How Does First Baseman Ryan Howard Fit Into Team’s Plans For Future?

Howard Smith – US PRESSWIRE

As part of an offseason series, I’ll be reviewing each player on the Philadelphia Phillies and how they fit into the team’s plans for the future. This is the second such article in the series.

When the Philadelphia Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million contract extension early in 2011, it all but locked up the big slugger for life in Philly.

Howard had averaged 46 home runs and 136 RBIs per season for the five previous seasons, and that’s a ridiculous line for any player. The Phillies then saw Howard set career lows in runs scored (81), hits (141), slugging percentage (.488), and OPS (.835) in 2011.

He tore his Achilles tendon in the final playoff swing of the season and missed much of 2012 rehabbing. When Howard did return, he was off his game – hitting just .219 with a brutal .295 on-base percentage, a .718 OPS, and 99 strikeouts in just 260 at-bats.

He ended the season the same way he ended 2011 – on the injured list. This time, Howard broke a toe on foot and missed the final several weeks of the campaign.

It’s unfair to judge him too harshly because he still wasn’t at one hundred percent; what that does mean, however is that Howard enters 2013 with a lot to prove.

After all, this is a hitter who had fallen from 45-50 home runs per season from 2006 through 2009 to just 33 and 31 in 2010 and 2011. His strikeouts are up, his walks are down, and like always, his baserunning and defense are extremely poor.

Howard still has four years left on his deal at an average of nearly $24 million per season, and there’s a $23 million team option waiting for 2017. If the Phillies want to return to the offensive powerhouse they were in 2007 and 2008, they are going to need a bounce-back season from Howard.

Expecting 45-50 home runs is probably asking for too much, but what the team will need is Howard to step back into the cleanup spot in the lineup and solidify it with at least 40 home runs and 120 RBIs. Regardless of how ridiculous his contract is, he’s not going anywhere, and the Phillies need him to return to full strength.

They also need him to regain the batting eye that helped him draw 108 walks back in 2006 and 107 in 2007. Howard’s walk total has steadily decreased over the years, and he went from a 16.5 percent walk rate in ’07 to just a paltry 8.6 percent in ’12.

Meanwhile, his strikeout rate rose from 25.7 percent in ’06 to 33.9 in ’12. He hit more ground balls than ever before this past season, as well as a fewer percentage of fly balls. Howard swung at a greater percentage of pitches outside the strike zone in 2012 (37.0 percent) than ever before, and he took a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes (56.9 percent) than any other year.

Again, Howard can’t be judged too much based on 2012 because of the extenuating circumstances that surrounded his season. That said, if The Big Piece doesn’t show some serious improvement in 2013, that’s a big cause for concern.

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