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Phillies Blog Articles - August 2011

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...

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:

IT IS THE RYAN HOWARD SHIFT!!

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.

IT'S THE RYAN HOWARD SHIFT.

Chase Utley defeating the shift
by Scott Butler 8/11/11

Lost in the midst of yesterday's Phillies comeback was a routine single by Chase Utley in the sixth inning. This one seemingly insignificant hit showcases an important yet largely overlooked fact: he hit the ball to the opposite field.

See, prior to this season Utley was slowly becoming a dead pull hitter. Teams noticed this and started putting on a Howard-esque shift. It's one thing when a slugger like Howard gets the shift, but quite another when more of a contact hitter like Utley sees the shift.

Hitting third in the lineup, Chase Utley is expected to have a decent average with a high number of doubles and 20-30 homers. In order to be productive with 30 or less home runs, Utley cannot afford to lose hits due to a shift, but that is exactly what happened since he was pulling balls at a high rate.

This year has been a different story. Utley is hitting the ball to left field more routinely. The more he hits the ball to the opposite field, the less of a shift he sees, the higher his average becomes, the more he produces, and the better the Phillies will be. Maybe it's not that dramatic, but you get the point.

I went to fangraphs.com to see just how much has changed. The below graphs show Utley's percentage of hits to left, center, and right field for his career and in 2011.

Utley Career

Utley 2011

Prior to 2011, over half of Utley's hits (52%) were pulled and only 16% went to the opposite field. In 2011, Utley's pull percentage has decreased by 5 points and his opposite field percentage has increased by 8 points.

The following graphs show a slightly more significant change when you compare 2010 vs. 2011.

Utley 2010

Utley 2011

In 2010, 57% of Utley's hits were pulled and only 15% went to the opposite field. Utley's pull percentage in 2011 has decreased by 10 points and his opposite field percentage has increased by 9 points.

That means roughly 10 less hits out of 100 to right and 10 more to left. Teams are going to notice a change like that and it will force them to play more of a standard defense, opening even more hits to right field. Essentially, hitting more balls to the opposite field allows Utley to pull MORE balls.

It also tells you that Utley is staying on the ball longer and taking what the pitcher gives him. That formula should lead to even greater success down the road...

Who is the most consistent Phillies starter: Halladay, Lee, or Hamels?
by Scott Butler 8/13/11

As the Phillies roll along in their ridiculous season (on pace for 106 wins), don't forget that it was Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels who got us there. Even when the Phillies weren't hitting, they were rarely further than a couple hits away from tying the game. The Phillies record is a great example that if your pitchers keep it close, good things will happen.

Last night's game was a perfect example. Cole Hamels barely hit 90mph on the gun and had no control and no luck, yet he limited the damage and only gave up three runs. Hamels stunk, yet he gave the Phillies a chance.

I thought it might be interesting to see how Halladay, Lee, and Hamels compare. Which of the three studs is the best at "bending but not breaking?"

Perhaps the best way to judge consistency is to examine who is the best at avoiding the "bad" outings. So, I looked at each start and charted the outings in which they gave up three or more runs. Note that Halladay and Lee have 24 starts each and Hamels now has 25. The below chart shows you how many times each pitcher has given up 3 runs or more, 4 runs or more, and 5 runs or more.

Roy Halladay
3+ runs 9 times
4+ runs 4 times
5+ runs 2 times
Highest run totals: 5, 6

Cole Hamels
3+ runs 7 times
4+ runs 3 times
5+ runs 2 times
Highest run totals: 6, 7

Cliff Lee
3+ runs 12 times
4+ runs 7 times
5+ runs 4 times
Highest run totals: 5, 6, 6, 7

Here now is a breakdown of who was the best in each of the categories:

3 or more runs
Hamels - 7
Halladay - 9
Lee - 12

4 or more runs
Hamels - 3
Halladay - 4
Lee - 7

5 or more runs
Hamels - 2
Halladay - 2
Lee - 4

In this analogy, Hamels has been the most consistent and Lee the least consistent. You can see that Hamels has given up two runs or less in 18 of his 25 starts, or 72% of his starts. The Phillies offense has to love those numbers. I never forget to remind you that I picked Hamels to win the Cy Young award, and this provides some points in his favor.

We may have to revisit these numbers in October, because it will be awfully tough to beat these starters 4 times in a 7 game series.

Phillies should coast to best record ever
by Scott Butler 8/16/11

Hard to believe that after 20 straight games it's been 2 full days without Phillies baseball. Did it sink in during your time off just how good the Phils are?

I hope you realize that when all is said and done, the 2011 Phillies will probably be the best Phillies team ever. The Phillies can literally sleepwalk into the playoffs, they are a virtual lock to win the NL East, and they can hit cruise control and still have the best record in team history.

