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Ryan Howard Injury: How Slugger's Absence Will Affect Philadelphia Phillies

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Ryan Howard Injury: How Slugger's Absence Will Affect Philadelphia Phillies
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies have lost the services of first baseman Ryan Howard for the next couple of months, but just how badly will that shake things up on the team?

As surprising as it may sound, Howard's absence won't make as big of an impact on the Phillies as it would have a few years ago.

After being put on the disabled list on July 6 for a sore knee, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweeted that Howard's injury was more severe than just inflammation.

Had this happened a few years ago, it would have been another devastating loss for the team.  However, things have certainly changed the past couple of seasons.

His 2012 season may have been a short one due to injury, but when Howard played, it wasn't pretty.  He was batting .219 with an on-base percentage of only .295—the lowest marks of his career. 

Before his injury this season, it wasn't very pretty either.  He was batting .266, but his OBP was only at .319, where he was near the .350 mark or above the majority of his career.

So what's been the big problem the past two seasons for Howard? 

Strikeouts.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The 2004 and 2007 seasons were pretty bad ones for Howard in regards to striking out, as he fanned in over 30 percent of his plate appearances.  He had gotten that percentage down to the mid-20s from 2008 to 2011, but it went back up to 33.9 percent in 2012 and was still at 33 percent this year before the injury.

His plate discipline explains as to why he's striking out so much the past couple of seasons.  Howard swung at 37 percent of pitches to him outside of the strike zone last season. That number isn't that much better this year, with Howard swinging at 33.8 percent of those pitches in the zone.

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The most concerning number regarding Howard has been his lack of contact this season.  Over his career, Howard has made contact on 67 percent of balls he has swung at, but this year, he has only made contact on 65.1 percent of pitches to him. 

While that doesn't sound like a lot, two percent can make a big difference in baseball.

The bottom line is that Howard, for the most part, has been dispensable for the Phillies the past two years.  His wins above replacement, or WAR, was minus-1.1 in 2012, and is only at 0.3 this year.

Gone are the days of 4.4 (2009) and 5.8 (2006) WAR ratings for Howard, folks.

Kevin Frandsen has become a player the Phillies have relied on to be a backup for others, playing seven games at first base, eight at second and four at third.

In his 110 plate appearances, Frandsen has batted .280 and drove in 15 runs.  They aren't eye-popping numbers, but he's come in and made the most of opportunities.

Oh, and his strikeout percentage is only at 10 percent.

The Phillies could use Frandsen from time to time during the next month or two, or they could go with a guy who hasn't seem a lot of time in the majors, Darin Ruf.

It seems the Phillies are also eager to give Ruf a shot at first base.  He's done fine in the minor leagues this season, hitting .266 with seven homers and driving in 46 runs in 349 plate appearances. He also hit 38 home runs at Double-A Reading during the 2012 season, breaking Howard's double-A record for the team in the process.

Add the options at first base with a pretty strong cast of players in Chase Utley, Dominic Brown and Jimmy Rollins, and you have a bit of pop in the Phillies' batting order.

A 44-46 record puts the Phillies 7.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, but the season isn't over yet.  Fans will miss Howard and the excitement he brings to the field, but at the end of the day, this team should be just fine without its 33-year-old first baseman.

 

Note: All statistics, unless otherwise noted, were provided by FanGraphs.com.

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