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2014 Fantasy Baseball Risk/Reward: Ryan Howard

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Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was once one of the top power hitters in baseball, with at least 45 home runs in four straight seasons (2006-2009) and at least 31 home runs with 108 RBI in every season from 2006-2011. But he tore his left Achilles’ tendon on the team’s final out of the 2011 postseason, which kept him out for the start of the 2012 season and he did not play after July 5 last season after undergoing surgery on his left knee.

The past two seasons have essentially combined to form a full season of production for Howard (25 home runs, 99 RBI and a .445 slugging percentage over 609 combined plate appearances-151 games), along with a .244 batting average and a .307 on-base percentage in that time. His durability will still be a big concern for fantasy baseball owners this year, but could Howard be a value pick on draft day?

Howard’s struggles against left-handed pitching reached a peak in 2013, with a .173 batting average and 39 strike outs in 81 at-bats, but on the flip side he hit .302 with a .522 slugging percentage and eight of his 11 home runs against right-handers. So Howard is best-used as a platoon player at this stage of his career, particularly when taking into account his recent injury issues, and the Phillies would surely like to get Darin Ruf in the lineup as much as possible after his solid 2013 season (14 home runs and 30 RBI in 251 at-bats).

There is positive news surrounding Howard’s health, with Phillies’ manager Ryne Sandberg and general manager Ruben Amaro both expressing optimism about his ability to stay healthy and be a key contributor again this season. I would not expect anything less than a positive outlook regarding Howard from anyone in the organization right now, so the comments from Sandberg and Amaro should be taken with a grain of salt.

Even in his prime, and leaving out the .313 batting average he had during his 2006 MVP season, Howard was never a major contributor for fantasy owners in anything other than home runs and RBI. Even his .266 batting average in 2013 was driven by an elevated BABIP (.349), and with a contact rate that has only been above 70 percent once in the last six seasons even that mediocre average is not likely to be repeated in 2014.

Howard may wind up being drafted higher than he should be based on name recognition, but at this point he is not a top fantasy first baseman in mixed or NL-only leagues. Better health could bring a rebound to 20-25 home runs for Howard this season, but that is hard to rely on and I think his value will be greatest as a daily league option when the Phillies are slated to face a right-handed starter.

Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24