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There’s a reason why people get hung up on a guy like Ryan Howard.

Playing long ball in fantasy, of course, is a losing game. Power guys are often slobs who whiff, make errors, and fail to get on base. But you knew that already.

This is kind of who Ryan Howard has always been, but when he was going good, Howard would hit for decent average and do extremely well in the slugging and OPS categories. When he started going bad, which was about four years ago, these stats began to shrivel up like Tommy Lasorda’s sack and Ryan Howard became a not-very-productive, and not-very-popular, fantasy baseball player. Gettin’ nerdy with it, the stat page says he’s chased more pitches outside the strike zone in the past two seasons than at any point in his career.

But the storyline of Ryan Howard as the poster child for the Old Folks Home Phillies is getting kind of, well, old already.

We know that all signs point to the Phils stinking on ice. We know their offseason has resembled a scene from “Toxic Avenger IV.” We know that the book on Howard is a best seller around the league burned on bonfires in Philly: Can’t hit lefties, can’t hit breaking balls, and really can’t hit breaking balls in the dirt thrown by lefties. And we know that Howard, who has missed the majority of the past two seasons with various injuries, has not exactly taken care of himself, what with the weight and the not working on his swing.

In each of the last two Springs he swore up and down that he was healthy, and that this would be his turnaround year, and then he turned around and got injured again.

Well, heading into 2014, he’s doing it again, but this year he is obviously leaner and reportedly in the best shape he’s been in years. It appears as though he can actually “run” (read: jog as if he’s trying to catch a subway) the bases, and in his first Spring Training game against some schlubs who looked like they were pulled from a nearby softball game, Howard went 2-2 with a HR, and both hits were against – you guessed it – left-handed pitching. In his second game, against the Blue Jays, another knock, this time with a ribbie, against lefty J.A. Happ.

Here’s the most positive and interesting sign of all: Howard has actually asked new manager Ryne Sandberg if he can have a steady diet of left-handers during Spring Training. Well lookie here! Ryan wants to eat his vegetables! Good boy, Ryan!

I can’t give you any statistical mumbo jumbo as to why Howard will bounce back, and I promise you this column is no homer-fanboy wet dream.

My thought is that the loosey-goosey, leave-’em-alone-and-let-’em-play mentality of Charlie Manuel, who gets an eternal pass from me for 2008, was not the right medicine for Howard. Leaving Howard alone to work it out for the last four seasons worked about as well as Champ Kind’s advice to let Ron and Veronica work it out during their epic slugfest in “Anchorman.”

I hate the hiring of Sandberg as manager, but it is apparent that he is firmly up Howard’s butt with some simple advice: If you have a good eye and get a good pitch to hit, it doesn’t matter if you’re facing a lefty or a righty. Duh! And all this talk from Sandberg and Ruin Tomorrow Jr. about a platoon? If Howard struggles against lefties, you could see Darin Ruf in there, but for some reason the Phillies hate Ruf so I think Howard will get every chance to figure it out.

For some perspective, it might be helpful to pull the case file of another left-handed hitting first baseman, one Mr. David Ortiz.

Like Howard, Ortiz put up some arcade-game-type numbers in his late 20s (119/47/148/.300 in 2005, at age 29 for Big Pappy; 104/58/149/.313 for Howard in 2006, at age 26). And, like Howard, Ortiz began crapping the bed around his age 33 season.

Follow that trajectory for Oritz and you arrive at today, where he’s coming off a year in which he posted 84/30/103/.309 with an OPS of .959.

Where that trajectory takes Howard, now at age 34, is the kind of mystery that would make Rustin Cohle craft little figurines out of beer cans.

If he stays healthy, and I think there’s an 80 percent chance that he will, I project stats on par with what Ortiz did last year: 86/36/107/.289 and not as close to 200 punch-outs as one might expect. In a 5-cat league, it might not be a bad idea to punt on first base in the early rounds and go with Howard later; he won’t be nearly as useful in anything more complex than that.

RoHo is in my Top-15 1B’s. I’d have a lot of trouble taking Billy Butler, Michael Cuddyer, Allen Craig, Brandon Belt or Fat Adams, er, I mean, Matt Adams in front of him.

