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.

Marlins, Giants get into heated beanball war

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You may have heard that Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door in frustration after Monday night’s subpar performance. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result. Strickland came in to protect a 4-2 lead but ended up giving up three runs. The tying run was knocked in by Lewis Brinson on a single to right field. Brinson moved to third base on a go-ahead single by Miguel Rojas, which prompted manager Bruce Bochy to take Strickland out of the game.

On his way to the dugout, Strickland started chirping at Brinson. Much like Bryce Harper and Strickland, Brinson and Strickland have a bit of a history. Last Thursday, Brinson handed Strickland a blown save with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Brinson was happy to help his team tie the game, pumping his fast and saying, “Let’s go” at no one in particular. That rubbed Strickland the wrong way. Everything seems to rub Strickland the wrong way.

During Tuesday night’s game, Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez threw at Brinson with the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher issued warnings to both benches. Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue, suggesting that his team hadn’t done anything wrong so it was unfair to essentially take the inside part of the plate away from his pitchers. On his way back to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen saying, “You’re next” to catcher Buster Posey.

The Giants scored twice in the bottom of the second against Dan Straily to extend their lead to 3-0. Posey came to the plate with a runner on first base and one out. Straily hit Posey with a 91 MPH fastball on the first pitch, prompting ejections of both Straily and Mattingly. Posey was hit on the arm. If the pitch had come in a bit lower and hit Posey on the wrist or hand, Posey might have had to go on the disabled list for a couple months. Or if the pitch had hit Posey a couple of inches higher, in the head, then who knows what would have happened.

Things calmed down from there, thankfully. The two clubs have one more game against each other in San Francisco on Wednesday and that will be the final time they meet this season. If anything further is going to happen — and hopefully, nothing happens — then it will come tomorrow.

Straily will almost certainly be facing a suspension and a fine, as will Mattingly. It’s less clear if Rodriguez and/or Bochy will be reprimanded for throwing at Brinson, even though it was fairly obvious the pitch was intentional. Regardless, the punishments amount to just one missed start for the pitchers, which isn’t nearly enough of a detriment to deter beanball wars.