Ryan Howard is not the player he used to be.
Everyone knows this. The days when Phils fans could count on the hulking left-hander to slug .580, to hit 40 home runs, and finish in the top five of the MVP voting, appear to be over.
After rupturing the tendon in his left Achilles on the final play of the 2011 NLDS against St. Louis, forcing him to miss 91 games last year, this season will be a pivotal one for Howard. Will he come back and, given a full offseason to train and build up strength in that foot, once again be a player that can be counted on for some power in the middle of a lineup sorely in need of some?
Or will he be the player that hit only .219/.295/.423 last year with 14 HRs in 292 plate appearances?
As a player set to make $20 million this season and then $25 million a year in 2014, 2015 and 2016, Howard will never be able to live up to his contract. That train has sailed.
Even in his MVP season of 2006, Howard had an fWAR of 6.2. And while that means he was highly productive and a bona fide All-Star, Howard hasn’t been anywhere close to that since 2009, when he posted an fWAR of 4.6. The last three seasons, his fWAR looks like this… 1.4, 1.7, -1.0.
That ain’t good.
Not only that, his power numbers have fallen off a cliff in recent seasons as well. His slugging percentage since 2009 has dropped every year (.571, .505, .488, .423) as has his on-base percentage (.360, .353, .346, .295) and wOBA (.392, .368, .355, .303).
That is four straight years of regression, across the board.
Not only that, his inability to hit left-handers has flat-out cost the Phillies games the last few years, especially in the later innings when teams bring in LOOGY relievers to face him. The last three years, his OPS against lefties has dropped (.826, .634, .604), although he did a better job going deep off left-handed pitchers last year, hitting six homers in just 106 plate appearances. The year before, in 185 PAs, he hit just three home runs all year against left-handed pitchers.
So, given all of that depressing information, what would be considered a “good” year for Ryan Howard in 2013?
Perhaps Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman is a good comparison.
|162 Game Avg.||162||640||568||81||153||33||23||86||59||140||.269||.340||.449||.789||113|
Could Ryan Howard put up those kinds of numbers in 2013? A line of .259/.340/.456, an OPS of .796, 23 HRs and 94 RBIs, with a wOBA of .342 should be attainable for a healthy Howard. And one could certainly expect Howard to hit more home runs than Freeman did last year, probably in the range of 32-35 HRs.
Heck, even in last year’s injury-shortened season, Howard’s home run numbers (14 in 71 games) translates into roughly 32 homers over a 162-game season. So the power is still there. And Howard would probably accumulate more RBIs than Freeman as well, although as everyone knows, that statistic is as much dependent on the production on his teammates hitting in front of him as it is Howard’s production at the plate.
Of course, Freeman is a much better defender than Howard, which certainly adds to Freeman’s value. Plus, Freeman is set to earn about a million dollars in 2013, or, about 20 times less than Howard is set to make in 2013. Freeman’s salary, coupled with his far superior defense, obviously makes him the more valuable player.
However, a line of about .260/.340/.450 with an OPS of .790, a wOBA of .340, 35 HRs and 120 RBIs, and a season in which Howard stays healthy and on the field for 140-150 games, should be considered a “good” season for the 33-year-old first baseman.
One would certainly like to see Howard be less of an automatic out against left-handed pitchers, and perhaps Charlie Manuel will see the light and pinch-hit for Howard against tough left-handers late in ballgames, either with John Mayberry or Darin Ruf, thereby also putting a better defender in the field late in the game as well.
If Ryan Howard is handled correctly, the numbers listed above could make him a very valuable player for the Phils in 2013. He certainly would be the most impactful power bat in the lineup.
In fact, numbers like those could even get him into the conversation of Comeback Player of the Year, an award I didn’t even realize existed until today.
Howard’s 2013 season is all going to come down to health. We know he won’t hit lefties very well, we know he’s going to have long stretches where he gets too pull-happy, and there will be long stretches where he “doesn’t see the ball well”, chasing any and every ball withing a two-mile vicinity of the strike zone.
But if Howard stays on the field this year, a season like the one described above should be considered a “good” season for him.
Even if it doesn’t come close to matching his $20 million a year salary.