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June 14, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Ryan Howard, Swinging Hard in Case He Hits It

by Matt Swartz

When I was seven years old, my dad called me into the living room to watch a Phillies' great in the twilight of his career-Mike Schmidt. He told me this was the best Phillie ever, and that I should watch him bat. He struck out. I turned to my dad with a look that must have asked, "Really?" My dad explained one of the first facts I ever learned about baseball-he said that guys who hit a lot of homeruns swing really hard, so they strike out a lot, too. That brings us to Ryan James Howard.

Ryan Howard is one of the more fascinating players in baseball. He hits the ball the hardest, but also pretty much the least. On one hand, he has he led the majors in homeruns two of his three full seasons. Part of the reason is that Howard hits the ball hard, very hard. One study of Hit F/X data from April showed that Howard hit the ball 87.9 MPH on average. The next closest was Miguel Cabrera at 86.8 MPH, with the non-pitcher average of 75.1. And that's for a month in which Howard had a power-outage, hitting only 4 of his current 18 homeruns. On the other hand, Howard is tied with himself for second place for most single-season strikeouts with 199, and is on pace this year to slot fourth on that list-right behind himself with 196.

Baseball Prospectus profiled him in detail last year. However, I've decided to update his profile-because I wanted to highlight a few surprising things about Howard that go against the conventional wisdom.

MINOR LEAGUE CAREER

The Phillies drafted Howard in the 5th round of the 2001 draft, and until 2004, he showed budding power and the tendency to strike out a lot. It wasn't until 2004 when Howard truly began to show the power we see today. He spent the 2004 season at three levels, hitting .297/.386/.647 in 420 PA in AA, .270/.362/.604 in 125 PA in AAA, and .282/.333/.564 in 42 PA in the MLB. That year, he hit a combined 48 HR, which tied him for the most HR in professional baseball. The Phillies already had Jim Thome at first, so they briefly tried an "experiment" in the minors putting Howard in the outfield. The experiment was as laughable as it was short.

2005 AND 2006: ROOKIE OF THE YEAR AND MVP CAMPAIGNS

Howard was mashing in AAA in 2005 (.371/.467/.690), and after getting the call to Philadelphia to replace the injured Thome, Howard won the job quickly. Despite getting only 348 PA, Howard won the Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .288/.356/.567. However, his unintentional walk (UBB) rate was just 7.4%. His walk rate had been a concern going into 2005. Baseball Evolution keenly observed:

The only skill he might want to improve on is the ability to take walks, and that's something that will come naturally as teams start to pitch around him.

The Phillies dealt away Jim Thome before 2006, leaving first base open for Howard. PECOTA projected Howard to improve to .286/.375/.612, which was pretty shocking considering he was already 26. However, Howard won the MVP award by outperforming PECOTA's optimistic projection: he improved his UBB rate to 10.8%, slugged 58 HR, and hit .313/.425/.659.

The biggest surprise in his numbers was his .313 batting average. The reason behind it was his .363 BABIP, which although lower than his minor league BABIP (.370), is extremely high for the major leagues. Yet, in late June 2006, teams started employing the shift against Howard, and his BABIP has never been the same.

2007 AND 2008: EARLY SLUMPS, STRONG FINISHES, AND THE BABIP REDUCTION

PECOTA projected Howard to hit .299/.393/.616 in 2007, but Baseball Prospectus' 2007 Annual warned that this may be short-lived:

Historically, players like Howard, big-bodied guys with limited defensive skills such as Mo Vaughn and Boog Powell, tended to have high but brief peak periods.

Howard started off the year struggling, hitting just .221/.396/.390 by the end of April. He had a brief trip to the disabled list, which seemed to do the trick, and he finished at .268/.356/.567, with 47 HR in 529 AB. Howard improved his UBB rate to 11.8%, but he also increased his strikeout rate from 25.7% of PA to 30.7%. Facing more of the defensive shifts that started appearing in mid-2006, Howard's BABIP dropped to .336. Even more dramatically, his BABIP on groundballs fell from .250 to .187.

Howard started slow again in 2008. By May 7, he was hitting .163/.286/.333. His K-rate was 34%, and his BABIP was .203. Howard was able to raise his BABIP to .285 by the end of the year, and finished the year at .251/.339/.543. This was a far cry from 2006, but he still hit 78 XBH. His K-rate fell back to 32.6%, as well, largely due to an increase in how often he swung (45.4% in 2007, 48.7% in 2008), as he only increased his contact rate from 64.7% to 66.5%.

Digging deeper into Howard's performance shows us what we think we know about him is very different than what is actually true. In the next three sections, we will correct a few misconceptions about him, so that we can work towards projecting him.

