Monday, July 18, 2011

14 comments Bill Conlin Joins Joe Morgan As a Member of the Ryan Howard Excessive Fan Club

Two things before I break down Bill Conlin's vehement defense of Ryan Howard:

1. We don't have a "Ryan Howard" tag on this blog? How is that possible? I'm pretty sure there were entire portions of Joe Morgan chats that dealt with Ryan Howard and Morgan's love of Howard. Very disappointing.

2. I think Ryan Howard is a great first baseman and one of the best first basemen in the National League. Nothing that follows is an indictment of how great of a first baseman he is. What follows is an indictment of Bill Conlin and his defense of Ryan Howard in light of Howard not making the All-Star team. Is that really worth getting worked up over Howard not making the All-Star team? It is an exhibition All-Star game. Granted he probably wants to play in it because, it is the best exhibition All-Star game in major sports, but that's another discussion.

Bill Conlin defends Ryan Howard against the evil doers in Philadelphia and he uses the most modern comparison to Howard, a player from the 1930's, as well as the non-all-encompassing statistic RBI's to help prove the point that Conlin may not know what decade it is. I'm shocked by the amount of comments who liked his methods and that were agreeing with Bill. You can agree with his sentiment, but his method was shockingly poor. A great example of this poor methodology to prove what a great player Howard is by going back to the 1930's.

Thanks to Matt for emailing me about this article. I always appreciate a good head's up on a bad article.

ON THE DAY AFTER the All-Star Game was played in Phoenix without Ryan Howard, this column is directed at the haters and bashers who have been coming out of the woodwork in larger numbers than usual.

They are predictable as smog in a heat wave.

My state is currently having a heat wave. The heat index was 108 a few days ago. It is currently sitting at a temperature in the 90's as I sit in my mom's attic and type this. (checks window) There's no smog. I'm confused now. Perhaps I should be a meteorologist so I can understand this reference better.

They pretend to be knowledgable baseball fans, but trip themselves up every time because they are dead wrong.

Bill Conlin misspelled the word knowledgeable in a sentence criticizing people for not being as smart as they think they are. Some would call this ironic.

Bill Conlin pretends to know who these haters are and pretends to know they aren't knowledgeable baseball fans, but he tripped himself up because he is dead wrong.

(There is nothing like a writer who takes a sentence containing an opinion and tries to pass it off as fact. It's like me saying, "There are people who think Albert Pujols isn't the best player in baseball. Those people are stupid and dead wrong." It's an opinion for God's sake, not a fact! I think maybe someone spit in Conlin's oatmeal the morning he wrote this, he's very angry)

And egregiously stupid.

And Bill is a poor speller. I will let you decide his level of egregious stupidity on this.

Boy, talk about a shot across the bow. Calling these Howard-haters not real knowledgeable (except misspelling this word) and then calling them egregiously stupid. It sounds like he took personal offense to Howard not making the All-Star game. Which, because it is an exhibition game, is egregiously stupid.

I hear the reason why he was not voted into the All-Star Game by the fans - and Phillies fans basically ignored him while stuffing the ballot box for an injured Shane Victorino - is because the National League has all these great first basemen.

I like how Bill puts "great" in parenthesis. It's not like the reigning NL MVP or All-Star game MVP play first base or anything. The National League does have some great first basemen, even Albert Pujols didn't make the All-Star game this year. Let's look at the NL first basemen using basic easy statistics that Bill Conlin prefers (he LOVES RBI's) and some more advanced statistics that more reasonable humans use. All stats are as of the All-Star break.

Gaby Sanchez: .293/.374/.472, 13 home runs, 50 RBI's and an OPS+ of 132
Ryan Howard: .257/.353/.475, 18 home runs, 72 RBI's and an OPS+ of 127
Prince Fielder: .297/.418/.575, 22 home runs, 72 RBI's and an OPS+ of 169
Joey Votto: .324/.438/.507, 13 home runs, 55 RBI's and an OPS+ of 159
Albert Pujols: .280/.357/.500, 18 home runs, 50 RBI's and an OPS+ of 140

So I know Bitter Bill is being sarcastic, but there was some competition for first base in the All-Star game this year. Fielder and Votto deserved to make it and perhaps Howard got snubbed in favor of Gaby Sanchez, but someone had to represent the Florida Marlins in the game, so that makes some sense to have him on the team. Adding Howard and having 4 first basemen on the roster probably doesn't make sense. So basically, shut the hell up and quit crying.

