Does anyone remember September 3rd, 2006? It was a Sunday afternoon at CBP, the first game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. Ryan Howard homered not once, not twice, but THREE times off of Braves starter Tim Hudson. That was the day we first met the Big Piece. We had a feeling he was coming after an explosive rookie of the year campaign and an equally impressive start to the ‘06 season. He went on to finish the his 2006 MVP season with a .313 average, 58 HRs, and 149 RBIs. Because of this and the next couple of seasons, Howard is looked upon as a hero in Philly. But this is 2016 and he has changed as a player.
Howard has had a couple of nice moments this season. He hit a walk-off HR against the Cleveland Indians in the 11th inning for a 4-3 victory and then hit a solo HR against Michael Wacha in top of the 6th for the game’s only run as the Phils beat St. Louis 1-0. Unfortunately, that’s all they’ve been, mere moments.
So what happened to him?
Ryan Howard showed signs of decline before his achilles injury in the 2011 postseason. Many people have noticed he lost his power to the opposite field. From 2010-2015, Howard hit exactly half the amount of HRs (38) the other way than his first five season in the league. In 2010, he hit 12 oppo-boppos but after that, he never hit double digit HRs the opposite way again. Still, Howard’s lack of HRs the opposite way was not the reason for his decline, merely a symptom of something more ominous. Some have argued that Howard was pitched differently after his meteoric rise; and he was, but Howard’s plate discipline, or lack thereof, has been the real issue.
From 2005-2008, Howard saw fastballs in more than half of the pitches thrown to him. From 2009-2011, he saw fewer fastballs (under 50% each season). Since 2012 he’s started seeing a majority fastballs again but the problem with Howard has been his plate discipline. From 2005-2009, he swung at no more than 27% of balls out of the strike zone which led to a high percentage of walks. From 2010-2016 he’s swung at 31% or more of pitches out of the strike zone. What’s astounding is the total amount of pitches he swung at is virtually the same in every year; but the difference? He has been swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone and this started BEFORE his achilles injury.
Numbers-wise, his 2010 and 2011 stats were still good but nothing like his 2005-2009 statistics (for more on this period, read Tim Malcolm’s piece from August). Howard’s WAR in 2010 and 2011 was an average of 1.3 compared to his 2009 WAR of 4.5. Howard’s runs created (RC) was under 100 for the first time in 2010 and has not approached that watermark again.
Sure, the injury riddled seasons have not helped the big lefty, but people shouldn’t think that his decline is solely attributed to the achilles and knee problems he’s endured. Could it have been the 5 year, $125 million deal he signed on April 26th, 2010? Was he trying too hard or was he trying to yank the ball out of stadium? Perhaps. It’s certainly something that should to be considered when asking why Ryan Howard’s decline started in 2010, before all of the injuries.
As we all know Howard’s 2016 has been dreadful. For example, when he is down in the count 0-2 or 1-2 this year, he’s hitting whopping a .000 (0-for-36) with 26 strikeouts. You might as well put Howard in the books with two strikes. Pete Mackanin and Phillies management need to take Ryan Howard, Philadelphia, and more importantly the team out of their misery. They should obviously cut him since there’s no value in him riding the pine or taking ABs away from the young players. The fans want to see Tommy Joseph play on a regular basis and so should Mackanin and management. No one will know how good Joseph will be if he’s playing once or twice a week against left-handers. Quite frankly, any average Joe would contribute more than Ryan Howard, with his WAR dwindling to -0.8 this season.
Let me be clear, I have no intention on taking anything away from what Howard has done in and for Philadelphia and even how he’s handled his decline to this point. In fact, I think he’s handled with class. I’ll be the first person to say thank you to Ryan Howard for all that he’s done, but when it’s time, it’s time. This is Major League Baseball, so feelings shouldn’t be involved, especially when Howard has made his $125 million and then some. “It’s business” is a cliche we hear in sports all the time, but ironically enough this isn’t a business decision. This is a decision of who is better; and in this case, the answer is Tommy Joseph, not Ryan Howard. Pete Mackanin needs to put the team first, especially now when the Phillies are still in the hunt. It’s time for the Phillies to cut ties with Ryan Howard immediately.