AVERAGE AGAINST LEFTIES, WILL EAT YOUR RIGHTHANDERS

It has been recited many times that Howard's career OPS is a full .300 points lower against LHP. This has turned into what I called this off-season "The Ryan Howard Can't Hit Lefties Myth." Opposing teams believe this too, as the following table of Howard's percentage of PA against LHP versus the MLB average each year shows:


YEAR   Howard%  MLB%
2005     18      28
2006     32      28
2007     38      27
2008     38      27
2009     40      27

However, take a look at these charts of career OPS against same-handed pitchers (SHP) on the left, and against opposite handed pitchers (OHP) on the right, among the 27 current non-switch hitting starting first baseman.

graph

Howard is actually not unusual in his performance against same-handed pitchers, as he's right around the middle of the pack. On the other hand, Howard gives Pujols a run for his money against opposite-handed pitching! And even though Howard is in the middle of the pack against same-handed pitching, he has led the NL in HR vs. LHP in two of the last three seasons. The lesson we should draw from this is not that Howard is freakishly bad against same-handed pitching-he's actually about average among first basemen; rather, the lesson is that Howard, like Pujols, is freakishly good against opposite-handed pitching.

THERE IS CLUTCH?

I documented something unusual recently-there is such a thing as clutch-okay, at least that's what I called the article to get attention. What I meant is the following:

Due to the location of first base (the right side of the infield), teams employ large shifts for left-handed power hitters when it is possible, frequently placing three infielders on the right side of the diamond. However, when there are runners on base, it is more difficult to position infielders in such a way that minimizes the hitter's chance of hitting safely if he hits the ball in play. The result is that for a given batting average, a left-handed power hitter is actually more likely to get those hits when runners are on base. These are naturally higher leverage situations in general. Hence, a given batting line for a left-handed power hitter is more valuable than the equivalent batting line for right-handed power hitters.

While Howard was not one of the players in my study, he fits quite well. The MLB cumulatively had a BABIP .006 better with men on than when bases were empty in 2008. Howard is different. He has fared far better with runners on base ever since teams started employing the shift against him. Look at the change after 2006:


YEAR     BABIP (bases empty)     BABIP (men on) 
2005        .373                    .333
2006        .387                    .318
2007        .309                    .344
2008        .218                    .347
2009        .289                    .279

Obviously 2008 is a bit extreme and 2009 is not showing this trend, but 2007 is very much in line with the kinds of numbers I saw for hitters like Ortiz, Bonds, and Giambi in my earlier study. Thanks to the ways teams use the shift (and without any voodoo or secret sauce from Joe Morgan), Ryan Howard is clutch.

OPPOSITE FIELD POWER VS. COMPARABLES

In projecting Ryan Howard's future, there is a lot to be concerned about. Baseball Prospectus warned in 2008:

Howard's PECOTA comparables suggest the system doesn't expect him to have a long battery life, a reflection of his late start and old-player skills. Still, Howard is a better hitter than any of those guys.

The reason PECOTA is successful developing comparables from both statistics and body type is because players who are shaped similarly are likely using similar muscles and reflexes to succeed, and determining how comparably constructed players aged is useful in projection. PECOTA sees Howard around .270/.370/.550 through 2011, and then losing power from 2012-2015 at .260/.360/.520.

Beyond just being better than his comparables as BP2008 mentions, there is one area where Howard is extraordinarily different than his comparables. Howard does not hit his homeruns in the same location as his comparables. As early as 2005, Baseball America wrote:

When you have power like him, you don't have to pull it. It's not like any park can hold him.

As pitchers try to throw outside, Howard frequently won't bother pulling the ball. Consider the following plot of the percent of homeruns that were pulled among Howard's PECOTA comparables (who have homerun location data), as well as other comparables listed on baseball-reference.com. Howard has pulled only 20.5% of his homeruns in his career; the rest of his comparables averaged around 48.6%.

graph

On the other hand, look at the percent of homeruns hit to the opposite field. Howard tops this group by far as well-hitting 26.7% of his homeruns the other way, versus his comparables' average of 10%.

graph

In determining which of his comparables Howard is most likely to follow as he ages, I decided to see whether the guys who hit more opposite field homeruns aged differently than those who pulled the ball. It appears that guys like Thome, McGriff, and Clark aged a little better and hit fewer homeruns to the opposite field. Other players, like Cecil Fielder and Steve Balboni pulled more homeruns and aged less gracefully. Therefore, Howard may age better than PECOTA expects.

2009 AND THE DEFENSIVE RESURGENCE

Howard has played very poor defense throughout his career, but has struggled most with his throwing. He made 45 errors in 2006-08 (19 last year), and 14 of those 45 were throwing errors.

