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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

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Strikeouts may not be any different than any other out... but if Howard made contact, about a third of his balls would be hits (not even including HRs).

I don't really see him pouting. That quote is from 2 months ago, anything more recent? The guy is in a brutal slump, but I think he has handled it about as well as anyone could hope. The only cure is to start hitting better, it goes no deeper than that.

Last night's performance was not good at all, but he had a pretty solid last few series.

Jonesman: Stop. Please. Howard's been pouting around for a month. You see it every game.

Playoff teams don't have cleanup hitters bat .180 w/3K's every third game.

At least they won't have to pay him as much next year.

Utley was probably the best player in baseball until May 3rd. Up to that point he was batting .369/.440/.787 (13 HR in 31 games played.) The reason he's almost hitting .300 now is that since then he's slumping. In the last two weeks he's batting .191/.264/.298 (1 HR in 13 games plated.)

Our man Ryan Howard is batting .220/.278/.520 in those same 13 games.

Burrell is .167/.367/.278 in the last two weeks (12 games for him.)

Utley has been better since the final Jays game, though. He'll be the first of the three to start hitting. It looks like he's already started.

Howard should be batting at least 5th. 6th in games where Werth starts. He should definitely be behind Burrell, who's OBP should be followed by some sluggers.

I want to pile on. I just can't think of a way to do it. It's not humorous; it's sad. When he emerged he was so much more than a TTO guy. But now... well, he's not even that. He's mostly a OTO guy.

Someone needs to be dissecting his swing, and what the opposition is doin, and coming up with some solutions. Until they find some he simply needs to be further down the line-up so his abysmal at bats don't hurt the team so often.

Bat Burrell 4th and RF du jour 5th. Put the "Sultan of Not" sixth.

That quote from March gets right to the heart of the problem.

I do believe he'll snap out of it. He's just too talented not to, but if he thinks he won't get booed mercilessly, he's either disoriented or just plain nuts. He needs a few days off, and he certainly needs to bat lower in the order.

With all the recent comments I think Ryan needs to have a break out game tonight, Just so we can read these posts tomorrow and laugh at ourselves.
Gotta hope !

At least if he were making contact, he would be hitting the ball in play and possibly advancing runners. When you strike out, anyone on base basically has to stay put (unless they steal).
I agree with Andy - bat Burrel 4th, Werth/Vic 5th and Howard 6th until he improves and cuts down on the strikeouts.

It's not that a strikeout is that much more damaging than another out. But soaring strikeout totals are certainly more indicative of a player who is lost at the plate -- especially when those soaring strikeout totals are accompanied by greatly reduced walk totals (as they are in Howard's case).

However, the strikeouts are only part of the story with Howard. Like many power hitters, Howard has always struck out a lot, but has succeeded by having a high average on balls put into play. Since his MVP year, Howard's strikeouts have gone up & his average on balls put into play has gone down. This trend started last year, but has spiraled out of control this year. Here are Howard's strikeouts per AB ratios, strikeout per PA ratio, and BABIPs over his 4-year career:

2005 32% 29% .425
2006 31.3% 26.3% .450
2007 37.6% 31.2% .430
2008 40.2% 34.9% .303

Some would interpret the .303 BABIP as a sign that Howard has been unlucky this year and is bound to start doing better. There may be some amount of truth to that but, when viewed in combination with the soaring strikeout totals, I would interpret the .303 BABIP as further evidence that the overall quality of his swings has been horrendous this year. Hence, even when he makes contact, it's usually bad contact.

Then again, if there are men on base, there is that chance for the double play.

I agree about the quote. In theory, striking out a lot is not worse than popping out a lot (see full article worth of "popping up to infielders" under Feliz, P.). But Howard's stroke can be so strong that so many more of his at-bats would be productive if he just figured out how to make contact.

I mean really - Is he losing his focus? Has his vision grown worse? Is he jerking his head off the ball? Dropping his back arm? Something he's doing has begun causing him to simply miss a lot of pitches he used to make contact with.

Moreover - if it's the pitchers who have figured him out - someone has mentioned that they seem to be coming inside a lot - then hey, Mr. H, you need to come up with a strategy - that's why you're getting the big bucks, buddy.

Strike-outs are no worse than pop-ups. But they are no better either.

b-a-p: I completely agree on Howard's BABIP. He HAS to put the ball in play. When your career BABIP is over .400 a strike out is worse than anything, because when you hit it, it's with authority.

This isn't really about productive outs anymore. It's about an alarming number of strikeouts, even for Howard, coupled with a relatively lousy BABIP rate. Both indicate, as BAP identified, a player that's lost the plate/his swing/the ball.

Isn't the hitting coach supposed to be helping him here? What is Milt doing about it?

