputtering offense last year …I think Howard probably tried too hard to at time to make things happen instead of taking what the pitcher gives you. .

    Im not too concerned about Howard because I feel that he’s still improving as an All-Around player… I wouldn’t be surpirsed to see him around 45 HRs again

  4. Corey Seidman

    February 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    While middle-in and low-away have become a problem, don’t these charts also show that up-and-in and low-middle have become BETTER areas for Howard?

  5. Lefty

    February 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    At age 28, one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, had a similar drop off season, with nagging injuries. He went on to have 9 more seasons of over 30 HR’s and 6 more over 100 RBI. I’m not worried about Howard at all. Maybe Barry Bonds messed him up a little last offseason, or maybe it was just a nagging injury down year. I was referencing Mike Schmidt by the way, who never came close to 58 in a single season. I’m sure you could look up many great power hitters and find down years in their careers.

    To quote Schmidt-
    “Anytime you think you have the game conquered, the game will turn around and punch you right in the nose.”

  6. Corey Seidman

    February 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Well, low-middle in comparison to 2008, not 2009. The up-and-in improvement looks like it applies to 08 and 08, though.

  7. Corey Seidman

    February 18, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    *08 and 09

  8. betasigmadeltashag

    February 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Not really worried about Ryan, in his career he takes a little time to get going, and even his good years if you went month by month you would probably see that August/September were far better then May and June. Which is why the injury set him back more then you can show with plan numbers. He just started getting in his end of year roll when he hurt his ankle and then really never had enough to time to get it back together. Ryan may not hit 45-50 hr this year especially with questionable protection, but 35-42 is in sight, and as long as he gets back up to 145-150 RBI I could care less about the HRs.

  9. Chuck

    February 18, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    The ONLY thing that I am even remotely pissed at Howard for as far as last year is concerned is not swinging at that 3-2 pitch …. that was unhittable but could have been called EITHER WAY….that ended the Phillies’ season. Other than that he had a good season….EVEN WITH THE MISSED TIME. A full year and he would have had 40 HRs and 130 RBIs.

    • Publius

      February 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Actually at Howards’ rate, he was more on pace for around 35 homers, a career low, not counting his rookie season…and as for RBIs it’s impossible to discern what he would have had, since they are context-driven more so than batter-driven

    • Publius

      February 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      Actually at Howard’s rate, he was more on pace for around 35 homers, a career low, not counting his rookie season…and as for RBIs it’s impossible to discern what he would have had, since they are context-driven more so than batter-driven

      • Chuck

        February 18, 2011 at 4:53 pm

        You can’t just take that month that he was on the DL as the ONLY factor that led to the reduction in his power numbers. He wasn’t the same hitter for WEEKS after returning because he was still healing from the injury. If Howard had not gotten injured and played a full season I would bet that he would have hit 40+ HRs and 13+ RBIs like I suggested….

        …..all IN ADDITION to hitting for a better average, which people have continously b!tched about.

    • derekcarstairs

      February 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      There are two factors to consider when looking at Howard’s 2010: 1) the injury and 2) the fact that offense was down across baseball in 2010.

      In Howard’s four full seasons before 2010 (2006-2009), Howard averaged 50 HRs per season. If 2006 is excluded, Howard still averaged 47 HRs from 2007 through 2009. Even if Howard were not injured in 2010, I don’t think he would have matched his HR rates of prior seasons. Without injury, though, the stats suggest that Howard would have matched his career OPS+ of 140 or so.

      I agree with you, Chuck, that it looked like Howard was heading for a 40 HR season had he not been hurt. Howard usually heats up in August and September. In 2010, Howard missed a bunch of games in August and hit only one homer. Howard’s September looked good with 7 HRs and a .977 OPS, but not if you consider that Howard’s career OPS in September is 1.078. Howard lost 7-9 HRs in August and another 2-3 HRs in September (and October) off his previous averages, which losses suggest that, without injury, Howard would have hit 40-43 HRs in 2010.

      I think Howard will have a typical season in 2011. The data provided above by Paul may show that Howard needs to make some adjustments going forward, but it’s a continual process that comes with the territory.

  10. tyROBasaurus

    February 18, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    It seems to me that Ryan’s approach last year was just to get the ball in play by any means necessary while cutting his strikeouts. I would gladly sacrifice 30+ strikeouts in exchange for 20+ homers — thats’ what he’s being paid for!

  11. Chuck

    February 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    ^ should have read 130+ RBIs…not 13.

  12. Captain Chaos

    February 18, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    We really need to calm down and think for just a second here. Let’s all go back to 2009’s offseason. Do you remember how many people were screaming that Cole was soft, weak, never a top of the rotation pitcher, and we should trade him while we still can.. Okay now what did we learn about this in 2010?

    i’ll tell ya what I learned you need to have a larger sample size than 1 injury pronse down year (33 hr’s is a down year teams would kill for that) to declare a man dead and buried. Let’s see if Ryan and Chase don’t bounce back this season before we panic.

  13. The Dipsy

    February 18, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    I believe that over the past few years Howard has come to the conclusion that if he doesn’t knock the run in its not going to come in. Be it Ibanez or Werth, neither one displayed any real skill ay knocking runs in. No pitcher was scared of Raul and every pitcher knew that Werth would rather stare at pitches and then walk. Not to say Werth was not a good player, Just not an RBI guy. Consequently, Ryan’s pitch selectivity has gotten progressively worse and pitchers have given him less and less each season. Last season, while seeing no fastballs in a hittable spot, getting behind in the count while looking at breaking balls on the first pitch, and by getting hurt, he had a bad year. Also, I think Ryan has changed into a guy that tries to pull everything and when you become that guy you get beat on the outer half of the plate. Ryan needs to: heal, look ay more pitches, and hit the ball where it is pitched more. He’s got the power to hit it out to all fields and it looks like he’s forgotten that or has chosen to ignore it. He looks like he is regressing: not because he is old but because he is trying to hit for the whole team. Hopefully that will change when everybody is healthy this year and he is, too.