And RH is no longer one of them . . .

That's not at all what is being said. Bill is taking this a bit personal. What is being said is three first basemen in the National League are playing better than Howard through the first half of the year. It is easier for Conlin to make a big hysterical, dramatic conclusion rather than just accept this isn't a dig at Howard from now until the future, but just the facts based on his first half performance. Bill prefers to make a big hysterical, dramatic conclusion because then it makes it sound like those who are critical of Howard are that much more unreasonable. Bill passes this criticism of Howard as a complete indictment of his play when that may not be entirely true.

So, chew on this: Prince Fielder went to the All-Star Game and captained a Home Run Derby team that was blown out of the water by a couple of real hitters named Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano, who put on one hell of a show.

Chew on this: The Home Run Derby doesn't fucking matter when pertaining to this discussion. So which league won is irrelevant.

Chew even harder on this: You don't put players on the All-Star team simply to participate in the Home Run Derby. Maybe Bill Conlin would, but a reasonable person wouldn't.

Chew even harder on this and try not to choke: Prince Fielder won the MVP award and hit a home run in the All-Star game. Clearly, he deserved to be there regardless of how his team performed in the Home Run Derby.

Chew even harder on this and I hope it eventually gives you the shits: The performance of a player in the Home Run Derby (which I don't watch for one reason...Chris Berman. The fat turd who pretty much makes all things unwatchable) isn't indicative of how well that player performed during the first half of the season. So Howard's hypothetical performance in the Home Run Derby doesn't support his case for making the All-Star team.

Not that Fielder is chopped liver. He is, after all, tied for the league RBI lead with some slipping, already over-the-hill guy named Ryan Howard.

Nobody said Ryan Howard was over-the-hill. He didn't make one All-Star team. Stop crying about it and just accept there were three better first basemen (or one first baseman who needed to represent his team on the squad) in the National League.

But let me mention that Howard bats cleanup for a first-place team that leads the majors in wins

This is so very, very irrelevant. Unless Ryan Howard started pitching, hitting and fielding with no other players on the Phillies team and I just happened to miss it. There is no one player that causes a team to lead the majors in wins. I'm guessing the Phillies pitching staff may have had something to do with the Phillies leading the majors in wins.

and has the biggest division lead at the break in either league.

Yet again, incredibly irrelevant. What always interests me is sportswriters who hate advanced statistics tend to use statistics like RBI's, wins, and (in this case) division leads to try and prove a point. What's interesting about this is these can be misleading statistics. Basically, I think Bill Conlin hates advanced statistics because they don't allow him to easily mislead his readers.

Based on Conlin's statement you would think, "Man, the Phillies are really dominating their division" when this is true, but the lead is only 3.5 games. The other divisions are really close at this point. So while acknowledging how dominant the Phillies are, having the biggest lead in a division at the All-Star break shows how close the other divisions are. In fact, the second place team in their own division has the third best record in all of baseball.

So while is factually correct and the conclusion he wants you to reach, the Phillies are a great team, is also correct, they haven't run away with the division quite yet. I'm getting way off-topic because none of this really has much to do with Ryan Howard not making the All-Star game and the Howard-haters that Bill Conlin spits venom at. So regardless of the Phillies division lead, it doesn't necessarily contribute to Howard's All-Star worthiness.

Oh, but he's a butcher with the glove (all of four errors),

Errors aren't the best way to determine how good a player is at a position. If I never go out of a five foot radius from my position then I may never commit a lot of errors, but I am also not getting to a lot of balls, which means I may not be a great defensive player. I'm not saying Ryan Howard is a bad defensive first baseman. I'm saying basing his defensive prowess only on how many errors he has committed is just so incredibly short-sighted. There's more to it, even if Bill Conlin wishes there weren't.