Howard will be decent in 2014. The Phillies, not so much.

From Around The Web

  1. stonepie says:
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    oh hi pete!

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @stonepie: Don’t you mean “HAI”?

  2. Rob Brown says:
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    Good info for draft day.

    As for picks who do you like Tanaka vs Cespedes?
    My pitching stinks and I am trying to build it up a bit.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Rob Brown: I’m intrigued by Tanaka. A pitcher who can hit 95 mph in this day and age is TOIT and quite rare. Cespedes could bounce back but you can do better in the OF.

      • Rob Brown says:
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        @Pete Nice:

        Thanks man you the greatest!

        As long as I beat my brother (who I am sure is reading this post ) this year!

        Amazing to me the radio silence before the draft. Then wham the whole league is thunderous.

  3. RandomItalicizedVoice says:
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    Hard for me to accept the comparison of Ortiz to Howard. Ortiz is a much MUCH better overall hitter, whereas Howard has always been more of a slugger who had a few good years in average when he first came up (which was when he was 24, and he wasn’t a fill time starter until he was 26…which incidentally was his only truly very good AVG season as a full time player). Yep, Ortiz had an awful season in 2009 average wise, but that was really his only season where he was a real drag on average. If you are giving Howard an “80% chance to stay healthy”, I’d give him about a 5% chance to hit .289. It would truly shock me if he did.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @RandomItalicizedVoice: I hear you and agree – Ortiz is a better all around hitter than Howard. I do however think that Howard’s average has been ravaged by his atrocious hitting vs. lefties, which has gotten worse through the years. He developed horrible habits at the plate that were never corrected and therefore festered up until now. He’s up against the wall now, he knows that he’ll get platooned if he stinks it up, no matter how much he makes.

  4. sn24 says:
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    I traded Joe Mauer and Cole Hamels for Wilin Rosario and Mat Latos, how did I do? I missed the draft and did not want either of those two players so I think I got a good deal, especially since I really like Latos.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @sn24: I think you did well. You upgraded at C, although I dig that Mauer has 1B in some formats, like Yahoo. As far as the pitchers, you traded injury for injury, although Hamels’ (shoulder) is more disturbing than Latos’ (knee). Plus Latos is on a better team.

      • sn24 says:
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        @Pete Nice:

        The eligibility for Mauer is nice but I have Goldy and Fielder so it didn’t make much of a difference for me in that regard. Still looking to trade Fielder though. Thanks!

        • Pete Nice

          Pete Nice says:
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          @sn24: Dang that’s quite a pair!

        • fitz says:
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          @sn24: Eligibility at 1B wasn’t the point. The point is he will get everyday AB’s and play everyday as opposed to Rosario.
          Still a decent deal for you.

  5. de nachos says:
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    As a Phils fan it’s maddening how often Ryan puts himself in a bad count. He could save time by just asking the ump to award him two strikes. To stay with the Ortiz comparison, in 2013 Ortiz had 37 0-2 counts and 57 1-2 counts. In 2012, he 26 0-2 counts and 79 1-2 counts, but he batted an astounding .291 with 1-2. Last year Howard had 25 and 48 at bats in those coutns, respectively. Almost as many bad counts as Ortiz with 250 less at bats. U.G.L.Y. Going back to 2011 (the last time he had +500 at bats). And in 2011 (the last time he had +500 at bats) it was 49 and 80, batting .113. I mean, nobody (except Matt Weiters apparently) can hit 0-2, but Howard at 1-2 further exposes his inability to hit to all fields or recognize those pitches off the plate. That being said, I’m hoping this will reverse jinx him.

    Just for she’s and gee’s, Goldy pitchers’ count AB’s were a big 54 and 94, but that includes a .204 average and 3 HR with an 0-2 count – makes me think there could be a little regression if pitchers get a better book on how to punch out Goldschmidt this season.

    thanks for the article. I’m rooting for the Big Piece.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @de nachos: No thank YOU. You made my brain hurt but that’s some great statage. I realize I’m going out on a limb for Howie but at least I’m goin out there!

