The Phillies can survive Ryan Howard's contract, but can they survive the GM who gave it to him?
Some baseball teams are disappointing by strange twists of fate. Some are disappointing by design. Not because they’re designed to perform poorly (although that happens, too), but because they’re given expectations contrary to reality, and when reality diverges from expectations, they continue to cling to the expectations.
The 2013 Phillies are a team modestly below .500. Given a preseason forecast of a basically .500 team, this shouldn’t be a terrible shock—baseball is a game filled with randomness, after all. But to view the Phillies as a real disappointment requires you to compare them to their run of excellence from 2007 through 2011, rather than the team they are now. General manager Ruben Amaro’s expectations, then, seem weirdly out of date, in more ways than one. When asked about the player who will most likely define Amaro’s career as a GM, he responded succinctly:
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Is Ryan Howard clutch because he's clutch, clutch because of how teams play him, or just plain lucky?
Buzz Hannahan was inserted as a pinch runner for Wooten. The Bisons brought in ace lefty Cliff Bartosh to face cleanup hitter Ryan Howard. The Red Barons' first baseman delivered a clutch hit - a towering ground rule double that bounced over the center field fence. —August 6th, 2004
Miami's outfielder is attempting to accomplish a feat few others can claim.
Justin Ruggiano is having one of the league’s most surprising seasons. He entered Sunday with 245 plate appearances, a .324 batting average, and strikeouts in 25.3 percent of his plate appearances. Intuitively, we all know striking out more than a quarter of the time makes it tough to be a productive hitter, and nearly impossible to post a high average. Yet Ruggiano is angling to join an exclusive club of players with more than 250 plate appearances in a season, a strikeout rate above 25 percent, and a batting average of .300 or better:
The tater trots for July 23 (and the weekend): Mike Napoli hits a bomb, Carlos Gonzalez takes a stroll, and Chase Utley edges out Josh Rutledge.
It's been a few days since the last Tater Trot Tracker post. And though I was able to time each trot over the weekend, I missed highlighting a few special home runs. The biggest homers of note came on Saturday, when Cole Hamels served up a home run to Matt Cain in the top of the third inning and then, in the bottom of the inning, Cain returned the favor to Hamels. It was the first time two starters had hit home runs in the same inning since 1990. Hamels, who had never hit a home run before, won the race between the two pitchers, besting Cain's 21.51 second trot with a 21.13 second trot of his own.
The Rays have been willing to experiment with unorthodox defensive alignments, but are they ready to move an infielder to the outfield?
In 2010, Baseball Info Solutions began recording instances of defensive shifts. In the Fielding Bible III, they presented some data from the last couple of years: the Rays emerged as the team using special alignments most frequently, with a huge margin separating them from the clubs ranked just behind them.
While watching some of the action in the Rays’ Opening Day game against the Yankees, I came to the conclusion that BIS video scouts would have an easier time if they inverted their approach and marked down the instances when Tampa Bay does not play shifted.
The defending NL East champs should gather their titles while they may, since the same Phillies that flower today tomorrow will be dying.
It’s been six seasons since the Phillies finished anywhere other than first in the National League East. Last year, they led the major leagues with 102 wins, their highest total during their recent run of success. Over the winter, they signed Jonathan Papelbon, the top closer available on the free agent market, and saw their jilted former closer, Ryan Madson, blow out his elbow before he could throw a meaningful pitch for a competitor. Their starting rotation will be headlined by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, who project to be three of the 15 most valuable pitchers in baseball. Their lineup will be bolstered by a full season from Hunter Pence. On the surface, most signs point to continued success. But the Phillies’ competitive window may be closing quickly.
There are four Phillies ranked between 51 and 100 on ESPN’s list of the top 500 players for 2012: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino. It’s conceivable that none of those four will be both ranked in that range and in uniform for the Phillies in 2013. Howard was worth less than two wins in each of the past two seasons and finished 12th on his team in WARP last season, so he’s already out of place that high on the leaderboard. This could be the season his reputation starts to reflect his recent performance: Even after he recovers from the ruptured and subsequently infected Achilles tendon that could cost him the first two months, his on-field decline will likely accelerate at age 32.
Injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley make the Phillies' chances of maintaining the NL East crown slimmer.
Have you already penciled the Phillies in atop your projected NL East standings? Well, you might want to find an eraser.
Ryan Howard is going to miss the first two months of the season while recovering from the Achilles injury he suffered last October, and it now appears that Chase Utleywill be joining him on the disabled list with recurring knee woes. Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels should hold down their end of the fort, but questions about the Phillies’ offense are looming rather large as the season approaches.
A.J. Burnett finds out just what it means to be a pirate, a couple players go under the knife, and various other injuries around spring training.
A.J. Burnett, PIT (Eye)
Bunting practice is usually not dangerous; occasionally a batter might injure a finger but, only rarely does something more serious happen. On Wednesday, Burnett fell into this latter category. In the video of the incident in question, the ball deflects off of Burnett’s bat and strikes him at the corner of his eye and the eye socket. He is helped by assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano and walks off the field with a towel to his face. After flying back to Pittsburgh for more tests, Burnett was diagnosed with an orbital bone fracture and will undergo surgery on Friday. Bones heal at a fairly predictable pace; players usually return between four and eight weeks. Burnett will have to take it easy, but assuming there is no serious trauma to the eye itself, he should be able to start getting into baseball shape before that magic number is reached. Still, Burnett will almost certainly start the season on the disabled list.
Ryan Howard, PHI (Achilles surgery)
After Howard saw Dr. Myerson, additional information came to light. He had a small procedure to clean out stitch and surrounding tissue; the stitch was an internal one but the integrity of the Achilles repair is not compromised. This is the key: if the repair was significantly compromised, Howard may not have been able to make it back this year. Fortunately, this was not the case. During the procedure, Dr. Myerson consulted with infectious disease specialists, which revealed that Howard had an infection and the first baseman was placed on antibiotics. With news that the tendon is not compromised, the biggest issue is keeping the wound clean and not infected. Recovery from Achilles surgeries are so long and have so many ups and downs that there is no true timetable on Howard’s, but this could be seen as a relatively minor blip in the process.
I spent a lot of time trying to come up with a rationale for the Phillies' decision to commit $125 million to Ryan Howard's ages 32 through 36 seasons 20 months before a decision point on doing so. The ones I see fall into two categories: soft factors, such as keeping a perceived key player happy, fending off two years of stories about Howard's impending free agency and showing the fan base that the team will keep its most popular players in Philadelphia; and poor player-evaluation skills: using runs batted in as a primary measure of player value, not taking into account the career path of players with Howard's skill set and badly misreading the replaceability of players like him.
No combination of these factors can justify the contract. Howard is a good, not great, player, a mix of obvious skills — his ability to hit for power and against right-handed pitching — and obvious flaws — a contact rate that limits his ability to reach base, middling defensive skills, terrible problems against left-handed pitching. The package makes him an asset as he moves through his prime, and he has been a key contributor to the Phillies' success since 2006. He has never been the best player on his team, and now, he is no better than the third-best Phillie, and could be rated lower depending on what kind of years Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth have. The Phillies have missed badly on Howard, committing maybe 20% of their payroll down the line to a player who will be contributing, at best, 70% of the time at the plate and not at all in the field.
Putting new valuation into action to evaluate the big bopper's big extension.
Just days after my two-partseries introduced the new MORP to evaluate baseball contracts, the Phillies provided me with an excellent opportunity to put it into action by signing Ryan Howard to a five-year contract extension yesterday.
The Rockies excuse themselves from the last LDS, while the Phillies reap the benefits of players used to best effect.
If you followed last night's in-game roundtable, you got the visceral reaction to Jim Tracy's decision to allow Huston Street to face Ryan Howard in the ninth inning with the tying runs on base and two outs. (You got something similar if you follow my Twitter account, @joe_sheehan.) In the interest of analysis, let's let the data do the talking this morning.
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.