Andy, they way Howard is swinging now, though, a ball put in play won't be a hit over 40% of the time. He's just not swinging well.

I bet if his K numbers went down, his BABIP would go up because he'd be seeing the ball better and making better contact.

He needs to get angry, but not pouting angry, like man angry, and get locked in and wait for the ball.

Someday, Ryan Howard records:
Fastest to reach 100 HRs.
Most Ks in a season.
{pending} First player to decrease his annual salary in arbitration.

We can't pretend like if Howard could just make some kind of contact his numbers would climb. The strike out numbers are indicative of a guy who can't make quality contact.

Sophist - in re: BABIP.
Yup. Got the point. I agree.

The "it's early" excuse is out the window now, because it's no longer early. He's going on a 2 month slump with no hope in sight. It's not the weather's fault, it's not Charlie Manuel's fault, it's Ryan Howard's fault. We all know the talent this man has, he needs to adjust to what the pitchers are giving him and get back to producing like he is capable of. Having him in the heart of the lineup kills this team. Yes, the finger can be pointed at Feliz and Ruiz as well, but Howard is the cleanup hitter and is supposed to get the job done on a consistent basis. He disgusts me right now, I literally hate watching him play. He pouts after every at bat, sulks in the dugout, and even carries himself poorly on the field while playing defense. Get a few inches closer to the plate, keep your front shoulder closed, and swing the damn bat!

Dave X: If one third of Howard's strikeouts would be hits if he put the ball in play then Feliz must be an annual .330 hitter. He almost always gets his bat on the ball.

While we're piling on, the defensive blunders are becoming mighty annoying too. Twice in the last week, he has just flat-out dropped routine throws to first base. These types of things are pretty hard to tolerate when a guy is hitting .180.

Sorry, Carson but I need to make a correction:

"Get a few inches closer to the plate, keep your front shoulder closed, and swing the damn bat [at strikes]!" Howard swings the bat plenty. He just swings at off-speed stuff that is about six inches off the plate and in the dirt. His approach is horrible. I don't see why anyone would throw him anything on the inner half.

Also, would anyone give Howard a 3-0 green light? (honest question) I don't think I would be able to do that at this point. A guy struggling that badly should see some pitches and simply try to get on base. His strikeout after a 3-0 count yesterday was tough to watch. Well, tougher than usual. I thought the 3-0 was borderline at best (something he shouldn't be swinging at 3-0).

Sophist: Your post demonstrates why Beerleaguer is almost always a great contrary indicator.

Howard did have a decent homestand - 3 homers hit straightaway or oppo. The swing he took off Marcum nearly brought tears to my eyes. I think there's hope for him yet.

But no, he has not been handling all this well, and to pretend that strikeouts are just the same as any other outs is a sign that he isn't willing to do what it takes to mature or improve or adjust as a hitter. Excepting pop-ups - they *aren't* the same as other outs. Nothing good can happen when you don't put the bat on the ball. How hard is it to see that only when you make contact do you have a chance to make something happen? Some of the outs may advance runners. Some balls hit weakly might find a hole, or get booted by a fielder. Strikeouts negate any and all such possibilities. They are an offensive void. The one instance where striking out is preferable to putting the ball in play is a double-play, but consider the ratio of K's to DPs, even for someone as slow as Howard.

What I would much rather hear Howard say, rather than shrug off the strikeouts, is say, look, I can be a better hitter without sacrificing my power if I learn how to adjust, to shrink my hitting zone and exploit the fact that pitchers don't give me much to hit. All I see him doing is screaming at umpires instead. He needs a little Dallas Green pep talk: look in the mirror, Ryan! He should be embarrassed by the possibility of striking out 225 times, and he should be trying to do something about it.

RSB:

Agreed, except for the Dallas Green bit. He, seemingly, has no idea of what the strike zone is, and thus ends up swinging at so many bad balls.

clout, what's a contrary indicator?

loved your post about Feliz @ 4:05, by the way.

sophist: A contrary indicator is when everyone's opinion coalesces around a certain idea, the odds are very high that the opposite is true (i.e. a stock market top is always accompanied by a dominant view that stocks will go higher.)

I will admit that I don't have sportsnet, so I don't see every game. I was more referring to his quotes as not being that pouty. If his body language is telling a different story I stand corrected. I just don't know if there is any way he could be behaving that would make us feel that much better about his .180 average.

Howard should be dropped in the lineup until he starts hitting...if he starts hitting. He's killing the team in the 4-hole every night.

clout, thanks for the clarification. If I'd known it was a technical term of art, I would have simply googled it.