Therein lies the problem. Bill Conlin wants to continue to use some misleading statistics to back up his argument, while others (me) would prefer he supplement his argument with other statistics. That's the entire problem with the whole Sabermetrics v. Traditional statistics argument. We are yelling at each other in different languages, so there's no chance of an understanding being reached. Bill doesn't like UZR supplementing how many errors a player commits because he doesn't understand UZR and doesn't care to. I don't like just using errors because I know of other statistics which can supplement the "errors" statistics to determine a player's true defensive worth. Bill won't hear any of this and I dislike willful ignorance.

and is not providing close to acceptable return for the $125 million salary. (And since that contract just kicked in and he's on pace for 140 RBI, maybe you should wait a while on that.)

This tells me that Bill Conlin doesn't even understand the criticism of Howard's contract and why some people project it to end up being a poor contract. The entire point of much of the criticism of the contract is that it did just kick in and he turns 32 years old in the offseason. So while it is hard for any player to justify this large of a contract, the fact it just kicked in is what makes people question the intelligence of the contract. These people project Howard won't age well as when evaluating he is going to be paid $125 million for 5 years. So saying the contract just kicked in and telling us how many RBI's, as if this proves anything of value, is misunderstanding the criticism of Howard. It's not this year the critics have a huge problem with Howard's contract, but it is years 3-5 which seem to be their concern.

Here's a typical email from a regular who has been on Howard's case since Day 1. He posted it just as the Phillies were about to explode for that 14-1 destructo of the Braves Sunday:

The Phillies are paying Howard more than the Sox are paying Adrian Gonzalez a professional hitter. That would be funny if it wasn't so embarrassing.

I do think this is a bit overboard. Howard isn't that bad, though at this point I would probably take Adrian Gonzalez over Howard.

I replied: " . . . There's not one [censored] player worth what he's being paid . . . That's why there should be a statue of Marvin Miller in front of the MLPA headquarters."

Actually, this is completely wrong. It is all relative to how much other players are paid to play the game of baseball professionally of course, but there are players on every MLB team worth what they are paid.

Jose Bautista makes $8 million this year. He has 31 home runs and an OBP of 0.468. I think he's worth what he is being paid.

Jair Jurrjens is paid $3.25 million to go 12-3 with a 1.87 ERA and 1.066 WHIP. He's not worth that amount of money?

Jacoby Ellsbury gets paid $2.4 million to hit .316/.377/.490 with 28 steals and 11 home runs. He's not worth that amount?

I could go on and on, but it is all relative to how much other players get paid for playing the game of baseball professionally, not to other professions. Bill Conlin is probably not worth as much as he gets paid if you compared his salary to every other profession. So the defense that "there's not one damn player worth what's he paid," isn't a great defense of Ryan Howard because it probably isn't true.

Didn't Bill Conlin just semi-defend Howard's contract by saying he was on pace for 140 RBI's? Now, Howard is like every other player and not worth this contract.

This was the generic chant from the Tab-and-Scrapple Choir.

Let's keep the references to the post-Richard Nixon era please.

He doesn't hit for high enough average, he never hits in the clutch (See Mike Schmidt abuse files from the 1970s). He needs to bunt or slap the ball to left against the shift. Yada, yada, yada . . .

Who are these people to criticize a player who Bill Conlin just said isn't worth his contract?

One guy even invoked the despicable, undecipherable WAR stat.

This despicable WAR stat is just so much worse than the completely misleading RBI stat that Bill Conlin will base his entire defense of Ryan Howard upon. We all know a statistic is only useful unless it is really, really easy to figure out how to calculate that statistic. You know, that's why Calculus and any higher math over basic algebra isn't taught in high schools anymore. Numbers used in Calculus are SO HARD to figure out, so the entire course is despicable and undecipherable.

That's a totally bogus acronym for "Wins Above Replacement."

It's not a bogus acronym. It actually is the acronym.

It presents a patentedly unsupported hypothesis that measures the "projected" performance of an "average" Triple A player called up to replace Major League regular A . . . I'm laughing too hard to continue.

Translation: I'm too old and lazy to figure this statistic out so it must be terrible.