Howard worked hard on his defense this offseason. He increased his mobility in the field by checking into spring training twenty pounds lighter, and improved his throwing as well. His hard work has paid off, as he has made only one error this season. Further, despite averaging only .618 assists per game in his career, Howard has .732 thus far this year.

LOOKING FORWARD

Due to permanent defensive adjustments, Howard's BABIP reduction is real. That said, I think his power is unlikely to diminish any time soon, as he continues to hit as many long flyballs as ever. Howard has tried to curb his strikeouts by swinging more often, so his UBB rate has fallen to 9.4%. Putting it all together, PECOTA is probably a little high on his AVG and OBP, and probably low on his SLG-I see him as a .260/.355/.570 hitter. I also suspect he may last a little bit longer than PECOTA thinks, but the key to this will be Howard's weight. The hitters among his comparables that were larger tended to age more quickly. If he can keep the weight off, he should manage to lead the league in homeruns a few more times over the next several years.

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  Ryan Howard,  The Who

59 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Mountainhawk

Great player profile. I really enjoyed this, and didn't feel like skipping to the end as I often do in player profiles.

I think the Phillies are going to have a very tough decision when it's time to resign Howard, because I don't think he's just going to fall off the face of the earth.

Jun 14, 2009 12:03 PM
rating: 5
 
Tim Kniker

Another great read, Matt. Has me thinking about other things I should look at when doing something like this.

Jun 14, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: 1
 
strupp

Very good. I don't think this has closed the debate on Howard's platoon split and whether the Phils would be better or worse off if they had a RHB-Lefty Masher.

Some arguments refuse to die, and I'm firmly with the Sheehan on this one.

Jun 14, 2009 12:19 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

Thanks. I'm glad you liked the article.

I'll put it to you another way about the splits issue...I understand it would be great to have a RHB-Lefty Masher, but even if they did have a lefty masher who could player a corner position, wouldn't you pull Ibanez instead? He's got a lower career OPS against lefties (.754 Ibanez instead of .770 Howard). In fact, so do a lot of guys. Or wouldn't you rather spend the roster spot on a lefty for Werth (.753 vs RHP)? It's just not worth the roster spot. The best thing to do is except that you have a guy who turns into Corey Hart vs lefties and turns into Albert Pujols vs righties, and figure it's still worth keeping Corey Hart on most rosters.

Jun 14, 2009 15:42 PM
rating: 2
 
strupp

Valid point, but somewhat moot given this has been a Howard argument for the last few years, and Ibanez is still relatively shiny and new to the Phillies roster.

Jun 14, 2009 17:02 PM
rating: 0
 
jkaplow21

You miss his point. Howard is by far not the biggest problem with respect to hitting the same hand on his team (or any other's). Most teams would be happy with a guy whio can even be just average agaist the pitchign type he sees the least of.

The one thing I see with Howard is that he really loves to swing 3-2 and has been awful that way. I think opposing teams have noticed.

.156/.391/.188/.571 with no homers and 13 walks.

Not sure what is making him feel like he has to swing 3-2, but I think that is what REALLY pulls his OBP down. Take the walk big man.

Jun 14, 2009 17:27 PM
rating: 0
 
strupp

No, I get the point. However, this isn't a debate that's come up in the last 3 weeks, it's one that has been had off and on for the last 3 years.

It does add a new perspective too it though.

Jun 14, 2009 18:29 PM
rating: -1
 
PaulieNeu

Another really strong piece. Nice work again Matt, definitely got my vote.

Jun 14, 2009 13:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Hunter

Matt did a great job, and presented a great profile about a guy that most of us already know quite a bit about. That is difficult to do, and his analysis was solid throughout. In my opinion he has created a clear top-2 with Tim in this competition.

Jun 14, 2009 13:12 PM
rating: 2
 
Charles

I may be missing something here (I usually do), but wouldn't it be logical to expect his BABIP to be higher with runners on? Decreasing a player's BABIP is the whole point of the shift. I don't think it says much about him other than he's a left-handed power hitter.

That being said, that section was the only one I didn't really like, and this article received my vote. Well done.

Jun 14, 2009 14:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

You're right-- he's just like other lefty sluggers, which is it to say he DOES in fact have higher BABIP in those men-on-base situations, which naturally have higher leverage. I was only saying that Howard has some extra value added, just like other lefty sluggers.

Jun 14, 2009 15:44 PM
rating: 0
 
rjblakel

"he has he led the majors"? I don't know - there's something about Matt's writing style that seems too bloggish for me; sentences just seem thrown together - written as one might speak, not as one should write.

Jun 14, 2009 14:42 PM
rating: -3
 
loveablelosers

I had the same impression while reading this. That may be a point in Matt's favor though as he'll have an editor for his writing at BP and everything else in the article was outstanding.

