Howard’s September to Forget

The Big Piece has been a big disappointment (PHOTO: AP)

While most had written off the Phillies’ chances at a playoff run, some didn’t. Buster Olney wrote in July of an unnamed scout who believed that if the Phillies entered September six or less out of a playoff spot they would be dangerous. A few other folks at ESPN began to explore the Phillies’ chances before the Astros unceremoniously took three of four from the Fightins. To be honest, though, why would you write this team off?

For the first time all year, the Phillies had their ideal Opening Day line-up in tact with their entire pitching staff intact. They had sent the knuckleheads (i.e. Chad Qualls) packing from the bullpen and found steady, young arms to perform. Why couldn’t the Phillies make a run and win, say, 15 out of 20 or 18 of 25 and get back into the race, considering they have two former MVPs and two former Cy Youngs?

The former Cy Youngs have, for the most part, have kept the Phils in the mix. Roy Halladay has been good but not great, posting a 6-2 record with an un-Doc-like 4.07 ERA in the second half after returning from injury. Cliff Lee has decreased his season ERA by 0.65 points, posting excellent second half numbers of 86 Ks in 92.2 IP with a 2.53 ERA. Meanwhile, the former MVPs have been a mixed bag. There likely hasn’t been a hotter shortstop than Jimmy Rollins in the month of September. Rollins is hitting a scorching .333/.400/.652 with six homers and is six for six in steal attempts with Gold Glove-level defense. Rollins’ monster September has catapulted him from upper-tier shortstop back into a guy who may appear on a few MVP ballots.  The other former MVP, on the flip side, has not been as good.

Admittedly, Ryan Howard entered 2012 with the deck very much stacked against him. Recovery from a torn Achilles’ tendon for non-professional athletes who do not rely on their athleticism as their job takes around six to twelve months. Howard returned right in the middle of the spectrum at nine months and returned in the middle of the season when every other player had already spent three-plus months playing at full game speed. To say Howard didn’t have a shot may be pushing it, but the odds were certainly were not in his favor.

Howard is sporting a line of .225/.304/.405 with 10 HRs in 227 ABs, putting him at a rate of a home run for every 22.7 ABs, a far cry from the dominant rate of  13.27 HR/AB he entered 2012 with.  His torn left Achilles’ tendon probably has a lot to do with the drop in power, seeing as it is his plant foot from which he would drive the ball with. Yet, Howard’s other problems, mainly hitting singles and walking, have made him very difficult to hide in the line-up, particularly in September.

In a month where the baseball is beginning to look as big as a beach ball for most of the Fightins, Howard has not hit a home run and has only four extra base hits, all doubles. His .246 SLG for the month is .147 points lower than Michael Martinez‘s and would be lower than any qualified batter in the Majors. Howard is striking out once in every 3.81 ABs compared to his bad-but-not-this-bad rate of 3.14 that he entered 2012 with.

It is easy to point to Howard’s September .180/.261/.246 line and suggest that the Phillies would have been even better in September had he contributed more, but with criticism comes credit: Howard picked up four hits in the series against the Astros, including two doubles. Yet, the Astros intentionally walking Howard twice is in stark contrast to the respect Howard received even in 2011, which was perceived as a down year.

The ideal Phillies solution at this point would be rest Howard for the remainder of the season and platoon Laynce Nix and either Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry, or Darin Ruf at first. Charlie Manuel has suggested Howard’s problems are mental rather than physical, so why not give the Big Piece a break? Nix’s line against righties is comparable to Howard’s in 2012 (.263/.327/.414 v. .259/.341/.463) and Wigginton’s line against lefties (.225/.356/.426) is, believe it or not, significantly better than Howard’s (.163/.209/.300). At the very least, with the playoffs now a 14/1000 long shot, Howard should get a blow against lefties as his presence in the line-up is truly a detriment. What the Phillies do with him from there, or if he will ever again approach even a good-but-not-great year like he had in 2010 (.276/.353/.505, 31 HR), remains to be seen.

Click to comment


  1. The Original Chuck P

    September 18, 2012 at 10:15 am

    But here’s the thing… Howard has more RBI than Wigginton with almost 100 fewer plate appearances. He has the same number of RBI as Mayberry with 180 fewer plate appearances. You’re talking about replacing the best run producer on the team BAR NONE with a platoon of slop and junk. Has anyone seen anything that says Darin Run can hit major league pitching? Laynce Nix… really? You have to get Ryan Howard right… he can carry this team if he gets on one of his hot streaks. If it’s not physical (which they’re saying it isn’t), I’m confident he’ll figure it out. I honestly don’t think he’s that far off. He has struck a few balls well lately (last night, he hit one to deep left that would have been out at CBP) – he’s not playing up to his capability but I’d take a “not right” Ryan Howard over Wigginton/Mayberry in any situation.

