Philadelphia Philles: Beating That Dead Horse That Is Ryan Howard and RBI

Bobby Yost@byostiCorrespondent IIJuly 14, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 25:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies bats against the Oakland Athletics at Citizens Bank Park on June 25, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Every once in a while, Philadelphia Daily News sports writer Bill Conlin publishes an article that is even more absurd than his usual ramblings.

This time it’s the notion that Ryan Howard is one of the best players in baseball because of the amount of RBI he racks up.

Sadly, so many others, even supposedly knowledgeable radio hosts tout his greatness using the same old story. The Fanatic's own Mike Missanelli called Ryan Howard the "most under-appreciated athlete" in Philadelphia.

I think almost all Phillies fans appreciate what Howard has done in his career, especially 2006, but there is a large contingent of us that know the horrible statistic that is RBI, he is declining and dreading the fact he'll be handcuffing payroll by making at least $10 million to $15 million more than he's worth.

Keith Law summed it pretty well when asked about RBI:

"Totally useless. In terms of measuring the value of a player’s performance, I find them absolutely useless because 1) it’s determined by how many opportunities you get — the guys who hit in front of you in the lineup, how often did they get on base; and 2) there’s no particular skill to driving runs in.

There’s no such thing as a hitter who is significantly better in RBI opportunities. Guys might do that over a year or two over the course of their careers, but you are not seeing guys who are just substantially better than the norm with runners in scoring position.

Obviously all hitters hit a little bit better with men on base and pitchers working out of the stretch, maybe he doesn’t generate the same velocity. But in general, a hitter’s a hitter, whether there’s nobody on base or there are guys on second and third. ...

There’s not really a guy out there who’s better in RBI situations. If you’re in an RBI situation, if you’re in a clutch situation, the guy you want at the plate is just your best hitter, period – the guy who’s going to produce the most offensively or give you the least chance of making an out, because obviously in a clutch situation, in an RBI situation, the last thing you want is an out.
So get me the guy up there who’s the least likely to make an out or who’s most likely to get that extra-base hit, regardless of what the situation is, because I think if you really look deep down into it, over the course of multiple seasons, you won’t find that those guys who you’re talking about who step up in big situations really exist."

Still, people like Conlin struggle with these simple concepts. And personally, I think his latest article needs another Fire Joe Morgan style

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

They are coming out of the woodwork in larger numbers because more people are educating themselves about the sport through great sites like Fangraphs, Beyond the Box Score and Inside the Book.

We don't pretend or trip ourselves up, rather it is your type who can't let go of obsolete baseball card stats created in the 19th century and accept times have changed.

Calling other people stupid because of an unwillingness and incapability of understanding newer, more advanced concepts is immature and embarrassing. I guess spellcheck is out of the question too.   

"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. And RH is no longer one of them..."

Then you heard correctly. There are currently seven National League first basemen who have more WAR than Howard.

They are Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Carlos Pena, Gaby Sanchez and Michael Morse. All of them except Pena also have a higher wOBA.

"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.

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. Each had 72 at the break. Oh, and Prince did rule last night, with a three-run homer that helped the National League win, 5-1.

But let me mention that Howard bats cleanup for a first-place team that leads the majors in wins and has the biggest division lead at the break in either league."

The Home Run Derby matters? Brewers are currently a first-place team as well. And I guess Lee, Hamels and Halladay don't play a significant role in leading the majors in wins?

"Oh, but he's a butcher with the glove (all of four errors), clogs up the bases (as if Fielder is Michael Bourn) 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.)"

There is more to fielding than the amount of errors you make or don't make. It's called range. No one said Fielder is Michael Bourn. And his contract extension has not kicked it yet. That is just factually wrong. It does not start until 2012. Last time I looked, it is still 2011. But I'm the stupid one.

"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 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."

Just then, Howard singled home the lead run off Derek Lowe in what was still a tight game.

The emailer's reply:

Only because for some reason Lowe didn't throw a breaking ball in the dirt. He doesn't get paid to hit singles off the trademark. He's killing this team like he did in 07 09 & 10.

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

All players' salaries as a whole is not really conducive to the argument at hand. I would not go as far as to say he's absolutely killing the team. That doesn't start until probably 2014. You don't think he'd......?  

"One guy even invoked the despicable, undecipherable WAR stat. That's a totally bogus acronym for "Wins Above Replacement." 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. 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.

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

And your T-shirts are too tight too, Billy! The offensive portion of WAR actually isn't really unsupported at all. Conlin doesn't like new statistics! Conlin smash! The Phillies went 12-4, averaging almost five runs, in his missed games from August 3 through August 20.

"For the record—and I'm giving Michael Jack a pass for his dismal rookie year—in his first five full seasons after 1973, MJS averaged 34.2 homers and 99.4 RBI."

Cool story, bro.

"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.

Klein was a candle who burned briefly but brightly in his five full seasons playing in a lopsided Baker Bowl that was tilted favorably for both his lefthanded pull power and defensive prowess as a rightfielder.

So let's put Howard's first 5 full years up against the Great Chucker. And I'm throwing out RH's Rookie of the Year 2005 because he played in only 88 games."

Let's not. This is about to get worse.

"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.

Unfortunately, that was the year when Hack Wilson drove in 190 for the Cubs.

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.

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.

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.

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'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.

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

Mother of God. You can't compare counting stats across two completely different eras and two completely different ballparks! And I do not recall anybody saying Klein was better than Howard or vice versa. How is it Klein's fault that those Phillies teams had arguably the worst pitching staffs in history?

If you continue reading in the comments, you can entertain yourself with more absurdities.

What Conlin, and many others won't listen to is the fact that each year he is at or right near the top of runners on base when he comes to the plate. You don't have to be a genius to understand that the more runners on base when you're hitting, the more opportunities you get to drive them in. Perhaps Conlin thinks he can knock in over a 100 RBI without anyone being on base.

Currently this season, Ryan Howard has had the most runners on base when he's at bat, 297 of them to be exact. For brief comparison sake, that is two more than Adrian Gonzalez, 33 more than Prince Fielder, and 62 more than Jose Bautista. 

Currently he is knocking others in base at a very respectable 18.1 percent clip. Is it the best in baseball as many pretend he is?

Among the 75 players with at least 150 plate appearances with runners on base, it is good for 12th. Please note I arbitrarily picked 150 plate appearances because it gave us a nice round number of players in the pool and still enough to weed out at least some small sample variance.

Now you may or may not be thinking to yourself, I wonder how many RBI those other players would have if they had the same amount of runners on base as Howard. Good news, I did those calculations using each player's others batted in rate.

In that, Ryan Braun led the group with 82 RBI, followed closely by Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. Howard was 12th.

There is a reason that stat was almost rejected in its infancy almost 150 years ago, it is too dependent on what happens in front of you.

There are plenty of better statistics to judge a player's ability, but until they appear on baseball cards, television graphics or until the current obsolete collection of announcers, writers and hosts either catch up to the times or are replaced, people will continue to be brainwashed by the Bill Conlins of the world.


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