I’d like to preface this post by saying I’m a Ryan Howard supporter. He’s often the center of debate in this region, and I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in most instances. That needed to be said. Because what you’re about to read is going to be a harsh evaluation for one of the Phillies’ highest paid players.
Without question, 2012 was Ryan Howard‘s most trying in the big leagues. From the beginning of Spring Training, when Howard suffered a setback during the healing of his torn Achilles tendon, it seemed the stars were aligned against the man Charlie Manuel has become fond of calling The Big Piece.
He was absent for the first half of the season. When he finally did make his debut on July 6, his team was 9 games under .500 and 13 games back in the division, settling into the cellar nicely, five games behind the fourth place Marlins.
At that time, Howard was seen as a beacon of hope. His presence would surely stabilize a lineup that had been wrought with inconsistency, and his power and run production would help the team to turn things around. The Phils were getting their best run producer back for a second half push.
And, for the most part, that’s what happened. The Phillies did make a second half push. They turned it around and played themselves into contention for the second wild card spot in September. They played crisper, more energetic baseball and posted 44 wins after the All Star break. Everything had gone as planned. Except Howard wasn’t really apart of the change in direction. The Phils righted themselves because of guys like Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz–players who stepped up and probably played a little above their heads down the stretch. Howard was generally nowhere to be found.
The numbers tell an ugly story.
In 260 at bats out of the four hole, Howard posted career lows in average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage (.219/.295/.423), along with OPS (.718) and OPS+ (91). He walked at an all time low percentage (his walk rate was 8.6%) for a season where he’s had at least 50 AB. His more advanced statistics are equally bad. Howard had a .303 wOBA (down from .381 for his career), a 87 wRC+ and a .204 ISO (all career lows).
Actually the term career low turns up all over Howard’s stat charts. In fact, the only statistic where Howard topped his career high is one where career highs are a bad thing: Strikeout rate (33.9%).
Howard did shine in one area. Of his 57 hits, 14 of them were home runs. He also managed to drive in 56 runs in 71 games, something that I believe can largely be attributed to the fact the Howard hit .329 with RISP. And that’s really the only silver lining here. As bad as Howard was, he still managed to find ways to come through when it counted most–in the clutch (sabers everywhere shudder at the suggestion).
Still, there’s really no way to spin this as a positive season for Howard. It was nowhere near the realm of good. His -1.0 WAR on Fangraphs ranked him in the bottom ten among players with a minimum of 290 plate appearances. It was that bad.
His abridged season came to end, perhaps mercifully, on September 27 when he broke his toe by dropping a weighted pole on his foot standing in the on deck circle. It was an ending to his season so poetic, so indicative of how the year had gone for him, it was almost humorous. The perfect finale to an abysmal season.
Grade: D I don’t like giving Howard such a poor grade, but his play this season warrants it. The only reason it’s not an F is because of his very small sample size (292 PAs). I also don’t think he deserves an F because we can’t know just how much his Achilles heel affected him. While he maintained that he was healthy, he certainly appeared to be hampered by the lame hoof. I do think Howard can put this behind him, come back healthy next season and try to rediscover the player he used to be. Still owed $95M on his current contract, the Phillies are counting on it.