Ryan Howard‘s success this season is a key to the Philadelphia Phillies 2013 season. Over the next few weeks, I will be taking a look at the most important factors involved in a return to MLB prominence for the Phillies. This is the first chapter of the keys to success series.
One of the reasons the 2013 Phillies were such a disappointment is because of Ryan Howard’s absence in 91 of their 162 games. His injury while recording the final out in the 2011 NLDS summed up the Phillies 2012 prospects perfectly. In the at bat, Howard grounded out to seal the 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Ryan came up lame and never even made it to first base. He fell to the ground and clutched his newly ruptured Achilles tendon, and in one at bat the Phils were officially eliminated from contention in 2011, and unofficially eliminated in 2012.
Historically, Ryan Howard has put up the kind of numbers that people not interested in sabermetrics drool over, posting monster numbers of home runs and RBI’s. As he has gotten older, he has begun to turn into an Adam Dunn-type power hitter, which means he usually bombs the ball or strikes out (his career K% is 27.8%, extraordinarily high). Howard has reached the 40+ home run plateau 4 times in his 7 full seasons (not including 2005 or 2012). Since his 45 home run 2009 campaign pitchers have figured out Howard. There is a simple playbook to striking the big guy out: stick to a healthy diet of off speed pitches and keep the ball low and away.
If the Phillies have any hope of a playoff berth this season then the Phillies need the basher to be back to his old self. In other words, 35 home runs for Ryan is a good place to start. What the Phillies missed last season was his annual August – September power surge that carried the team into the playoffs on multiple occasions. Does Ryan Howard still have the ability to accomplish his former Herculean feats of power? I believe that he does.
Just don’t hold your breath for 40. I’m not sure opposing pitchers will allow Ryan to mash 40 homers ever again, since everyone seems to have the playbook on him. Ryan’s career average is 15.67 plate appearances per home run, but in the last few seasons that number has been a shade above 20 AB per home run, which seems like a reasonable ratio based on past performance and age regression. If Howard has regressed to one homer per 20 PA, then its just a health game. Mathematically speaking, the more at bats he gets the larger the chance to mash. For reference, 700 at bats projects out to 35 home runs.
His batting average is more important than the homers, believe it or not. Nobody expects the big man to hit .300 like he did in his MVP 2006 season, but an improvement on his .219 BA and .295 OBP in 2012 is an absolute must. For Howard to be a threat he needs to be hitting in the .260+ range, and optimally speaking, anything north of .270 would be gravy. If Ryan can’t bring that up, he really will turn into Adam Dunn.
My real life, no fake fan optimism prediction, since you obviously asked for it:
Ryan Howard: 150 games, 640 AB, 32 HR, 110 RBI, .255 AVG