      • de nachos says:
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        @Pete Nice: mine too. I was in the stadium for his backward K against the Beard in NLCS 2010. That empty pit has never been filled. Sorry for the mid-post stroke where I repeated myself.

    • goodfold2 says:
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      @de nachos: goldy doesn’t seem to do that stupid watch the first pitch b.s. as much as some of these guys of course. i’ve never once understood this (an at bat isn’t a deep stack, slow blinds poker tournament wherein it might be a decent idea to pass up small advantages now for bigger ones with more value later) as EVERY PITCHER EVER wants to get ahead in every count, which means they are ALL trying to throw strikes on first pitch.

  6. Shake N Bacon says:
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    I could see Howard being a flyer near the late rounds, hoping his power comes back this year. Play the matchups and he might not be a bad deal on draft day. What’s the earliest you’d take him in a 12-team league Pete?

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Shake N Bacon: I’m seeing him going really late, like the ugly girl standing in the corner at the end of a high school dance. If you get to 14-16 and he’s still on the board, and you could still use a 1B, I’d get him off there.

  7. down469 says:
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    Howard will lose playing time, not due to injury, but when the Phils face a lefty. He’s been 25-50% worse than league average against lefties in each of the past three seasons. Too ineffective to play full time.

    Use him against righties only and your upside is Napoli-esque production for 70% of your games (you’ll have to find a suitable replacement for the rest of the time), though I would guess what you’ll actually get is closer to someone like Anthony Rizzo.

    If you have the extra roster spot, Howard could be a solid fantasy platoon with someone who others may similarly avoid drafting but has strong numbers against righties, like Ike Davis or Adam Lind.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @down469: I could be wrong but I say he doesn’t lose as much as people think.

      • Aubrey Plaza's Pillow says:
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        @Pete Nice: the point is you should WANT him to lose those at bats, otherwise you could actually know he’s not playing when he’s playing lefties. I would rather know when to bench a guy (do to him not even playing) rather than be tempted to use a guy who’s that bad against lefties (might as well not risk him getting injured as much since he wouldn’t be playing those games as well). Like Choo. He should be benched in real life as well as fantasy against lefties.

  8. NJY says:
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    With all due respect, what on god’s green earth were you smoking when you wrote this article and predicted a stat line anywhere close to 86/36/107 .289 for Howard? Also, where can i get some.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @NJY: The average might be a reach but I think 30 dongs is achievable, and a cleanup hitter with 30 dongs practically stumbles into 100 ribbies.

    • Montezuma's Revenge... right now says:
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      @NJY: thank you.

  9. Luke says:
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    lol yea freaking right. There is almost a 0% chance Howard comes even close to what Ortiz did last year.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Luke: Almost!

  10. Brett says:
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    As a Phillies fan I never thought about the possibility that Manuel’s managing style being a problem with Howard. But I think you might be on to something there. When he first came up, and even that year he supplanted Those, he hit well. Meaning going to all fields with not just power but an intelligent swing of it was required. Plenty of doubles in the LF gap back then. He was playing hard and hitting smart because he was trying to win a job. After that was over and he got the big contract, perhaps he got complacent and HR hungry (not a fat joke) in a relaxed clubhouse. I personally like the Sandberg hire, he’s won at all levels. Hopefully you’re right and the manager change shows a difference.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Brett: I love Manuel and clearly his managerial style has some value given his ability to get to and win a World Series. My thinking is that style stopped working for Howard, and that Sandberg’s – he’s apparently a freak on paying attention to detail – will be the tonic.

  11. swinging3.0 says:
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    no wayyyy….

    is his back really bouncing?

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @swinging3.0: It was bouncing before, he probably had reverse Man Boobs.

  12. seems like Lasorda’s sack would be like an old gym sock.. you know, if you think about it.

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Murph’sahn: If you squint and look at it the right way you can make out Mickey Hatcher’s face in it.

  13. Chris says:
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    Hello Pete, Thanks for the article.
    Which you be your 3 keepers from this group:
    Edwin Encarnacion, Stanton, J Upton, Pedroia, or Yu Darvish
    Thanks

    • Pete Nice

      Pete Nice says:
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      @Chris: Edwin, Stanton, Darvish

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