Jun 15, 2009 08:30 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think each of the areas he chose to examine Howard would make great topics for separate articles... I just don't know if it works to have them all squeezed into a single player profile... maybe a takeaway section would've helped to tie everything together a bit better.

Jun 15, 2009 08:37 AM
rating: -1
 
Dr. Dave

Points for taking on a controversial subject that BP has already weighed in on. Points for finding a new (and relevant) way to look at the data. Overall, very strong, especially the comparisons to Howard's PECOTA comparables.

Now, if you had only used those comparables for the platoon discussion, instead of current starting first basemen. Nobody cares that Howard is clearly better than Ishikawa, Overbay, Kotchman, Butler, et al. Still, great job.

Jun 14, 2009 14:44 PM
rating: 1
 
Matt Swartz

Interesting point. I looked through the same set of guys. Most of them were a little bit better than Howard against same handed pitching, but way worse than Howard at opposite handed pitching. I still say it's relevant to know he hits better than those other guys, only because it shows he's still can hit like an average big league first baseman vs LHP. It's just kind of like having a platoon of Corey Hart and Albert Pujols, I guess. Interestingly enough, you pointed me to realize that Jim Thome is remarkably similar to Ryan Howard.

Thome vs LHP: .239/.342/.423 (.766)
Howard vs LHP: .227/.309/.457 (.766)

Thome vs RHP: .295/.431/.618 (1.049)
Howard vs RHP: .309/.409/.658 (1.066)

And Thome was the guy who smashes all the opposite field homeruns too! I'm glad you got me to check that.

Jun 14, 2009 16:04 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

. . . or compare him to the arlternatives availalble to the Phillies.

Jun 15, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Hmm. I have mixed feelings on this one. Some sections seemed a bit rushed and others felt a bit contrived. It almost felt to me like Matt had theories on how Howard should behave even though the data was inconclusive.

Take the data on the shift where Matt suggests that the shift hurts Howard's BABIP. Then he notes that teams are less likely to use a shift with runners on base and draws on an article suggesting lefthanded jitters perform better in clutch situations because of runners on base. That's a neat idea but then matt provides 5 years worth of Howard's BABIP data and tosses away two years of the data? Then there is the SHP chart that places Howard between previously part-time players/platoon players like Branyan and Cantu? Finally after all the comparisons to players of similar body type, there's a tack-on discussion of defense and the weight Howard lost.,. but the weight loss factor doesnt't appear in the other discussions about his hitting?

I think the opposite field home run part worked best for me, especially on the theory that players lose bat speed as they age so it stands to reason that players like Howard who are used to hitting opposite field home runs might retain more of their skills.

Overall, I liked the ideas used to analyze Howard but I'm not convinced the conclusions apply.


Jun 14, 2009 16:13 PM
rating: -3
 
Matt Swartz

Thanks. I'll engage the BABIP discussion a little more, because I do see your point-- you're right that Howard's BABIP data for 5 years is not enough to be conclusive. You need WAY more data than that to be sure about BABIP. Go to the article at the beginning of the clutch section. I looked at 20 guys, a mixture of 12 RHB and 8 LHB who were the guys with the highest SLG ever among people with enough PA. They hit a combined 52,000 balls in play. The result was that BABIP was .022 higher with runners on for LHB and only .009 higher with runners on for RHB. That's statistically significant and relevant. If the reason that those LHB hit better with runners on is the shift, then it's reasonable to assume the same of Howard even as his data shows that tendency but with too much noise to say for sure.

Jun 14, 2009 16:33 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

That's kind of what I'm saying though. It seems you believe Howard will fit your BABIP theory though currently the data euither says he doesn't or there is too mch noise for his 5 years of BABIP data, 3 of which are post-shift, to be conclusive. Maybe if it was presented as a projection instead of a performance indicator it would make more sense for me but I'm not quite sure why this discussion is in a player profile article if Howard is not demonstrating that trait.

Jun 14, 2009 16:48 PM
rating: -3
 
Matt Swartz

Howard absolutely demonstrates that trait.

Since 2007:
BABIP with bases empty: .264
BABIP with runners on: .337

Before 2007:

BABIP with bases empty: .377
BABIP with runners on: .327

It's just that doesn't prove my point. In fact, the difference for 2007-2009 with bases empty and runners on is statistically significant. It's just that I wouldn't buy analysis like that unless I had done a larger study.

Jun 14, 2009 16:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

That chart (pre and post 2007) makes more sense to me. I guess my distraction was when you said 2008 was an extreme and 2009 didn't demonstrate that trait, I discounted the revelance of those years in a Brady Anderson 50 HR kinda way. The summary chart in the previous comment worked better for me in getting your point across.