WAR isn't perfect, but what it does is compared players to a baseline other player. It sets a definite standard upon which to compare two or more players. RBI's does not do that. This is an incredibly basic thing to understand. RBI's has other variables that impact it when comparing two players, or even the same player between two years, while WAR tries to measure a player's performance using the baseline of a replacement player. The replacement player may be hard to understand, but it is a consistent baseline being used, which is very helpful when objectively comparing two or more players.

For example, Adrian Gonzalez had 101 RBI's in San Diego last year and he currently has 77 RBI's. Is he just that much better of a hitter this year or has his RBI total increased because he's had more players on-base to drive in while playing for the Red Sox? I would argue he has more runners to drive in and that's why his RBI's have increased. He's on pace to smash his career record for RBI's in a season and that has to do with the amount of runners on-base he had the opportunity to drive in. Using only RBI's, you could come to the conclusion Gonzalez is a better hitter this year. This is because RBI's depends on how many runners are on-base, so comparing Gonzalez's RBI's to Jose Bautista's RBI's isn't going to be an easy comparison due to each player having had different RBI opportunities presented to them while at-bat.

You saw what happened last season when Howard missed 19 games with an ankle sprain and was off-form the rest of the season, yet still managed 31 homers and 108 RBI.

I will give the home runs to Conlin, but how many RBI's would Howard have had if he came up to the plate with no runners on-base? What if he came to the plate every at-bat with runners on-base? His RBI total would be affected by the variable of how many runners were available to drive in. This is an easy concept to understand, unless you are willfully ignorant about learning new things.

In the words of Edwin Starr at Woodstock: "WAR, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin.' [Hunh!]"

In the words of Bengoodfella: "You are factually inaccurate yet again."

This another reason Bill Conlin probably hates new-age statistics, because they prove his pre-conceived notions or his assumptions incorrect. See, Bill is too fucking lazy to do research or learn new statistics. He is also too lazy to be accurate in his pop culture references. In this case, he quotes Edwin Starr who he claims was at Woodstock singing the hit "War." Bill passes up factual correctness in an attempt to be cute. He fails.

Edwin Starr was not only NOT at Woodstock, but the song "War" came out in June 1970. Woodstock was in 1969. The song was released by the Temptations, but not sung by Edwin Starr at Woodstock. So unless Edwin Starr has a time machine we haven't heard about and he was able to go back in time and play on-stage at Woodstock and erase all evidence of his appearance, then Bill Conlin is not only making a dated cultural reference, but he is also factually inaccurate...which is par for the course.

Sure, this is a nitpicky point, but it goes to the heart of what irritates me with sportswriters who hate new-age statistics. I think they hate them because it would prove many of that sportswriter's assumptions to be wrong.

So let's move on to some serious power hitting by the man considered to be the greatest all-around hitter in franchise history. That would be Hall of Famer Chuck Klein.

This is idiocy. Bill Conlin is comparing Ryan Howard to a guy who played 81 years ago. Jackie Robinson had not even broken the color barrier in 1944 when Chuck Klein retired.

Klein had a 1930 for the ages. So did the Phillies. He batted .386, but failed to win the batting title in a National League consumed by an orgy of offense. He scored 158 runs, flogged 250 hits, ripped 59 doubles, eight triples and 40 homers for a gargantuan 170 RBI.

They must have been playing slo-pitch softball because the Phillies' team batting average was an incredible .315. That offensive juggernaut managed to lose 102 games in a 154-game schedule.

If I had the time, I would say this is another reason why "wins" are a misleading statistic. How terrible was the Phillies pitching in 1930? It turns out it was pretty bad. Ray Benge won 16 games with a 4.78 ERA. Ray Benge won 11 games with a 5.70 ERA. I wish Joe Morgan and Murray Chass could see how these wins were completely dependent on the amount of offense the Phillies had. If the Phillies didn't hit the shit out of the ball, how many games would this team have lost? 120 games?

Howard is tied for the NL RBI lead despite being an island in the stream. Until Chase Utley came back after missing 2 months, there was a mostly inept revolving No. 3 hole in front of him and a No. 5 hole committee that underperformed.

