The Big Piece is showing signs of his 2009 form. Photo by: Ian Riccaboni
Pop quiz: Over the last seven days, which Phillie has led the team in on-base percentage? How about the last 14 days? 30 days?
If you guessed Ryan Howard, you cheated. Or figured it out by reading the title.
Over the last 30 days, Howard has reached base at a nearly .400 clip (.398), good for 17th in the MLB and tenth among NL players. In his MVP 2006, Howard reached base at a .425 clip and, in his fantastic 2007 follow-up, reached base at a .392 rate. Obviously, in such a small sample, Howard may not and likely isn’t going to be able to sustain this clip but it has put him in the positive in fWAR (0.6) for the year and has put him ahead of Albert Pujols in all triple-slash categories except for an 8 point OBP deficit.
On Monday, our Pat Gallen suggested that General Manager Ruben Amaro took shots at Howard. But Howard’s last 30 days has changed the direction of his season and has shifted the conversation a bit.
Last week, I wrote of Ben Revere‘s change of fortunes and how it was time for Phillies fans to put Revere’s slow April behind them. In the last 30 days, Revere is third in the MLB in steals with nine and is hitting .296/.321/.333. Like Revere, Howard has quietly turned his season’s fortune around in a big way in the same time period.
In the last 30 days, Howard has hit .330/.398/.534, putting together impressive play and contributing positive value in the field as well according to the unstable in super-small sample sized UZR. Howard isn’t mashing home runs, but his eight doubles in this time period has led the team, good for sixth in the NL, and two triples, good for sixth in the NL as well. His ten walks, none of which were intentional, are good for 21st in the NL, while he is 12th in BA, tenth in OBP, 13th in OPS, 14th in wRC, 10th in wOBA, and 12th in wRC+.
You’re probably thinking: “Ian, what is your point? Domonic Brown is first in a lot of those categories and is higher in just about all of them than Howard.”
My point is: if you limit this exercise to just NL first basemen, Howard has been one of the best in the NL in this stretch. In the last 30 days among NL first basemen, Howard trails only Freddie Freeman in each of those categories listed. That’s right: Howard has been among the best NL first basemen in the last 30 days. Kind of surprising, no?
I leave you with a hypothetical: so much has been made of Howard’s contract. No matter which way you slice it, even if Howard was the best NL first baseman and continued at a pace at or better than this, he wouldn’t be worth the $27.6 million average annual value. But compared to some of the other big contracts recently handed out to big time sluggers, does this stretch make you feel any better? Is it starting to change the perception?
Looking at these numbers, it could be worse. Howard and Pujols are both 33 years old but have produced very similar numbers this year, both OK, but neither close to expectations and neither worth anywhere near $15 million yet alone $24 or more million. At 32, Josh Hamilton‘s production has stalled with a change of scenery while Prince Fielder at 29 has been hitting well but is slightly off the pace of his career numbers.
Look – this doesn’t absolve the Phillies for giving Howard the extension they did. However, they may have avoided larger traps in both money and length. The Howard contract was bad when it was signed, nobody will argue that, but this recent stretch gives Phillies fans hope that something close to the Ryan Howard they knew and loved from 2005-2009 may be emerging.