Thanks

Jun 14, 2009 17:10 PM
rating: -2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Thumbs up for all the different techniques you used to try to analyze Howard, though it wasn't my favorite profile of the week.

Not that this week was my favorite BP Idol topic either...

Jun 15, 2009 08:59 AM
rating: -2
 
jtrichey

I'll just copy and paste my comment for all of these articles. Solid but not distinguishing.

Jun 14, 2009 16:38 PM
rating: -3
 
jtrichey

And by all these articles, I mean this week's articles, not all of Swartz' articles.

Jun 14, 2009 16:39 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

I really liked Christina's question about park effects. Even though B-R keeps track of HR location for a while back, they don't seem to record it in the HR log consistently before 2007. So for 2007-2009:

I tallied Howard at home:

29% pull
49% center
22% oppo

meaning that Howard on road:

19% pull
68% center
14% oppo

I counted up LCF and RCF is CF. I'm not sure if that's what B-R does for LCF and RCF, but I guess that this seems like Howard probably doesn't have too much of a park effect on his homeruns.

Jun 14, 2009 16:48 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

homeruns' LOCATION, that is. Obviously Howard gets a HR park effect, hahaha.

Jun 14, 2009 16:48 PM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

No mention of park factor for a guy whose primary skill is hitting home runs and whose ballpark is Citizens Bank Park?

Granted, over his career Howard has hit almost as well on the road as at home--with more home runs by raw count--but Citizens Bank Park was such a hitter's park early in Howard's career that I'd've expected some passing mention of how it affected Howard's stats...especially given that word count seemed not to be an issue.

Jun 14, 2009 16:53 PM
rating: -1
 
Mountainhawk

Howard has 99 HR on the road (1 per 14.36 PA) and 97 at home (1 per 13.34 PA). So he hits them about 7% more frequently at home, but that doesn't seem huge given the HR park factors for the Cit over the last few years. If anything, I think Howard underperforming at home.

Jun 15, 2009 05:11 AM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

I'd agree that Howard is underperforming at home, especially given that there's a home ballpark advantage across MLB regardless of what ballpark players call home. Thus far in 2009 the average NL player is hitting .262/.341/.414 at home and just .253/.324/.395 on the road, a difference of 36 points of OPS, even though the ballpark factor should even out. Players just play better when they're at home--but Howard just plays better on the road. My question is why, and it's just not answered here, even in the comments section. Obviously the trend was obvious enough that Howard has been given his off days at home, not on the road, given the raw numbers. It's a big factor, but Matt overlooks it.

As an aside, given how long the article seemed, I did a word count, and it came to 1,998 excluding words in charts and tables. The trouble I have is that words in charts and tables, if anything, slow down the reader more than words in the paragraphs forming the body of the work. Counting words in charts and tables put this piece over 2,100 words, and it seemed even longer to me as a reader.

The issue with "clutch hitting" because of higher BABIP with runners on base isn't new. BABIP jumps from .295 to .313 this year in the NL going from the "no baserunners" state to the "runner on first" state. That's normal for all hitters, even if it's a bit more pronounced for Howard.

Finally, the expectations regarding Howard's future are based on some very small-sample trends, as well as some spotty data: how reliable are listed weights for large MLB sluggers? Frankly, given the names included as Howard's comparables and the era in which many of them played, one is almost compelled to wonder if overlooking steroid use, effects, and aftereffects is enough to make gauging the future of Howard by this list of comparables an act of guesswork.

Many readers have voiced their strong support of this piece. Rereading it a day later, though, doesn't change my assessment: others did significantly better on this topic. I'm sure that Matt will be back next week, and I look forward to a strong article, but this one didn't earn a thumbs up from me for the reasons cited here.

Jun 15, 2009 07:25 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

I had looked at the home/away splits for Howard, but personally I did not find them interesting. I only put down what I felt were the most interesting trends. Given how far Howard hits the ball, he doesn't hit that many cheap HR. Howard hits a lot of HR just left of CF, and CBP is actually deep there (409 ft.) with a tall wall. So Howard while Howard gets a few cheap shots down the line, he loses some to CF too. He's hit 2 more HR on the road in 11 more games, and that just seemed not worth mentioning to me. The things I found interesting were the BABIP part, the LF power, and the LHP/RHP splits. It seems like all three have generated some discussion,

The BABIP with runners on base is not normal for all hitters at all. I have done research on this topic in the past-- click on the link in the piece. There's a statistically significant difference between LH and RH power hitters in terms of how they do with BABIP depending on whether runners on base. Howard fits the mold perfectly. As far as I know, that is not something other people have researched before. It has to do with the shift. Additionally, the .313/.295 split you cite is the largest of those kinds of splits and not comparing apples to applies in the first place-- there is a .299/.294 split with runners on base/bases empty which is the split I was using. Generating a .073 point difference instead of a .005 point difference since 2007 is significant, especially given my other study which showed how much better LH power hitters do with runners on base compared to their RH counterparts.