Howard has 208 plate appearances with runners on-base out of 397 plate appearances. He's had runners in scoring position 133 of those plate appearances. So Howard seems to have had plenty of opportunities to drive runs in. In fact, I read somewhere he led the majors in at-bats with runners on-base, but I don't have the data to support this (or couldn't find it).

For the sake of comparison, Adrian Gonzalez has 403 plate appearances with runners on-base in 217 of those plate appearances. He's had runners in scoring position in 131 of those plate appearances. So Gonzalez and Howard have fairly similar plate appearances with runners on-base. I wouldn't say Howard has lacked for RBI opportunities.

So Howard has played very well, there's no doubt about that, but he's had plenty of opportunities to drive runners in, so it isn't like he was performing RBI miracles or anything.

In 1930, Klein had the best protection since the invention of the kevlar vest. He batted No. 3 with Lefty O'Doul hitting .383 in front of him. The cleanup hitter was third baseman Pinky Whitney, who batted .342.

I see what Bill Conlin is trying to prove here, that Klein had great numbers with great protection, while Howard has great numbers without protection. Ignoring the idea lineup protection is somewhat of a myth, Bill Conlin is still trying to compare Ryan Howard's modern day statistics to those of a player in a season 81 years ago. I'm not sure this comparison holds up at all. It was just a different game of baseball in the 1930's.

Klein was traded to the Cubs after his fifth full season:

* The Chucker drove in 693 runs for an average of 138.6.

* Howard has driven in 680 runs for an average of 136.

* The Chucker hit 180 homers for an average of 36.

* Howard has hit 229 homers for an average of 45.8.

I am not sure anyone will argue Ryan Howard doesn't hit enough home runs or doesn't drive in enough runs. Using home runs and RBI's to prove...whatever the hell Bill is trying to prove isn't the end-all-be-all in discussing Ryan Howard. Using statistics from 1930 doesn't help the case much either.

At this point, I really have no idea what Bill Conlin is trying to prove, other than everyone who criticizes Ryan Howard sucks.

I'd rest the defense right there, but feel compelled to add that Klein spent most of his seasons here on teams in or near last place.

See, here is another part of the problem. If we are comparing a single player against another single player we want to compare these two players based on their performance and try not to count in how well the rest of the team performed. So comparing two players based simply on RBI's is misleading because it drags in the team's performance when the comparison should be made based on the performance of each individual player.

I don't have to tell you where Ryan Howard has spent his five seasons.

Which this leads me to respond that Howard has had better players around him than Chuck Klein. Which means more players on-base, which means more RBI's for Howard, which means using only RBI's to justify his greatness may not be completely accurate. The Phillies lineup does contain two ex-MVP's hitting in front of Howard for the past couple of years, so that has to be acknowledged as well if Conlin insists on comparing him to Chuck Klein.

Ryan Howard is a great first baseman, but justifying his contract by saying no player is worth that much money, mentioning his contract is just kicking in and he hasn't declined yet, and then basing the entire defense of Howard on the number of RBI's he has doesn't do a defense of Howard very much justice.

I still have no idea, other than to suckle at Howard's teat and stop all criticism of Howard by fans, what Conlin wanted to prove in this article.


rich said...

And RH is no longer one of them . . .

I'm going to go there BGF: He's not one of the best first basemen anymore. He has stopped hitting to both fields like he did earlier in his career. He's now a one trick pony: HRs and deep fly balls.

That's all he does. He gets up and hacks away. That's not what a great hitter does. He's also mediocre (but improved since his rookie year) in the field.

He's, at best, the third first baseman in the NL, but that's being generous.

and is not providing close to acceptable return for the $125 million salary. (And since that contract just kicked in and he's on pace for 140 RBI, maybe you should wait a while on that.)

With his .257 average, this means that he's leaving a shit load of guys on base (and he is). Ryan Howard deserves 25M under the same logic Jeter deserves 17M.

He hits behind Victorino (a very good hitter), Rollins (eh) and Utley (very good). I'm sorry, but he should have a lot of RBIs because two of those three guys are very good at getting on base.

there was a mostly inept revolving No. 3 hole in front of him and a No. 5 hole committee that underperformed.