    • Mike

      September 18, 2012 at 10:58 am

      I completely agree. I don’t care so much about the uglier status if he’s doing his job. Good or bad you don’t knock in 35RBIs in 30 games or so by accident. Everyone saying anyone can get his numbers in his spot in the lineup are ignoring the fact that they couldn’t. There’s something about being “THE MAN” that gets overlooked. Take your platoon BS with you. If he’s physically hurt and that’s the problem by all means sit him down. But I’ve seen far too many 0-2 counts that would have been 1-1 or 2-0 if his name wasn’t Ryan Howard. Tough to make hay when the pitch up at his armpits is a strike and so is one 3 inches off the outside corner of the plate.

    • Ian Riccaboni

      September 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

      On lunch at work so I cannot say too much but here’s something for you to think about:

      The article is about Howard’s horrible performance in September (.180/.261/.246). You are defending this performance when it is under any measurable way worse than Michael Martinez except for RBIs.

      Howard has 12 RBIs in September. The players who are hitting in front of him are hitting the following in September:

      Rollins: .333/.400/.652
      Pierre: .452/.500/.516 or Mayberry: .300/.408/.433
      Utley: .293/.419/.431

      So, at the very worst, Howard is coming up to bat with runners on base 41-42% of the time in September. He should probably have around 20 RBIs this month if he was hitting anywhere close to league average.

      • Lefty

        September 18, 2012 at 12:43 pm

        Good point. I wonder what his LOB % is compared to the rest of the league. I wouldn’t even know where to look.

      • schmenkman

        September 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm

        There are 323 players in MLB with 200+ plate appearances this year.

        Out of those 323, Howard has the 21st highest OBI% (% of runners on base driven in) at 19.3%.

        Carlos Ruiz is 23rd, at 19.2%.

      • Lefty

        September 18, 2012 at 1:14 pm

        It never ceases to amaze me how fast you come up with stuff like that. Thank you.

        My link shows all players – How do I filter it for 200 PA’s?

      • schmenkman

        September 18, 2012 at 1:19 pm

        I think that requires a subscription. I got the 323 count from fangraphs. I got the 21st highest from copying the first 3 pages (highest OBI%) to Excel and filtering for 200+ PA there.

      • Lefty

        September 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm

        That’s cool. I was just curious as to who #1 -20 was and maybe 22-50. I may be wrong, but I think in general you don’t believe in “clutch” hitting, but if it exists I think this is a good way to measure it, besides BA W/RISP.

      • schmenkman

        September 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm

        At that link, use the PREV and NEXT buttons to look for ones with substantial PA totals.

        The highest is Josh Hamilton, and he’s perennially near the top. Generally the % of runners driven in goes up and down for a given player from year to year, but a few like Hamilton and Howard tend to always near the top. Howard was in the top 3 or 4 for the period 2008-2011, and this year’s ranking won’t hurt that any.

  2. schmenkman

    September 18, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Howard with runners in scoring position this year:

    80 plate appearances, .344 average, 1.085 OPS

    Without runners in scoring position:

    177 plate appearances, .181 average, .557 OPS

    So all you have to do, apparently, is make sure there’s a runner on 2nd or 3rd when he comes up. Problem solved.

  3. Manny

    September 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    What concerns me a bit is his lack of power lately. He’s just not mashing like he was several weeks ago. I think I read an article when he said he’s doing something mechanically different (to compensate for his lost leg power)… hopefully the power will return when he fixes that.

  4. Chuck A.

    September 18, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Rest him?? Why??? In a few weeks he can rest. This is still sort of like his Spring Training. He needs reps to get this right. And think about it…he’s gonna end this season…a HALF SEASON when he played in recovery mode….he’s gonna end it with 50+ RBI. Are you kidding me?? There is no reason to think that next season when he’s completely healed that he will be the Ryan Howard that we love and that we need.

  5. Lefty

    September 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Honestly I see it as an eye problem. He looks lost sometimes. Does he wear corrective lenses, anyone know?

    I agree that he’s on pace for 130 RBI if he had started the season on time, he can do that in his sleep. I just think he, and thus the team, could be so much better.