I'm not really sure what the steroids issue has to do with things. I guess it means that his comparables aren't necessarily a good approximation of his aging curve...which was my point.

Jun 15, 2009 07:52 AM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill

A quick check of Ryan Howard over his career shows (if I've run the math and referenced BR correctly) a difference of only .016, not .073, for his career BABIP with men on base, a BABIP of .316 with no men on and .332 with men on. I believe that the BABIP for a man on first and nobody on second is .341, and that the BABIP for all other on base scenarios is .325, just nine points higher than his BABIP with no baserunners.

Certainly your linked work regarding the success of eight left-handed power hitters was interesting, but Howard apparently differs far more from the mean for the group of LHH you studied than he does from the mean of all MLB players. (As an aside, almost the entire effect you discovered was the result of just three players in the sample set: Bonds, Ortiz, and Giambi.) Also, much of the effect for Howard is the effect of the first baseman's holding a runner at first with second base open, the effect I regarded as previously well-known.

Regarding steroids, it's unusual that a given player would have quite so many of his PECOTA comparables either directly linked to PED use or as hitters who peaked in the "Steroid Era," regardless of personal usage. I'd suggest that careers seemed longer for power hitters in particular during those years, and that changes in the game--either drug testing or otherwise, such as possible changes in the baseball itself--may mitigate against Howard's managing "to lead the league in homeruns a few more times over the next several years." That's just opinion, of course, but not many players have quite so great a concentration of comparable players at that time. Notably, though, in 2009 the current PECOTA shows Howard more comparable to several players from before the Steroid Era, including Mike Epstein, Jim Gentile, Willie Aikens, Boog Powell, John Mayberry, and Don Mincher. As a group, these players did not excel once past their twenties, as Howard will be next year when he turns 30 this November.

Jun 15, 2009 09:37 AM
rating: -1
 
Matt Swartz

The .073 difference was from 2007-2009, since the shift wasn't in place yet until later in 2006. The .016 difference is still a hair closer to the .022 difference that the eight lefty sluggers from other other study averaged than it is to the .009 that the twelve righty sluggers averaged. The fact that during the pre-shift era and the post-shift era Howard shows such huge differences in his men on/bases empty splits further hints at this effect.

The effect of the first baseman holding the runner on probably is not enough to explain this difference. LHB have only a .004 BABIP higher than RHB this year, and that even takes into account the fact that C/2B/3B/SS have lower BABIPs because they are harder positions to play and also position that guys who at least throw right-handed can play.

I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Bonds, Ortiz, and Giambi showed the largest splits. I think it's just noise, given the distribution of differences.

As for the steroids issue, I guess it's not surprising that any slugger has a lot of steroid users among his comparables. It's hard to hit homeruns. :-) Howard's presumed non-use of steroids might not hurt him in terms of aging. I don't know the medicine of it, but would players who used steroids in their 20s really age better? I could see the argument that a few guys used them in their mid-to-late 30s to extend their careers, but I don't think that would be the effect. I'd love Will Carroll or someone to inform.

Jun 15, 2009 10:36 AM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill

Yes, but MLB as a group exceeded the .009 difference in BABIP shown by your right-handed slugger sample in several years. I'd grabbed 2007 as a middling year for Howard's career, and MLB as a whole hit for .011 more BABIP points with baserunners that season. Looking further, the BABIP difference varies more year-to-year than I'd guessed, though, and it's often below .009, the difference for the dozen RHB you studied.

***

The BABIP differences with runners on base from your sample were as follows:

Name (BABIP without baserunners, BABIP with baserunners, difference)

Jason Giambi (.327, .277, +.051)
Barry Bonds (.308, .267, +.041)
David Ortiz (.324, .283, +.041)
Todd Helton (.346, .327, +.019)
Ken Griffey (.297, .285, +.012)
Jim Thome (.327, .317, +.010)
Carlos Delgado (.303, .303, .000)
Larry Walker (.331, .332, -.001)

I don't see it as noise, given the distribution of the differences; I see it as a clear bimodal distribution of two sets, one with a median of .010 and the other with a median of .041, not as a single set with a mean of .022. Frankly, given the frequency of extreme shifts for these various players, a bimodal distribution might make your point regarding Howard better: I think that Bonds, Giambi and Ortiz have had extreme infield shifts played against them more often than the other five players you mentioned.

