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.