Make no mistake, people: Ryan Howard's production is declining

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Ryan Howard headshot.jpgI’ve made some comments this afternoon about Ryan Howard likely declining. I’m not a stats guy, though, so I’m just making some guesses, albeit guesses informed by history.  Bill Baer at the Phillies’ blog Crashburn Alley is a stats guy, however, and in the course of assessing the wisdom of the Howard contract extension, he brings some statistical noise that should be unsettling to Phillies fans:

Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has
declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in
2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an
infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in
more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against
them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but
so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights,
Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since
2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone
every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate
(swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.

This will be a fun ride for two, maybe even three more years, but it
will quickly become tumultuous.

You don’t have to be a hardcore sabermetrician to grok the point: He’s less patient at the plate than he used to be, fewer batted balls are being turned into hits, which could be because of the shift opposing teams employ, but could also mean that he’s not hitting the ball quite as hard as he used to. His ability to hit lefties has not improved and may, in fact, be declining, if that was even possible. He’s striking out less, but there’s a corresponding drop in his power. He is, however, swinging and missing more often than he used to, even though he’s striking out at slightly lower rates.

None of this is to say Howard is a bad player. But it certainly paints a picture of a player who (a) you shouldn’t expect to improve over the next six years, and who will almost certainly decline; and (b) should not be paid upwards of $25 million a year across so many years.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.