    They intentionally walked Utley twice in one game in the Houston series to pitch to him. And to be fair they also IBB’d Howard once to get to Ruiz too. So maybe it’s just the way they operate in general, but Ozzie Guillen also did it. He loaded the bases to get to Howard, walking both Frandsen and Utley semi-intentionally, that’s a little troubling. Anyway, I wonder if his woes are due to an unknown sight problem. I know it’s kind of out there, but not impossible.

    • George

      September 18, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      There are many, many players who sometimes look lost for extended periods. Some of them are normally really good, too. I’m not saying that Ryan doesn’t have vision problems, although I seriously doubt it. He’s just always been weak against certain pitchers/pitches.

  6. AleX

    September 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Its September…in the middle of a playoff race, Howard is the best run producer on the team…I would rather have a slumping Howard than wigginton or nix any day

  7. betasigmadeltashag

    September 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I agree with most of the post on here. I have said it before, take all the numbers you want, Ryan is still in Rehab mode, and is having ups and downs more this season . But look at the record with Ryan in the line-up and with him not in the line up. And if I remember right when they walked Utley to get to Howard he hit a double, and was thrown out at third and drove in two runs. Could he use a day off against a lefty now and then. Sure I think he should have a break once in a while until he is back to 100 percent. But the fact is even when he is in a slump the Phillies are a better team with him in the line up

    • The Original Chuck P

      September 18, 2012 at 1:35 pm

      Well said, Beta.

    • Bob in Bucks

      September 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      The major difference during the period of Ryan’s return has been the improvement in the pitching, not the offense. However, that takes nothing against his RBI production which is what his job is. For me a bad Ryan Howard is better than anything we have in terms of RBI production. Sure we can have Pierre and Frandsen hit singles all day but when it comes to RBI I don’t want those guys up at the plate.

  8. Andrew from Waldorf

    September 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Get off Ryan Howards back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Tonights game will be rained out anyway.

  9. Andrew from Waldorf

    September 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    When its 10-4 and in the 7th 8th or 9th and the other team leaves whoever in yes he is great.
    But when its 4-3 and runners on 2nd and 3rd and two outs and its the 7th or 8th or 9th inning the other team brings in a left hander. Any left hander will do and its over.

    This team is not better with him in the line up vs left handed pitchers.
    Particularily vs left handed pitchers in close games in late innings.

    Other managers work the line up to get into a situation of Howard vs a quality left hander in late innings in a close game. And there is no hope. And anyone who is serious and watches the games sees this.

    The numbers are the same as 2011 before the injury as they are in 2012.

    Its not not about rest or an injury. This is what he is.

    The regression is simple for anyone who cares to see it to see.
    Some of you shoose to not see it or ignore it.

    I just say what I see watching every game.

    If I was the manager he would not start vs left handers and in late innings Id not hesitate to use a pinch hitter in a tight game vs a left hander.

    Why? because I want to win the game. And I dont care about his ego or what the the phillies have invested in him or anything else.

    • betasigmadeltashag

      September 18, 2012 at 7:51 pm

      Of course you can say what you want, and I am not positve on the stats but I am pretty sure that Ryan has a big percetage of HR and RBIs that tie the game or put them in the lead. So your observations are wrong. Your hatred for Ryan limits your memory. The fact that Cole and Doc’s ERA have gone up compared to last year and the first half(granted Docs was limited to injury) And I would give you if Chooch did not get hurt he would be a better clean up hitter, but other than that, I will take Ryan at .200 and hitting over 340 with runners ISP or his 20% of runners batted in over JMJ, Wiggington, and Nix. But you keep on hating him cause the only stats that matter to you are ones that attempt to prove your point

  10. Ken Bland

    September 18, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Fresh material. Always good to see. COUGH COUGH.

    Sorry, just SO sick of the Howard controversy. Soooo old.

    Wanna fresh idea for a post that hasn’t been beaten to death?

    Is it practical, necessary, advantageous, possible to go with 4 starters the rest of the way?

    • Ian Riccaboni

      September 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm

      Ken – Didn’t want to ignite the Howard debate, was only looking to spotlight his poor September. I believed I could separate the two in my head before I posted it, but I think previously strong feelings in readers were reignited in folks that I did not anticipate.

      • Ken Bland

        September 18, 2012 at 5:04 pm

        oh, it’s fine. And there is some freshness to it from the September angle. I’m just so tired of all the rap about what he can’t do, and the contract. I’m sure you understand, and believe me, I’d never seriously criticize a subject any of the staff chooses.