The Phillies 77-41 record puts them on pace for 106 wins. With 44 games left, here's what they need to do to reach certain milestones:

To reach .500: they need to go 4-40
To reach 97 wins (last year's win total): they need to go 20-24
To reach 100 wins: they need to go 23-21
To tie the franchise high 101 wins: they need to go 24-20
To set a new franchise record with 102 wins: they need to go 25-19

So, in order to become the best team in their 128 year history the Phils just need to go 25-19. Heck, they can do that with me batting cleanup!

How to be a great baseball hitter
by Scott Butler 8/17/11

I found the secret to becoming a great hitter and it is opposite of what most hitting instructors will tell you. Most hitting experts will tell you not to attack the baseball. They will tell you lay off high pitches. And they will tell you to utilize your legs as much as possible. Let me be the first to tell you THOSE EXPERTS ARE COMPLETELY WRONG.

Here is the secret to hitting: Attack the baseball, swing at all high pitches, and don't use your legs.

I have been playing competitive baseball my entire life and wasn't successful until I listened to my own advice. Follow my three steps and you will instantly improve your hitting game.

Attack the baseball

What "attacking the ball" means is that when you decide to swing, get to the ball before the ball gets to you. In other words, when you see a pitch you like, lean into it as you swing and attempt to hit the ball as far out in front of you as possible. The reason for this approach is that it allows you to utilize the weight of your body and that weight drives the momentum of the ball as you hit it. This also leads into the next point:

Do not use your legs

Your legs are instrumental muscles in holding the weight of your body, but they do NOTHING to help your swing. Think about it, how can your legs make you swing faster and hit the ball harder? In fact, on low pitches your legs actually HURT your swing. It's just common sense!

Your arms, shoulders, and hands do all the heavy lifting, so use them. As you attack the ball, use the power of these muscles and try to keep your legs as still as possible so they do not detract from your swing.

Look for high pitches

High pitches, ESPECIALLY pitches above the letters of your uniform are THE BEST PITCHES TO HIT. Many hitters are not successful with high fastballs because they use their legs too much and wait too long to swing. But if you use my approach you will hit any high pitch a long, long, way. By lunging at the ball and using all arms and hands, you are able to utilize your total body weight and absolutely mash the ball.

I hope you weren't buying any of this because I MADE IT ALL UP.

Calm down, now. I thought I'd just have a little fun with you here. Actually, this is quite possibly the worst hitting advice possible. There was a method to my madness, though. I will reveal it to you in the next article....

How to be a great baseball hitter...response
by Scott Butler 8/18/11

I just got a taste of how it must feel to be booed by 40,000 Phillies fans when I received reaction to my last article on how to hit a baseball. Boy, nearly a hundred Phillies fans tore me up like a paper shredder. These people obviously did not read the last line of the article.

See, I kinda made it all up. Just for farts and giggles I decided to provide some truly ignorant hitting advice. My advice was nearly as bad as Peter's advice in Family Guy to "lift with your back in a twisting, jerking motion."

As bad as my advice was (and it was bad), in a way it was completely legit advice. Let me explain.

I practice what I preach every time I play….wiffle ball. And, oh yeah, it's only going to work with someone like me who has Muscular Dystrophy. Huh?

Well, in my particular version of Beckers MD my arm strength isn't so bad, but I get zilch from my legs. I've been trying to extract every ounce of muscle out of my legs for years, yet to no avail. I tried different stances, altered my swings, and tried bigger strides to gain momentum, but nothing worked.

I finally said, "screw it," and decided to forget my legs altogether. The improvement was instant and dramatic.

I now lunge at every pitch (Step 1 from my advice), try to use all arms and no legs (Step 2), and look for nothing but high pitches (Step 3). My approach allows me to keep my hands back and utilize all of my arm strength. It is no exaggeration to claim that my distance has increased by 30% to 50%.

It's actually amazing when you realize just how big a role your legs play in hitting a baseball, and the same goes for pitching. Granted my example is based on wiffle ball experience, but the physics are essentially the same.

You would have to see it in action to best understand how it works, so maybe I will get this on video for you. Hmmm, I guess a video camera would help. Well then, maybe not tomorrow, but sometime soon I will show you what I mean.

Hope you weren't too offended, but it was all in good fun.

Worried about Phillies bullpen? Don't be
by Scott Butler 8/22/11

To say the late innings have not been good for the Phillies in the past week would be an understatement. Roy Halladay blew Tuesday's lead, Ryan Madson blew Friday's lead, Antonio Bastardo blew Sunday's lead, and Lidge topped it off with a loss on Sunday. Having only lost 1 game with a lead in the ninth all season, the Phillies did it 3 times in a week with their ace pitcher and two best relievers.

Oh no! And the Braves cut the Phillies lead to 6.5 games! What are we going to do?

Calm down, now. I know Phillies fans galore look at our bullpen and then look at the Braves bullpen. Then proceed to have a coronary. It looks really bad, but there is absolutely no reason to panic. Here are three reasons to ease your worries about the pitchers from each of the three blown saves.

Roy Halladay

Halladay was 52-0 when inheriting a ninth inning lead until the debacle this week. He had no problem holding the lead in his MLB best 7 complete games. He just had a bad inning. Leave it at that.

