The Howard debate finally answered: It's the Ryan Howard shift
by Scott Butler 8/5/11

I failed in my last article to end the feud between Howard haters and Howard lovers. But I did discover exactly where Howard ranks among NL sluggers.

Though he leads the National League in RBIs, we found in part one of the Ryan Howard RBI debate that Howard is the fourth best "run producer" in the league. He leads in RBIs (87) and is tied for fifth in home runs (24), but only ranks 49th in batting average (.252), 18th in slugging percentage (.490), 21st in OPS (.831), and 2nd in strikeouts (120).

Those numbers don't add up. How can a player with a poor average and just OK overall power numbers be the 4th best in the league at knocking in runs? I mean, look at Jose Bautista who is batting .321 with 33 homers, 73 RBIS and 65 strikeouts. Howard's average is 69 points lower, he has 9 less home runs and 55 more strikeouts, yet he has 14 MORE RBIs. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

Howard haters are coming out of the rafters to answer this question. "IT'S BECAUSE HE ONLY CARES TO HIT WHEN GUYS ARE ON BASE!" they will tell you. You might hear, "Howard only cares about home runs, RBIS, and money, so of course he doesn't hit with the bases empty!" It is possible Howard is that much of a jerk, but I propose a different answer:


How could we be so blind! As you'll see in a second, it couldn't be more obvious. With one or less guys on base, teams go straight to the Ryan Howard shift; they load up infielders on the right side and Howard cannot even buy a hit. With two or more runners on base, teams can't use the full shift and Howard absolutely DESTROYS them.

Check out these numbers:

Ryan Howard statistics: shift vs. no shift

  FULL SHIFT (Empty, 1--, -2-, --3) NO SHIFT (12-, 1-3, -23, 123)
AVG .226 .373
OBS .320 .428
SLG .466 .600
OPS .786 1.028

With no shift, Howard's average is 147 points higher, his OBS is 108 points higher, his slugging is 134 points higher, and his OPS is 242 points higher. Unbelievable.

Here is the overall breakdown

With Howard Shift (Empty, 1--, -2-, --3)
388 PA, 341 AB, .226 avg., 21HR, 38 RBI, .320 OBS, .466 SLG, and .786OPS

No Howard shift (12-, 1-3, -23, 123)
91PA, 75AB, .373 avg., 3HR, 49 RBI, .428 OBS, .600 SLG, and 1.028 OPS

The Howard shift is the answer

The Howard shift offers the perfect explanation. I dare you to find a better answer as to how he leads in RBIs with such a poor average.

Wait, here come the Ryan Howard haters again. "If the shift is so effective, why doesn't Howard ever slap it the other way or bunt?"

Quit it! Sure, there are occasional times where that might be a good idea, but it just aint worth worrying about. The fact is, nobody produces more than Howard with the bags filled.

However, a good portion of the time he is an enormous hole smack dab in the middle of the lineup. If the shift is as powerful as it seems, it places an awful lot of pressure on his teammates to get on base. As good as his numbers might be, he has to do better. If the shift kills him that much he needs to find a way around it.

At the very least, it gives us something to think about.

Now back to the main question. Why does Howard win the RBI crown year after year? It isn't luck, laziness, or greed.


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