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The Ultimate Ryan Howard RBI debate: Part 1
by Scott Butler 8/1/11

Have you noticed a high level of Ryan Howard hate in Philadelphia? There is an considerable amount of hate for Ryan Howard, who may eventually be the Phillies all-time leader in HR and RBIs. Listen to them and Howard is an overpaid player who can't hit a slider, swings for the fences on every pitch, plays mediocre defense at an easy position, and strikes out at an incredible rate.

Don't they know that Howard leads the league in RBIs (82) once again?!

Howard has led the league in RBIs in 3 of his 5 full seasons and finished no worse than 4th (last season). He also led the NL in homers twice and finished no worse than 8th (also last year). If Ryan Howard is that terrible, why does he lead the league nearly every year in RBIs?

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?! I JUST CAN'T DECIDE. I NEED HELP!

My father, a serious Howard hater (though he won't admit it) gave a simple and easy explanation. Howard gets more RBIs because he has more guys on base and hits well with runners in scoring position.

Sounds easy enough, so I did some research. The deeper I looked, the more complicated the answer became. So complicated that I'm going to break this up into two articles. Let's begin with the what and finish with the why and the how.

MEN ON BASE FOR RYAN HOWARD

Does Howard have the most runners in front of him? Yes. I compared Howard with the 11 other players who rank in the top twenty in both HR and RBIs. Howard has the second most at-bats with men on base and has the most AB's with runners in scoring position (121), with 6 more than the next guy.

Summary: Howard has the most guys on base, but not by a huge margin.

HOW WELL DOES HOWARD PRODUCE RUNS?

To discover how well Howard drives in runs I determined his RBI percentage (RBI's per at-bat) and compared that to the top 20 leaders in RBIs and in HR:

Howard's RBI% is 4th among both the top 20 HR leaders and the top 20 RBI leaders. When I gave each player the same number of AB's as Howard, he still ranked fourth in RBIs.

We can now say with a fair amount of confidence that despite having the most RBIs, Howard is the 4th most productive player in the NL. Now let's examine his overall power numbers.

HOWARD'S POWER NUMBERS

RBIS: 2nd (81)
HOME RUNS: T-6TH (21)
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: 23rd (.476) - BTW, Victorino is 10th at .521
OPS (ON-BASE + SLUGGING): 23RD (.476) - Btw, Victorino is 10th at .521

Summary: Howard is high in HR and RBIs, but he is woefully low in general power numbers

HOWARD'S OTHER RANKINGS

BATTING AVERAGE: 153rd (.153) - 16th among top 17 HR leaders and 18th among top 20 RBI guys
STRIKEOUTS: 2ND (115)

Summary: This is where Howard is the worst because he doesn't get on base and strikes out a lot.

CONCLUSION

I'm ashamed to say that those billions of statistics do absolutely nothing to end the Ryan Howard love or hate debate. At the end of the day, Howard is getting paid $20 million a year to be the 4th best run producer in the league with a low average and a lot of strikeouts. Take it or leave it.

Ryan Howard haters: If you hate strike out machines who swing for the fences and you aren't satisfied with the 4th best run producer, keep on hating.

Ryan Howard lovers: If you can handle the obvious drawbacks of Howard and respect a guy who is one of the best at knocking in runs, keep on loving.

My thought on it is this: Howard is one of the best players in the league, but we expect him to be and pay him to be THE BEST. Ryan Howard is well within his right to be satisfied with his RBI totals as they are the ultimate measure of a hitter. But he has clear deficiencies, and I hope he sees the average, strikeouts, and inability to hit sliders as challenges to overcome in his quest to improve the Phillies and become the best hitter ever.

There is a little more to the Ryan Howard story and we will take a look later this week...

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