But I'd expect, then, for Howard to show a decline in overall BABIP on ground balls concurrent with the fairly swift introduction of the shift in 2007, making a higher overall BABIP in clutch circumstances possible. Here are the numbers:

Year / Howard's BABIP on GB

2004 .237
2005 .234
2006 .240
2007 .245
2008 .236
2009 .234

I don't see any change coinciding with the introduction of the shift.

Eric Seidman attributed Howard's high BABIP with runners on base as indicative of his disproportionate ability to make pitchers pay for mistakes, and the correlation between pitchers' mistakes and runners already being on base. There may be merit to that concept, too.

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8111



Jun 15, 2009 12:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

You have the wrong GB BABIPs for Howard I think. I used B-R:

2004: .200 (2 for 10)
2005: .200 (19 for 95)
2006: .250 (43 for 172)
2007: .187 (20 for 107)
2008: .163 (28 for 172)
2009: .221 (15 for 68)

That seems to show the trend a little more clearly, though there's a lot of noise there. With less noise by clumping it together: 2004-2006 is .231 and 2007-2009 is .182.

The eight lefties could be a bimodal distribution though it's very hard to know with only eight players in there. I don't remember if people shifted a lot for Larry Walker. Delgado and Thome, though, I'm pretty sure they did and they didn't have large samples. It's tough to tell with this data, but aggregating seems to show the point.

Jun 15, 2009 12:33 PM
rating: 0
 
JayhawkBill

You're right: I pulled up the wrong column of data. Thank you!!

Jun 15, 2009 12:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I don't remember ever seeing a shift for Larry Walker and I watched him a lot. Not every team would play used the same kind of shift for each player either... I remember quite a few different shifts used for Bonds for example...some just shifted the defenders slightly while others would create a fourth outfielder or a short-center fielder.

Jun 15, 2009 12:41 PM
rating: 0
 
Peter Benedict

This was the most enjoyable player profile I've read in quite awhile. I love statistics that go against the grain, so the various pieces doing so were good fun for me. Thanks.

Jun 14, 2009 20:18 PM
rating: 4
 
gjhardy

I wish Matt had done something more with the final part on opposite field power. "Howard may age better than PECOTA expects" seemed anticlimactic in view of the clear discrepancies in hitting the ball into the opposite field bleachers. That chart was also a bit tough to read on my computer -- the 4th and 5th bar colors were too similar -- and in terms of data presentation, I wonder why he didn't use the same colors for the same player on each chart, ie bright yellow for Canseco on each chart, magenta for Howard, etc. That would have been easier to digest from a visual standpoint.
I must also confess that I got lost in the "There is clutch" discussion. "Ryan Howard is clutch" or does Howard just hit better when he is not facing the shift, much like other LH power hitters? Introducing the concept of "clutch" seems to confuse the issue.

Jun 15, 2009 09:23 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Excellent point on the color-coding of the players, gjhardy, I'd meant to mention that in my comments as a suggestion to Matt as far as future chart design.

Jun 15, 2009 09:26 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think I would've preferred another table similar to the SHP table. It would also save some vertical article space to have the two tables side-by-side. Is there some compelling reason to change formats?

Jun 15, 2009 09:30 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

By two tables side-by-side, I mean the % of home runs pulled and the % to the opposite field should've been side by side.

That would echo the format of the SHP/OHP presentation.

Jun 15, 2009 09:32 AM
rating: -2
 
Matt Swartz

Thanks, I like these criticisms. In reality, I'm just not as good at doing charts in excel as I should be. I had a hard time making those charts work, and perhaps I should have just done it differently. I also agree that I could have expanded the opposite field homeruns section, but that would probably be it's own article. The spirit behind it was to basically say that Howard's comparables were a mixture of Jim Thome type guys and Cecil Fielder type guys, and hey, it looks like Thome and Howard seem to have more in common than Fielder and Howard...that bodes well, and I'd like to look at this stuff in more detail in the future.

As to the clutch discussion, the word clutch was intended in the original article to stir the pot. I think that too much of the clutch discussion has been dominated by one side attributing mystical powers to certain people and the other side saying that these guys are all robots. In reality, I felt that certain traits make people more likely to succeed in higher leverage situations.

Jun 15, 2009 09:43 AM
rating: 0
 
rraymo1

I enjoy any chart with Ron Kittle.

Jun 15, 2009 10:36 AM
rating: 4
 
G. Guest

I think that Matt has to earn some points for interacting with the readers as much as he does. As a BP Subscriber, I enjoy the comments and replies from the staff a lot.

Jun 15, 2009 11:11 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

He gets points from me. As I noted last week, he and Tim are great at continuing the discussion and always generate a lot of commentary. Cartwright's pretty good too, though everyone's solid overall.

