Ryan Howard Flips and, Kind of, Flops

Contrary to what the headline says: I have no footage of Ryan Howard actually doing a flip. If you do, though, that’d be cool.

But in all seriousness Howard isn’t what he used to be. We all know that. He’s only posted a wRC+ mark over 100 once in in the past three seasons. And, thanks to injuries, coupled with his dwindling production, he’s only surpassed the 20-homer mark once during the same span. But, despite his middling output, Howard’s still been useful versus right handed pitching – meaning he’s been useful in a fantasy platoon, something that was noted in his Fangraphs+ profile. [Shameless plug, sign up for it next year. It’s cheap, and awesome.]

Pairing someone of Howard’s ilk with another righty masher was a strategy that was somewhat a platoon’s lover’s dream. Unfortunately, if you chose that route, Howard probably didn’t pull his weight.

Year PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+
2011 459 13.7% 25.5% 0.266 0.370 0.550 0.284 144
2012 186 10.8% 29.0% 0.247 0.333 0.457 0.204 104
2013 230 8.7% 24.3% 0.302 0.357 0.522 0.220 137
2014 459 10.5% 26.1% 0.221 0.305 0.353 0.132 84

Howard’s production versus right handed pitching was markedly different this season. Both power and average disappeared into the ether, and for some reason showed up versus left handed pitching, a rare occurrence.

Year PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+
2011 185 6.5% 29.7% 0.224 0.286 0.347 0.124 74
2012 106 4.7% 42.5% 0.173 0.226 0.378 0.204 60
2013 87 3.4% 44.8% 0.173 0.218 0.321 0.148 45
2014 189 10.1% 37.0% 0.230 0.323 0.447 0.217 116

Howard’s work versus left handed pitching this season is his best since 2010, the year in which the league seemingly adjusted and began stifling his production.

It’s an interesting twist, though. Since 2010, Howard’s production versus right handed pitching is the only thing that has kept him above water. So of course his production versus lefties was going to buoy his season this year.

If you were to look solely at batting average, you might think he was extremely lucky BABIP wise, otherwise, how could he have possibly done this? Well, he trimmed his strikeout rate … a lot, walked a little more, and somehow found his power stroke, one that has eluded him for quite some time.

From 2011 – 2013 Howard amassed 16 home runs versus left handed pitchers in 387 plate appearances. He hit 10 this season over 189 plate appearances. To put it another way: over the previous three seasons, Howard left the yard once every 24 plate appearances; that numbers shrank to roughly one every 18 plate appearances this season. And perhaps the best news in that tidbit is the map of where said homers left the yard.

The most vivid memories of Howard I have are him staying on an outside pitch and whipping his bat through the zone to send the ball flying over the left centerfield wall. His defiant finish was just icing on the cake. Maybe it’s because he was healthier than recent years, but opposite field home runs were more present this year. That’s a good thing, perhaps more so considering more than a few came off same side pitching. It’s not good however, that those opposite field dingers came with a dramatic decline in his ability to pull the ball effectively, something shifts probably have a little to do with.

***

Howard, more than likely, will never be “back”. He’s probably not hitting 50 home runs again; 40 either. Even thirty seems like a longshot given his injury history. And even if he is able to stay healthy, he’s going to have to be able to piece together his 2013 line versus right handed pitching and his 2014 line versus lefties in order to have a better than above average chance at getting to thirty.

In a game of comprised of random luck, scouting reports, and nearly unlimited data, Ryan Howard hitting righties but flailing versus lefties seemed like a given in April. It wasn’t, though. Considering sample size issues and his track record, though, it’s probably prudent to expect the numbers to flip to their normal places next season.

We hoped you liked reading Ryan Howard Flips and, Kind of, Flops by Landon Jones!

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Landon is a senior writer at The Fantasy Fix. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter (@joneslandon).

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