    The Dipsy

  14. tavian

    February 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    My thoughts are that Ryan Howard, if he wants to emulate Barry Bonds, should use arm armor and should consider choking up on the bat about two inches even if he uses a bigger bat.

  15. tavian

    February 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Actually, to set the record straight, both Wandy Rodriquez and Ryan Dempster are scared of Raul Ibanez.

  16. Brooks

    February 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

    By now most have heard that Ryan is working on adjusting his stance. Moving closer to the plate. Personally, although that idea is excellent for attacking the low & outside questionable strikes – I dont think it will take Ryan that long to revert back to what has made his swing one of the most potent in the majors up until last year.

    Full extension – lots of strikeouts and oh yes, 45 (+) hrs.

    • Lefty

      February 19, 2011 at 10:41 am

      More K’s for more homers- I’d make that deal any day. But not to the point of being Kingman-esque. I think I just made up a word!

  17. Brooks

    February 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I have not kept current on all posts – and I wonder if this question has already been discussed?
    What is everybody’s biggest concern or (can I say it) worry about this year coming up?
    Here is my list in order of importance:

    1) Jimmy Rollins; regardless of what we think and feel Cholly should do with him, he is going to be leading off for this team. Jimmy getting on base consistently is key to this club winning lots and lots of games offensively.
    2) Chase Utley; Chase has not been as vacant as Jimmy but his steady contribution (close to 30 hrs – 100 rbi and hitting near .300) would solidify this offense.
    3) Brad Lidge; OK, if he stays healthy in body and mind, if he has regained any of his pop on the fastball, if he can stay with the mastery of his new bread pitch.
    4) Injuries; I think the Phils are potent enough (deep enough) to withstand some injuries (God forbid) so this ranks lower on my WL.
    5) D Brown; (OK, RF in general). What will he do???

    What I am feeling pretty good about (not in order of importance):
    Starting pitching
    Ryan Howard
    Shane Victorino
    Poly (except for the injuries)
    Middle relief (Cholly will work it out)
    Set up – Ryan Madson

    Any thoughts? Other than Chuck telling me I worry too much !!

    • Lefty

      February 19, 2011 at 10:35 am

      Brooks you worry too much- kidding
      To address your concerns first- then mine

      In my mind you have number one right- Jimmy is the key that unlocks the whole offense. But will he ever be the old MVP Jimmy? I don’t think so- but better than last year, definitely. Remember that he started out very hot last season before the injury bug bit him. Charlie will bat him leadoff, he is not the perfect guy for that role, but he is our best option.

      Chase- There is nothing that saps power more than a hand injury, I know from personal experience, I’ve had two surgeries for finger problems, the pinky still isn’t functional. If he is healed, he’ll be back. If not, he may be a 20-75 guy from now on.

      Lidge- Who knows with relievers? I can name the reliable ones on one hand, (and I only have four working fingers)

      Injuries- we clearly were deep enough to survive last year’s injuries and have the best record in the Majors. To me the unknown question is – Is it possible to lose more man games to injury this year than last? IMO Very doubtful

      RF- it’s clearly a question mark, but it seems every year we come up with one big surprise player, I’m hopeful this year’s will come from DBrown,or BenFran.

      My Biggest concerns-
      1) Cliff Lee’s back problems- we have a lot of money tied up in him, he’s got to be healthy.
      2) Middle relief- i don’t care for Baez,Kendrick, etc.- Contreras is good, but aging. i hope some of our young bucks come along.
      3) Chooch- He can’t possibly play better than last year. It was a career year, and I’m hoping the fans will understand he’s still an important defensive cog no matter how he hits.
      4)Victorino from the left side- .235 against righties is not going to make it. If he can hit righties he can bat 5th, 7th, leadoff, anywhere.

  18. Kate

    February 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I thought we’d learned this lesson with Cole Hamels last year.

    Howard had a drop-off season, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe he won’t come roaring back in 2011. He’s obviously putting the stuff behind him that he should be putting behind him (good on him for not watching that last at-bat, it accomplishes NOTHING) and he’s been concentrating on the stuff that he should be concentrating on.

    The only thing that concerns me is that ankle. Even mild sprains can linger and come back to haunt you. If I was Charlie, I’d be keeping a close eye on Howard, Rollins, and Utley throughout the season. There are bench guys coming back that have proven they can help to hold the fort and keep the ship going if our starters need to take a coupole of games off here and there. Let’s make use of those bench guys.

    Regardless, I think Howard and Utley are both coming back.

  19. Bruce

    February 20, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    As mentioned in other posts here, the manager is trying to encourage Howard to have a closer stance to the plate. The thought process for this is that Howard can read the low outside pitch better and consistently make contact with borderline strikes. It also would enable him to pull the pitch more often that are coming middle in. If Howard finds comfort and rhythm with the new stance, he may improve on his batting average; lower even more the strikeouts and most importantly, his power production goes up in HRs and RBIs this season.

    I’ll let the statheads worry about their numbers and ratios on Howard while I take the perspective that in baseball, adjustments are a constant throughout the season and slumps and hot streaks are the norm. Remember that quote by arguably the greatest hitter in baseball, Ted Williams? “… where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer. … “. Keep that in mind.

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