2015 Best/Worst Case: Ryan Howard


With the season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what kind of team the Phillies may have in 2015. This look at Ryan Howard is the ninth in a series of articles speculating on a best and worst case scenario for each player that is likely to be on the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies squad.

Today’s Player: 1B #6 Ryan Howard

It seems like these days you can’t say the name “Ryan Howard” to a Phillies fan without them giving you “the Stare” in return. You know the one. It can say many things: “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe he is still on the team!“; “He hasn’t been good since 2009!“; “He strikes out too much!“; “He costs too much!“; “He makes my feet hurt!“; “He is the reason everything in my life is wrong!

Slight exaggeration, but only by a bit.

There is very little optimism that follows “the Big Piece” around these days. It used to be that Howard struck out too much and was a liability on defense, but because he could hit for game-changing power and drove in a ton of runs, he was worth the risk. Then he signed a mega-deal, got injured before it even kicked in, and seemed to get old overnight.

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2014 was just a continuation of the narrative. In his first full season since suffering that horrendous injury in the final game of the 2011 NLDS, Howard struck out 190 times. That wasn’t so unusual, however, he drove in fewer than 100 runs, only hit 23 homers, and batted for just a .223 average.

Howard also logged -1.1 wins above replacement. For those fans who may still be unfamiliar with WAR, a value of less than ‘2’ means you are a bench player, and less than ‘0’ means you need to be replaced. Remember he is the starting first baseman.

From 2007-2009, Howard actually was improving. He struck out fewer times each season, consistently hit for big power, and had a huge RBI total. Then came the 2010 and 2011 seasons. His K total jumped back over 170, his walk total plummeted, his RBI total was, at just over 100, low compared to his previous production, and he ended that 2011 campaign with the significant injury.

Now it’s 2015, and most Phillies fans are calling for him to be traded. Many feel that his contract is one of the big reasons that the club can’t afford to add new talent. His recent performance says that he shouldn’t be a starter, but he’s too expensive to not start. Assuming that he remains with the team in 2015, it will be interesting to see how he performs. Let’s make some predictions.

Best Case Scenario: .260/ 35 homers/ 120 RBIs, and everyday 1B starter for Phillies

Woah there! Slow down! Don’t take out the pitchforks and come hunt me down! Remember, this is a best case scenario!

I don’t believe there can be too much argument that Ryan Howard still has some talent. You can see it every time he slams one out of Citizens Bank Park. It’s just difficult to remember at times while waiting for those less-frequent blasts while also watching him whiff 190 times. Howard has the talent to hit 35 homers in a full, healthy season. He still has the talent to hit in the middle of the order and drive in runs. He needs to be more patient in order for these numbers to occur.

He used to be able to do it. In fact as recent as 2013, in the half-year he played, Howard hit .266 with a 115 OPS+ that wasn’t far off his 2008 NL MVP runner-up season. Last year, however, he seemed to forget that he was a major league ball player. I think it’s still possible that the Big Piece can hit 30 homers again.

Worst Case Scenario: .210/ 20 homers/ 70 RBIs and makes it to the bench

Here comes the bad news. Nothing exactly seems to be improving. Howard is trying to be more patient, but 20.5% of all of his strikeouts were looking. It means that he is trying to look at more pitches, but his judgment of those pitches is poor, and his plate discipline is still not good overall.

His spray charts aren’t looking so hot either. Despite a career of being told to try to “beat the shift“, Howard has not shown the slightest ability to go the opposite way. It shouldn’t be the case that when Howard does hit a ball towards the left side, everyone is amazed. That should happen more than once in a blue moon.

Finally, Howard’s previously mentioned -1.1 WAR in 2014 was at a career low when compared to his full seasons. This isn’t what you need to see from your franchise 1st baseman whom you are paying $25 million per year.

These numbers show what would happen if the downward trend continues, yet he still gets significant playing time. This scenario may seem more likely to the people of Philadelphia, but I believe that he will trend closer towards the best case. I think that Ryan Howard knows he is playing for his job and career right now, and  I think he finds a way to respond.