        As a dedicated fan and follower of the club, I’m sure you understand my sentiment, just like I understand people’s need to vent about it even if I’m sick of it.

        Carry on.

  11. Andrew from Waldorf

    September 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    No to 4 starters.

    On all accounts.

    If somehow they did miracle into the playoffs youd want these guys as fresh and sharp as possible.

    For me its about winning a WS.

    Like Ricky Bobby said “if you aint first, you’re last”

    • schmenkman

      September 18, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      You can’t win if you don’t play. The first (and for now only) objective is to get to the one-game playoff.

      Once you’re in, you have about as good a chance as anyone. Especially with this staff.

      • George

        September 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm

        I agree with Schmenkman on this one. I can still remember quite clearly when teams used four man rotations the entire year. I also remember 1980, when the Phils had used up all their really good starters in the playoffs and ended up with a rookie, Bob Walk, starting game one of the World Series. In case anyone has forgotten, they won that game and eventually won the series.

      • The Original Chuck P

        September 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

        Agree with Schmenk and co… it’s time to do whatever is necessary. However, you have to wonder whether Halladay can even go on short rest. I think that Hamels, Lee and Kendrick are capable (you could even spot start Cloyd) but Halladay seems to be laboring through starts as is. He might be getting better… maybe… but he’s laboring. I don’t want to push him too hard if there’s something else going on there.

  12. George

    September 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Getting back to Howard:

    He didn’t exactly return in nine months. That infection didn’t allow proper healing, so his re-entry should be considered more like six. It seems pretty obvious that if Achilles injuries take 6-12 months to get over, then Ryan is actually doing well to even be playing, let alone driving in runs.

    Sitting him is not going to strengthen that leg; he’s got to use it to get his muscles back in optimum shape. I think it would be fine to sit Howard against a tough leftie once in a while, but as long as he’s driving in runs, he’s not hurting the team any more than Nix/Wigginton would.

    Ian mentioned that since the playoffs are such a longshot, Howard should sit because he’s not producing against lefthanders. I take the opposite view. The playoffs being mostly a pipe dream with nothing likely to damage the team’s chances, now is the perfect time to give Howard more reps against the pitchers he’s having trouble with. He’ll be with the Phils for four more years. Getting him back to strength for future pennant races should be the primary focus, not this year’s playoff chances, which are already down to only three: slim chance, fat chance, and no chance.

  13. pamikedc

    September 18, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    @AFW, nooooo rain out. We cannot afford a double header.

  14. schmenkman

    September 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Tonight’s game is rained out, and will be made up on Thursday at 7.

  15. Ken Bland

    September 18, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Well, as usual, AFW is always right. Somehow, that seems impossible, usually and always in the same sentence, but…AFW controversally predicted a rainout tonight, and viva la raindrops.
    Controversally may not be a word, but I don’t care.

    The good news (maybe?) is that the game’ll made up Thursday. No doubleheader action. Some people are paranoid about winning doubleheaders. Who knows.

    That’s it from weather central, now back to our regularly scheduled program….Ryan Howard…thee loves me, thee loves him not.

    • Lefty

      September 18, 2012 at 7:38 pm

      “Well, as usual, AFW is always right. Somehow, that seems impossible”

      Absolutely correct.

      KB- Forgive me for using your words out of context, I was laughing so hard, it was just irresistible.

      I’m going to check out the Rosecroft site, a chance to see what the man who’s never wrong looks like.

      • George

        September 18, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        I had the same exact reaction, Lefty.

        I won’t make an attempt to see what AFW looks like, though. I prefer to hang onto my vision of him as being 4’10” with a bad eye and big ugly lips who shuffles along kind of sideways, and swears at old ladies.

        Just kidding.

      • George

        September 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm

        …probably kicks puppies and kittens, too.

  16. Andrew from Waldorf

    September 19, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Have you seen a photo of me?
    That was uncanny.

    I am complete animal lover though.
    My dog gets better food and care than I do.

    Houston wis not going to do us any favors.

    If it makes anyone feel better I have been getting killed at the track and I rely on that money to buy whiskey to do shots with Brooks with during games.

    Looks like McDonalds dollar menu for me from now till Saturday.

  17. ralph lauren

    October 1, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    It is wonderful to read the paper the articles you write, my buddy. And could give attention to your websites day-to-day and also call your site to read the paper any most current content articles, at the time you replace. Continue! I do hope you have a very good day.

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