Yes, but he still had a pretty solid 1 and 2 hitting in front of him. So I'm sorry, this is horseshit.

justifying his contract by saying no player is worth that much money, mentioning his contract is just kicking in and he hasn't declined yet, and then basing the entire defense of Howard on the number of RBI's he has doesn't do a defense of Howard very much justice.

Ben, this is the response that he gives first because he's a moron and second because this is the only defense you can have of Howard.

He's not a good fielder and he's become very one dimensional at the plate. He drives in a lot of runs, but he also leaves a ton of guys on base.

His strikeouts are also a huge problem because they're often in situations where there are runners on where a ground out or fly ball might advance the runner.

Ryan Howard does not deserve 25M for his play on the field. It's inexcusable and irresponsible to say otherwise. Howard only got that contract to get people to come out to the game.

JimA said...

It was Phil Collins who won 16 games for the 1930 Phillies (no, I wasn't there).

By the way, I turned off the Home Run Derby because of Berman.

Bengoodfella said...

Rich, I know you watch all of the Phillies games and in the email w/ this article Matt said a lot of Phillies fans disagree with Conlin. Maybe I am overrating Howard a bit. I think he is still one of the Top 10 first basemen in baseball. I think being the third/fourth best 1B in the NL is probably what he is, but there a few good ones. The good news is when Fielder goes to the Yankees, Howard will be back in the Top 3.

I completely left out his power struggles against LH pitchers. That's what worries me the most a/b his contract in the future. LH pitchers seem to stop some of his power.

What irritated me the most a/b Conlin's article is he was acting like Howard was performing RBI magic out there when he has had a TON of players to bat in this year. He should and does have a lot of RBI's. I completely agree with you a/b Howard having chances with the guys in front of him.

My point was that I think Howard is still a quality player, though your PoV, which I consider to be more accurate since you watch him will influence me. As quality as he is, RBI's isn't the way to tell how good of a player he is. He's had more guys on-base in front of him than A-Gon, so I would expect his RBI's to be high.

So I guess you would disagree with Conlin, huh? I think his defense of Howard was dumb and he isn't living in reality. Howard probably didn't deserve the All-Star team this year. I will say, Conlin's defense of his contract is just stupid. Saying his contract just kicked in doesn't prove much a/b his future value.

Jim, how do you only win 16 games on a team that hit over .300? Can you imagine how bad the pitching must have been?

I was one of those people who didn't turn on the derby b/c of Berman. I just can't handle the combination of him and the loooooooooooooong time it takes to finish the derby. If it were cut in half, I would like it more.

Anonymous said...

The main reason the Howard extension was rightfully deemed as one of the worst in baseball is because they still had him under control for 2 more years. You don't add 5 decline years on top of those two years unless you are getting an obvious discount. But 25 million per year is top-line money. There's no discount there. So it made no sense to incur such a long-term risk when they didn't get any obvious benefit from it. If they never extended Howard and he hit the open market at the end of this year, wouldn't it make more sense to try to use that 25 million per year on Pujols? And Fielder would likely be in for a similar pay day to Howard. Wouldn't it make sense to wait two years and see which player was worth soending the money on? And at the time there was also a chance that Adrian Gonzalez would also be on the open market at the end of this year. There were plenty of options out there, and there was no need to incur such a huge risk without the team-friendly discount. What the hell decision-maker tries to actually lock up a player's age 32 to 37 seasons at 25 million per year two years in advance at a position with body types that don't age well and is full of great alternatives? That's kind of crazy.

Howard's a fine player, but first base is loaded and there was no need to give him this money when there are some much better ways to spend that money.

Btw, guys like Conlin are probably going to screw Jose Bautista out of the MVP award this year. Bautista is having a season that is almost comparable to what Bonds did in the early part of the 2000's. But he plays on a losing team. And Adrian's Gonzalez has the basic stats that these guys love - inlcuding those RBIs. Of course they won't bother to think about the fact that Bautista has seen 60 fewer men on base than Gonzalez and that Adrian has some amazing teammates like Pedroia and Lester and Ellsbury and Youk that are the main reason the Sox have abetter record than the Jays. If Bautista had those same teammates he would also be on a powerhouse winning team.