Jun 15, 2009 11:20 AM
rating: -1
 
John Carter

Content B

When a player who is frequently platooned plays against a pitcher of the opposite hand, it is usually because that type of pitcher isn't all that much more effective against opposite handed batters. Hence, Howard's OPS vs. OHP is skewed towards the easier to hit OHP compared to others in the list who are platooned less often.

Serious studies have shown that the platoon effect is really under the control of the pitcher far more than the batter.

No, I'm not convinced of Howard's "clutch" by your evidence. I only see how it only shows how effective the shift has been against him. And, why the heck are we using BABIP to prove clutch in the first place? Why take out home runs when that is more clutch than having you hits drop where they aint.

The home run direction section was interesting, but required a more precise explanation as to the criteria for how those particular home run hitters were picked.

By far the most interesting tidbit here is that home run hitters who hit more opposite side homers last longer than those who do not. I would like to see more on that, although, granted this is supposed to be about Ryan Howard.

Writing A-

Please, keep the number of decimals consistent. It is messier and more difficult to read if they are not all lined up.

Otherwise, a nice read.

Jun 15, 2009 13:41 PM
rating: -3
 
Matt Swartz

Howard is NOT platooned-- ever. He faces 40% left-handed pitching. The league average is 27-28%. He's the opposite of platooned, in that the entire opposing team's strategy late in the game is how to avoid Howard facing any RHP other than the closer and the starter.

Howard is not "clutch." As I said in the article, "I documented something unusual recently—there is such a thing as clutch—okay, at least that's what I called the article to get attention. What I meant is the following..." and then I explained how LH sluggers have more success in high leverage situations due to limits in opposing teams' ability to shift. That's why I used BABIP. The article I link to explains that LH sluggers have the same differences that RH sluggers do in their HR, BB, and K rates with runners on and bases empty.

The hitters I selected for Howard's comparables were just the subset of players on PECOTA's list of comparables and Baseball-Reference.com's list of comparables who played after the era in which HR location was regularly recorded.

Jun 15, 2009 13:48 PM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Automatic bonus points for using HitF/X - those are going to revolutionise baseball.

Jun 15, 2009 14:24 PM
rating: 0
 
cdt719

Solid article, but I'd have liked to see a little more analysis of Howard's defense. That's probably another element that could be improved with the assistance of an editor--other parts of the article could be shortened a bit to leave more room for defensive analysis without exceeding the word count.

Jun 15, 2009 16:26 PM
rating: 0
 
fireorlime

I really enjoyed the piece. It made me think of a question, you used the pre-shift and post-shift BABIP to raise an interesting point about "clutchness" in LH power hitters with runners on base. Another obvious conclusion you might reach is, the shift works in limiting Howard's effectiveness.

But, we also know that Howard has the ability to spray home runs to every part of the ballpark. If he has the ability to stay with the pitch as well as pull it, why couldn't he be more effective against the shift?

Simply put, if you're able to go the other way with a pitch, and they're giving you the the left side of the infield, shouldn't you be able to exploit that?

Perhaps only his flyballs are evenly distributed but his groundballs are all pulled?

Jun 16, 2009 12:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Swartz

Yeah, the shift is highly effective at limiting Howard. His BABIP in the minors was .370, and his BABIPs in the majors from 2004-2006 were .375, .354, and .356. Suddenly in 2007, the shift was in full effect and he went down to .328, .285, and .292 in 2007-2009.

You're also right that Howard pulls almost all of his groundballs, but if he is able to go the other way with a pitch, he usually lifts it. He has a career line of .420/.409/1.147 going the other way with 52 HR in 252 PA.

So more than 20% of the time he does hit the ball the other way, it leaves the park. League average is about 1.5% of balls hit the other way leave the park.

Jun 16, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: 0
 
fireorlime

Thanks for responding with the legwork, and the article in general, anytime baseball writing makes you think and learn something you know it's the tits!

A future subject might be to study the effectiveness of the defensive shift in baseball and if there are hitters who've been able to exploit it (although once exploited its use would cease, one would think).

Jun 16, 2009 14:15 PM
rating: -2
 
jpkand

Loved the article but found this paragraph very weak:

In determining which of his comparables Howard is most likely to follow as he ages, I decided to see whether the guys who hit more opposite field homeruns aged differently than those who pulled the ball. It appears that guys like Thome, McGriff, and Clark aged a little better and hit fewer homeruns to the opposite field. Other players, like Cecil Fielder and Steve Balboni pulled more homeruns and aged less gracefully. Therefore, Howard may age better than PECOTA expects.

Jun 16, 2009 13:18 PM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

You had me at "clutch".

I am hitch hiking!

Jun 16, 2009 13:57 PM
rating: -3
 
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