Ryan Vs. Adrian

Some discussion during the Keith Law chat today about: who is better?  And who will be better?  Out of Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez?

Statistics are what I believe in, so there isn’t too much that differentiates what I believe from what the next “statistician” believes.  As long as we are looking at roughly the same type of numbers.  And Ryan Howard being the most overrated player in baseball is an opinion that I share with other baseball minds.  But if you read my writing, then you know this already…

But right now, the two players are far from light years apart.  In the future, Gonzalez should separate himself from Howard.  But as of now, both are good players.

These players are actually incredible examples of how fans and analysts underrate the quality of teammates that surround a star player. 

Ryan Howard plays in a large market, with a rabid fan-base, and some talent around him.  Ryan Howard hits home runs in September, in meaningful games.  Ryan Howard plays in the postseason, and has recently.  Everything that the media pounds into our head would lead us to believe that Adrian Gonzalez is not even close to the same caliber of player that Howard is.

But it is not true.  It is because the facts are simply not right.  Mostly based on failed analysis.

Adrian Gonzalez, in 2009, may play in a situation that is the complete opposite of Howard.  Probably as close as it is going to get to being night and day. 

Gonzalez plays in a pitchers park, the most difficult park in baseball for hitters to perform in.  Ryan Howard plays in a bonafide hitters park, a place where fly-balls turn into home runs, sometimes anyway.  I don’t mean to downplay what Howard does, he does actually hit the ball quite hard.  But the Padres, Adrian’s team, might be the worst in baseball.  While Howard’s team should win around 88 games or so.

But Adrian Gonzalez’s career road OPS is .904, really good.  Howard’s road OPS over his career is .956, not to far from his home numbers, implying that Howard has been a great hitter regardless of where he has played.  But Philly has helped a little. 

But the numbers are a little skewed. 

One reason being that home numbers should not be ignored.  However, in Gonzalez’s case maybe they should.  There is clearly a much harder task that hitters face when hitting in Petco, than in any other park.  I have disputed that Rice’s home numbers shouldn’t have been the only numbers that voters should have viewed.  You can’t just say that “is what he was,” and that “his numbers were clearly good, only because of Fenway.”

There is the possibility that Rice felt comfortable at home, leading to better numbers.

I cannot prove that, but cannot exclude it either.

So Howard has hit great everywhere.  Gonzalez has struggled hitting in a canyon, but then again, every hitter that has hit in that canyon has struggled.  And that is the reason that we have adjusted statistics nowadays. 

Another reason why the numbers are skewed is because Howard has two of his prime seasons included, while Gonzalez is basically just beginning his prime. 

Simply put, Howard is in what should be his prime right now. 

Gonzalez’s has just begun. 

And something that cannot be ignored is Adrian’s glove-work vs. that of Howard’s. 

And that is a part of why Adrian was significantly better when reviewing the final WARP1 results from 2008. 

Gonzalez’s fielding at first was way better than that of a replacement player.  Howard’s was basically what a replacement player would do with the glove at that position.

Of course, WARP liked Gonzalez’s bat a lot more to, because, you know, he didn’t suck for two months.  So the cumulative input into winning games that Gonzalez had, was greater (although there was a month in which Gonzalez had some struggles, comparatively) than Howard’s total. 

WARP1 also enjoyed Gonzalez’s production more so than Howard’s in 2007, as well.

Basically, Howard has been declining some, and Gonzalez has been improving.

Of course, 2006 has to be included to be fair.  Howard was clearly better that season.  A great year for Howard, and the only year that MVP consideration is warranted. 

But Adrian Gonzalez is the more complete player.  His glove is superior.  And Gonzalez has much more room for improvement.  Howard should be just about what he has been the past few seasons, moving forward (the next couple years anyway).

For the future, there is no doubt that Gonzalez should be the better player.

Currently, it is still relatively close, but I give the nod to Gonzalez.



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.