I never understand why these stubborn asses can't see that.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, we talked about that extension when it occurred. Even to many Phillies fans it didn't make sense. You are right, extend Howard if you are getting a discount or if he is a young player who is on his way up. They had no reason to offer him an extension at that amount when they did. At worse, wait one more year or work out a contract during the final season of his contract. Howard is a very good player, but that extension never made sense to me. Of course, Joe Morgan, and now Bill Conlin defended it.

I didn't even think of the alternative way of looking at it, that there were 1B on the market who were quality and would be FAs. Even not knowing that, I didn't get the extension.

You could not be more right a/b Bautista. Tim McCarver already said A-Gon was the MVP during the ASG and I think runners on-base for a batter is going to become a bit like run support was last year for Felix Hernandez. A-Gon is having a fantastic year, but Bautista is putting up Bonds-like numbers and he doesn't have the lineup around him to bat guys in like A-Gon does. I guess that's an argument for a month or so from now, but I don't see A-Gon as more valuable than Bautista.

These guys can't see things like this because they don't want to. It would challenge their pre-conceived notions.

Matt said...

thanks for the writeup, and the shoutout. great job Ben. i will be linking your article on the Phillies blog i frequent ( there is often great debate about Howard there.

if you are building a MLB team, the first thing that i think you need is a power hitting first baseman. it's really hard to win if you are missing that. the phils have that in Howard. he hits HR's, and when he makes contact, he hits the ball hard. hard liners or long fly balls. b/c of this, he tends to outperform his normal stats with runners on base, b/c the Howard shift is mitigated. hence, he is a very good RBI guy.

while Howard is just about perfect for the Phils needs, he is not the perfect 1B. his flaws are noted here by others, and they should be obvious to see. i agree that he is a top 10 1B, but that's about it. and that's fine for the Phils.

the problem that guys like Conlin and other Howard "defenders" have is that they think that he is LITERALLY behind Pujols as the next best 1B in baseball. they are blinded by the RBI's and HR's and cannot see beyond that. that is why there is so much debate, especially here in Philly. the knowldedgeable baseball fans tend to reason with the Howard defenders, who in their ignorance call them "geeks" and "statheads" and dismiss all other viewpoints. in return, the arguments heat up to the boiling point where the two sides end up berating each other.

it's silly really. Howard is a good player, has some historically great numbers, and should be reasonably productive for a few more years. this does not make him one of the very best players in baseball, but so what?

Matt said...

here's some more good info re: Howard, courtesy of phillies blogger Bill Baer:

Bengoodfella said...

Matt, I appreciate it. I think there is debate about Howard pretty much everywhere, but I can only imagine the debate among Phillies fans. I think I probably have more respect for him than many Phillies fans do. I'm always afraid when he comes to the plate. I have to say Jonny Venters has helped some of that fear, but still, I get nervous.

I think you are right when you say when Howard hits the ball, he hits it hard. I have absolutely no proof of this, but I would imagine it does lead to deeper ground balls into the shift and some deep fly balls. Both of those lead to RBI's many times with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs.

I think if Howard didn't have that contract he would probably end up taking less heat in the future. If you base any player just on HR and RBI's then it is really, really hard to get a complete picture of that player's game. HR are great, but RBI depend on the team around a player. I see no way any person on either side could deny that. Unfortunately, I wouldn't consider Howard directly behind Pujols in regard to 1B. I think he is a Top 10 first baseman in the majors, but I think Joey Votto may have passed him in the second spot.

There's never going to be an in-between between those who favor older statistics and those who favor newer statistics, at least not for a while. They are speaking different languages so they can't even agree on the basis of which stats to use in order to compare a player, much less what those stats really mean.

I think Howard can solidly be in the middle of the Phils order for a few more years. The problem I see is if his bat does slow down a bit and he continues to struggle power-wise against LH pitchers. I see no issue with him as a person, just $25 million for him and the insistence he is one of the Top 2 1B in the NL.

Bengoodfella said...

