The Phillies Nation Top 100 continues today with #27. Our mission is to assess the Top 100 Phillies players of all time using impact to the Phillies, individual achievement, team achievement, traditional stats, and analytics as our criteria. The list was compiled by Ian Riccaboni and Pat Gallen with input from the rest of the Phillies Nation staff.
From this point forward, each weekday, we will reveal two Phillies from the PN Top 100 in separate posts. To view the 2008 iteration of the list of Greatest Phillies of All Time as compiled by Tim Malcolm, please click here.
Please check back Monday morning for #26.
#27– Ryan Howard
.271/.361/.545, 311 HR, 12 SB in 5018 PA
Previous Rank: 25 (-2)
fWAR Phillies Rank: 29th among position players, 43rd among Phillies
Signature Season: Led the NL in HR, RBI, and Total Bases en route to winning 2006 NL MVP
NL Rookie of the Year (2005), NL MVP (2006), Six-Straight Top-10 NL MVP finishes (2006-2011)
The Big Piece was a fifth-round draft pick out of Missouri State in 2001 and quickly accelerated through the Phillies minor league ranks. Howard’s name would appear in trade rumors almost immediately after his 2002 campaign in Lakewood when Howard hit .280/.367/.460 with 19 HR. Howard would have an even better 2003 with Clearwater, hitting .304/.374/.514 with 23 HR, coinciding directly with the Phillies’ signing of Jim Thome, making Howard seemingly that much more expendable. Howard would get his first taste of the Major Leagues after he set the Phillies minor league home run record with 46 in 2004. Howard would hit two pinch-hit homers in his brief September stay and would pique Phillies’ fans interest.
Despite all of Howard’s rapid minor league success, Howard was blocked by Thome at first base and would start 2005 in Scranton-Wilkes Barre. But an injury to Thome would open the doors for Howard to have a shot at the starting first base gig. Howard would hit .288/.356/.567 with 22 HR en route to winning the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year. In 2006, Howard would take over the first base job when Thome was traded to the Chicago White Sox and deliver for the Phillies: Howard led the NL in homers, RBIs, and total bases. Howard won the MVP in large part due to his huge August and September, hitting .365/.513/.750 with 22 HR, nearly willing the Phillies into the playoffs.
Through the next five seasons, Howard was a threat for 30+ homers and would finish in the Top 10 in NL MVP voting. Howard would be a driving force in the Phillies’ postseason success, hitting .259/.357/.488 with 8 HR. Howard would have particular success in the 2008 World Series, hitting three homers, including one as the second half of back-to-back homers with Chase Utley in Game 4 off of Matt Garza. Howard had huge success in three NLCS appearances, hitting .316/.435/.561 in 69 NLCS PA. Howard would win the 2009 NLCS MVP.
Howard would suffer an unfortunate torn Achilles’ tendon to close out the 2011 NLDS. Howard’s 2012 and 2013 were riddled with injury and Howard saw only 71 and 80 games respectively in each season. Had Howard stayed healthy, he may be approaching 400 HRs. But instead, Howard sits at 311, good enough for second in Phillies history, fifth in RBIs, just 20 behind Chuck Klein, and third in SLG. Howard also holds the single-season record among Phillies in homers with 58. Howard’s game, predicated on power, walks, and strikeouts, has many holes. Having only played parts of ten seasons, Howard already ranks 80th in MLB history in strikeouts and with 100 in 2014, would jump firmly into the 50s. Howard has also cost the Phillies 110 runs according to FanGraphs on defense or the equivalent of about seven wins.
Howard, along with Roy Halladay, Von Hayes, and Cliff Lee, was one of the hardest players to place on the list. Some of Howard’s calling cards are homers (a result of his talent) and RBIs (a result of the hitters getting on base in front of him) – many want to give him credit for the RBIs but the RBIs were not necessarily a result of Howard’s success. We ultimately ranked Howard a bit higher than his FanGraphs’ rating because of the 2006 MVP, his postseason success and contributions, and quiet frankly, the fact that he is the greatest first baseman in Phillies’ history.