Ryan Madson

As bad as Madson looked on Friday, he had a lot of bad luck. Espinoza's hit dropped in front of Mayberry due to the "no-doubles" defense. Johhny Gomes' RBI single might have been a double-play if Martinez was not drawn in to guard against a bunt. And Ian Desmond's game-tying single was a blooper. And although the grand-slam looked bad, at least he didn't walk in the run.

Antonio Bastardo

Bastardo made one bad pitch yesterday. That's it. He still has ridiculous numbers and looked unhittable until the homer on Sunday. He's fine.

We are not approaching a bullpen apocalypse just yet. So, go to your happy place and forget about the three nightmares you had this week. Halladay is still the best pitcher in baseball, Madson is still one of the best closers in the game, and Bastardo is still possibly the best lefty reliever in the majors. It takes more than one bad game each to change that.

Who can Phillies least afford to lose: Rollins, Utley, or Howard?
by Scott Butler 8/25/11

The injury bug has infected practically anything wearing a Phillies uniform this season. Rollins is the 11th player to join a DL club that includes 5 position players, 3 starters, and 3 relievers. Heck, even the Phanatic got knocked on his keester this year. With the best record in baseball and a nice little cushion on the Braves, the Phillies can withstand the storm for now. As with the recent earthquake, the Phillies can consider it little more than mild discomfort.

But we don't want injuries when October rolls around, so I started wondering who the Phillies could least live without. Let's say the Phillies lose Rollins, Utley, or Howard for the rest of the season and throughout the playoffs (which isn't a stretch since all have been hurt at some point). Who can the Phillies afford to lose least?

Let's examine each player, case by case.

Jimmy Rollins

Jimmy Rollins is unquestionably the worst hitter of the three. At this point in his career Rollins has good but not great speed, is a below average hitter, and has limited power. But losing his defense (Rollins has the second best fielding percentage EVER) is a huge loss. Martinez and Valdez have held their own, but they don't stabilize the middle of the infield like Jimmy and do not evoke the same trust from Phillies pitchers.

You also lose your leadoff man. Rollins is not, and never has been, a prototypical leadoff hitter, but he is the best candidate to leadoff and he allows Victorino and Polanco to bat where they belong.

Then there is his leadership. There is not one single player in that dugout who is better suited to lead than Rollins. It is impossible to quantify how much of an effect he has on the team, but the Phillies immediately improved the minute Rollins become the unofficial leader after Bobby Abreu was traded in 2006. Since that point the Phillies have a .620 winning percentage. Seems like darn good evidence to me.

Chase Utley

Think back to when it was possible we might not see Chase Utley at all. It was a bleak time. The team performed well, but everyone knew it would be immeasurably tougher to win in the playoffs. Number three hitters don't grow on trees, and Utley is the perfect #3 hitter. His absence disrupts the entire lineup and removes a huge chunk of the fear in opposing teams.

Offensively, Utley hits for a decent average, can run a little, and can drive the ball well, but is nowhere near Howard in the power category. The drop-off in offense between Utley and Valdez or Martinez is roughly 50 points in average and a bunch of home runs and RBIs. No doubt it would hurt to lose his bat.

Utley is no better than average at second base, but he works well with Rollins at an extremely important position. Even so, Valdez, Polanco, or Martinez can play at least as well defensively.

Ryan Howard

Howard haters see the strikeouts, poor average, and apparent lack of adjustments. But, as they say, "there is no defense against a home run." Removing Howard from the lineup eliminates the one true power threat. Howard doesn't average 30+ homers and 120+ RBIs each season by shear luck. Life without Ryan Howard is simply not as good.

However, if there is one position that be filled the easiest, it is 1st base. Utley, Ibanez, or Mayberry could play first base in place of Howard and give Charlie Manuel a lot of flexibility. Mayberry is the obvious choice, and he may actually not be as dramatic a decline offensively as we once thought.

Phils are better without all three?

To get a gauge of how the team plays with and without Rollins, Utley, and Howard, I looked at the Phillies records with and without each player from 2006 through 2011. 2006 was a good starting point since that was the first time all three players started together.

The numbers say the Phillies are better without Rollins, Utley, or Howard. Overall as a team, the Phillies have a .574 winning percentage and an average of 93 wins since 2006. Here is how they perform without Rollins, Utley, and Howard:

  Record Without Winning Pct without Avg. wins in full season without
Rollins 74-55 .574 93
Utley 87-60 .592 96
Howard 38-22 .633 103


The Phillies have the same winning percentage with or without Rollins, but they are better without Utley and WAY better without Howard. I don't trust any statistic that suggests the Phillies would be a significantly better team without Ryan Howard, but it does make you think…

The Verdict

Considering their impact on the field, at the plate, and in the clubhouse, as well considering who will replace them, in my mind the Phillies can least afford to lose Jimmy Rollins. I feel like a crazy man even as I write this, but the overall impact on the team might be greater without Rollins.

 

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