MSNBC’s next episode of “Locked Up,” featuring Ryan Howard.

Sabermetrics is not just the science behind baseball, it is a way of life…

Not really though, for me anyway.  But I do believe in what they do.  And one of things that I feel strongly about is how overrated Ryan Howard has been over his career. 

See, it isn’t as though Ryan Howard is a bad player, he is actually quite good.  I have no problem with him getting MVP love in 2006.  Howard posted very good numbers that year.  And while I think Pujols had slightly more overall value, Howard was far from a horrendous choice.  Although when do MVP voters actually make horrendous choices?  They seem to choose the right player less often then I would like, but they don’t usually choose “average” players for the award or anything like that.

So Albert Pujols may have been the most deserving candidate in 2006, but Howard wasn’t a terrible choice either. 

The problem with Ryan Howard is that he adds nothing defensively.  Each of the last three years, Howard has cost his team runs in the field with “FRAA” figures of -7, -4, -14.

So to make up for his lack of defensive prowess, he must tear the cover off the ball.  And not just for 2/3’s of the season either.  Howard must post above an OPS+ of 126 (last seasons number) in order to be a great player.

View any metric that takes into account “total package” and see how they value Ryan Howard’s all around game. 

Last three season’s numbers:  

  Win Shares 2008: 25 (tied for 27th in MLB)

Win Shares 2007: 26 (tied 23rd in MLB)

Win Shares 2006: 31 (tied 7th in MLB)

Regarded as one of the best players in the game, Howard, according to this one statistic, has been great only once in his three full years.  But the other two years were good, just not great.

Win Shares actually values Ryan Howard much greater then other metrics such as WARP1.  They have him so low that I can’t even bring myself to admit that he is THAT overrated.  His WARP1 was actually 160th in all of baseball in 2008. 

But Howard’s WARP1 in his 2006 season fell in at tenth, very similar to his Win Shares total of that year.  So BP does value Howard’s great season, as being just that, GREAT. 

The metrics just do not love Ryan Howard.  And I don’t blame them one bit.  Howard is a first baseman (more easily replaceable).  Howard is not a good defensive 1B (even more replaceable).  Howard struggles mightily against lefties (a flaw that other lefties have, but not to this extent).  And Ryan Howard, last season, was a terrible player for a few months (April and June).  Terrible!  Metrics basically weight that the same as when he is hitting the ball all over the yard in the latter months of the season.  And I agree with that.   

So anyway, after expressing how I feel toward Ryan Howard the player.  To reiterate:  A good player, but not great.  I can now get to why I wrote this in the first place. 

Ryan Howard was locked up for three years, $54 million. 

The aspect of this deal that I love is that the long term committment is semi-absent.  Three years for a position players good-great years is the best time to commit a boat-load of money.  Howard will turn 29 in 2009, and will be at the age of 31 in 2011 when the contract expires.  Howard should have good numbers throughout those years, and may even post an MVP quality year over that period.

The fact that the deal runs only three years is also good because for a one dimensional player, aging well isn’t exactly in the crystal ball.  If this deal would have been a Teixeira like deal, it would have been a terrible move.  But it isn’t.  It controls Howard for three good years and cuts him loose (most likely as I cannot envision a scenario where giving Howard another contract after this is up, would be the best thing for the organization). 

The money may be a little much for a one dimensional player, but whatever, he is good, and the Phillies don’t lack finances.  Plus, Howard seems to be loved by the fans, so this should score some PR points. 

If the contract were twice as long, I would have ripped the deal apart.  But a relatively short-term contract, committed to a good player, for what should be his “prime”years, well, I cannot disagree with that.   


  1. mikeeff

    i guess it’s pretty obvious to anyone watching him play that he’s a butcher at 1st base- and i’ve only seen him maybe 25 games, maybe more? i just don’t understand how you sabre guys that aren’t actually the author of one of these metrics decide which ones you like and which ones you don’t. i’m not trying to be confrontational because this is something i’ve thought about.
    do win shares suit for one player and not another ? warp,
    warp1, vorp–i’ve never even heard of FRAA. doesn’t it get a bit overwhelming? i guess my question is which ones does one trust and if you trust it for one player , then does one for all?

  2. PWHjort

    The Phillies now KNOW what their payroll is going to look like (roughly) for the next 3 years. Things like, is his salary going to be 18 or 14 million after the arbitration hearing go out the window. They’ll be able to construct their roster better now that they know what Howard will make. They also now have 3 million they didn’t know they’d have for 2009, so maybe they can go out and get Ohman.

  3. PWHjort

    To answer the question: “do win shares suit for one player and not another ? warp, warp1, vorp–i’ve never even heard of FRAA. doesn’t it get a bit overwhelming? i guess my question is which ones does one trust and if you trust it for one player , then does one for all?”

    It all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Win Shares are a pretty effective when doing MVP debates because they’re a function of how many games a team wins (all the team’s players win shares = 3* number of teams wins. period.). When you’re comparing 2 players I prefer VORP or RAA. FRAA is basically how many runs you save your team in the field compared to average. It’s the best measure of how good a fielder is (if you’re not comparing players with a large differential in playing time). As a rule of thumb, 10 runs = 1 win, whether they’re hitting, fielding or pitching runs.

  4. PWHjort

    They already had him locked up. They just bought out his arbitration years so that nobody embarrasses them self in front of an arbitrator.

  5. joefromnewhampshire

    Mike, I actually created WARP1, just didn’t tell anyone about it on here 🙂 But these stats, whether it is Win Shares or Warp1, take into account both aspects of a players game, offense and defense. So they seem to be pretty good measures of a players overall impact. I mean, I just have to have faith that the REAL numbers guys are crunching those numbers together accurately. I just really like to stray away from stats that are TOO dependent of ones teammates, whether it be RBI, or runs, wins, whatever.

  6. joefromnewhampshire

    pwh, I didn’t even realize that Howard was already secured all three seasons though. I knew he would have had arbitration hearings, but I just figured they gave him a third year or something. I guess that I thought wrong 🙂

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