I like Crashburn Alley. I tend to read it when writing about Phillies players. The reputation Phillies fans get, I don't get that at all from them. They tend to write well and be realistic (in my view) at times.

That was a good post. Whereas Philly fans get a rep for tearing down their stars, in this case I think some skepticism and worry should be required.

Matt said...

1B who are better than Howard, right now:

the no brainers


their #'s are better but jury still out


IMO, Howard is behind the first 6, and likely Texiera on the second tier.

Howard has also always been a better second half hitter, but i doubt her surpasses anyone from the first tier by year's end.

finally, i would rather have Howard than Konerko for the next several years, but for this year only Konerko is the better hitter.

Bengoodfella said...

Matt, right now I would put Howard right behind Tex. In 2 years, not so sure he will still be there. Of course, there's no guarantee any of the 1st 6 will either. I would put him as the 8th best 1B in the league.

A few of the guys in the second group are fairly young, so lord only knows how they will end up performing over the next couple of years. Right now though, I put Howard as the 8th best first baseman.

Of course, like you said, if Howard has a monster second half then we may end up moving further in the Top 6. It's so fickle.

Anonymous said...

I think this ranking is good evidence on how crazy it is to pay him 25 million per year. Let's say he is the 7th or 8th best player at his own position right now. I think it will be difficult for him to move up that list over the next few years. He may surpass Konerko, but some of the younger guys may pass Howard.

But anyway, he is a guy who is making top-5-player-in-baseball money yet he is only the 7th or 8th best at his own position right now. Just imagine where he would rank if you tried to do this for every player (including pitchers) in baseball. Would he even crack the top 50? I highly doubt it if you include pitchers. But even if he does crack the top 50, why would you pay the 50th best player in baseball 25 million per year? It is kind of crazy.

Paying for RBIs is stupid. Paying 25 million for RBIs is insane.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to point out that a good chunk of the stupidity with this contract is that even if Howard can maintain his current level of play over the next 4 or 5 years (which already isn't worth 25 million), the Phillies will miss out on other players who could be better investments of that money, barring a big increase in payroll from ownership. Will they have to let Cole hamels walk when he hits free agency because they are too busy paying Ryan Howard 25 million dollars oer year? I think there is a good chance of that happening. Or could SS become a problem if they don't have the money to re-sign Rollins or make a big splash with Reyes? Victorino is a very valuable player. But his salaries are escalating and he is a free agent after 2012. Will they have the resources to lock him up?

Basically what I am saying, while Howard is being paid 25 million to be a slightly above average 1B (and who knows how effective he will be 3 to 5 years from now) I think the Phillies are going to run into major trouble at other positions like SS or CF or other areas where it will be very difficult to find adequate players. Whereas 1B is usually a pretty easy place to find a stop-gap.

(I should also mention that I am unfamiliar with their farm system, so perhaps they are prepared for this and I am just ignorant of that).

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, those rankings were Matt and my opinion, so I don't want to pretend they are fact. Still, based on our opinion you bring up a good point. Contracts are so fluid too. Another 1B on that list could get overpaid and then he will be the one with questions a/b his contract to performance ratio.

Howard wouldn't probably crack the Top 50 players in MLB, especially with pitchers on the list. RBI's and HR's are great, but that seems to be most of what the Phils paid for. Still, he is a decent 1B. I just wouldn't write an entire column defending him like this, and I would definitely not bring up his contract as if Howard's performance will most likely make that contract worth it.

It seems to me the Phils have some money to spend, but they do have a slight problem with Howard's contract on the books. I am guessing they aren't going to get Reyes and will try to re-sign Rollins, but to what contract terms is a the real question. Contracts like this do cause problems with payroll. I wonder if the Phils will continue to increase payroll, they may have the ability to do so. If so, Howard's contract may not hurt them as much in the future. That's a big issue I have with the contract and not necessarily Howard personally. Conlin should recognize this issue in defending Howard, but he doesn't.

I know the Phils have traded a few prospects recently, and I haven't investigated their system too much...but I know one of their best prospects is Jonathan Singleton who my understanding is not going to be ready to play 1B for a few years. If only there was a DH in the NL...

My understanding is the Phils have most of their best prospects at the pitching position.