If Feliz and Howard had the same BABIP that might be true, but only about 1/4th of Feliz's balls in play end up as hits.

sophist: No prob. Everyone's jumping on Howard and, as your research shows, he's been better than Burrell and Utley over the past 13 games and is likely finally breaking out.

Dave X: Isn't that a circular argument? Because Howard either strikes out or gets a hit (I'm exaggerating but you get the point) his BAIP is by definition going to be greater than a batter who makes contact nearly every time. Chicken and egg, no?

I still find it maddening that he isn't dropped in the line-up. There are more choices than the either batting him 4th or benching him. Wouldn't it be a better idea to put him 7th for the time being?

Sophist, I was going to repost your numbers from the last thread, but you took care of it for me above.

My point is that it appears that both Burrell and Utley have slumped at the same time - the last 12-13 games, or, since May 3rd.

Since then the Phillies are 7-8, with two of their four best hitters mired in bad slumps, a third is the subject of this thread, and JROll is hitting .319 with a .917 OPS since returning on May 9th.

In short, once Burrell and Utley heat up again, and if JRoll just continues to play to his career avg, the outlook is pretty good.

Also, let's face it: wit Utley and Burrell both slumping at the same time, Howard's performance (or lack thereof) becomes MAGNIFIED.

Anyway, count me as one of the contrite.

I have been one of Howard's biggest supporters on this blog, even going so far as to suggest the Phillies should have signed him to a ten-year deal before the 2007 season (please don't rub it in).

His performance this season has, thus, been doubly disappointing for me, as I have/had such high expectations of him.

If Chollie and the coaches think his stance and swing are fine (I personally think he is crouching [bending his knees] more than in 2006, but what do I know), then your guess is as good as mine.

The only conclusion I can come to is that pitcher's have figured him out, and he cannot/will not make adjustments. That, and he does not seem to have good "command" of the strike zone from a hitter's perspective.

Conlin had an interesting article the other day where he used the Duke Snyder anecdote, about how, when Snyder first came up he didn't understand whre the 'zone' was. He also related an interesting drill they did to help him, at the same time stating that someone like Howard might be too proud to so it.

Oh well. Here's hoping RH get's back to 'normal'.

I think he should be dropped to 5th and told to take his walks if they are there. He'll see better pitches eventually and be of more use to the lineup in the meantime. A 3-0 swing should only be on the pitch you want where you want it.

"too proud to DO it".

Everyone harps on "when it gets hotter he'll heat up. He's a slow starter."

Bull.

In 2006 he started HOT and cooled off from June to August, then heated up again in September. I don't buy the theories.

The guy is in a slump and a dangerous one. He's Cecil Fielder 2.0 already. I wrote more about it at Phillies Nation. Click my name.

It seems Howard's primary problem is an inability to control the strike zone/ to lay off bad pitches. His strike outs are almost always three swings at balls or pitchers pitches. When he's gotten a ball on teh plate, lately, he's hit it.

Howard doesn't just K or get hits, though. He has a fairly sizeable ratio, about 2/3, of his non-HR in play balls turn into outs. Striking out a lot wouldn't necessarily change this, Ichiro never strikes out and is consistently above average. Adam Dunn strikes out a lot and is always at or below average in this department.

SS- Rollins-S
C- Coste-R
2B- Utley-L
LF-Burrell-R
1B-Howard-L
RF-Werth-R
3B-Dobbs-L
CF-Vic-S

I wouldn't mind seeing this lineup. Breaks up all the lefties so they can avoid facing a LOOGY; it also puts most of the high OB% guys at the top. You could even flip Dobbs and Howard for the time being.

I'm not sure I'm able to detect the distinction between "showing signs of breaking out of it" as compared to merely having a short hot spell in an otherwise godawful season. Howard did have a nice little stretch of about 10 days. He wasn't exactly on fire but he did hit the ball better and hit around .290-ish over those 10 days. But then he followed it up with 2 of the most godawful games I've ever seen --especially yesterday's. Were those just a couple of bad games in the middle of "breaking out of it," or were they a couple of bad games which show that he isn't really breaking out of it? I don't think we'll really know the answer for about another week -- though if he goes 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts tonight, I'll certainly have my suspicions of what the answer is.

The assumption that Howard is in a slump implies: (1) that there is something wrong in the mechanics of his swing, (2) that it is correctable, and (3) once corrected, he will return to his previous form. Maybe, but put me down as skeptical. I think it isn't a slump,but a relatively permanent problem, and he may never again achieve his previous numbers. Simply put, the opposition has learned how to pitch to him and he hasn't adapted.

Regardless of what is going on between his ears, the bottom line is that he will swing at most any pitch thrown in the dirt. If the ball crossed the plate on two bounces, Howard would be inclined to swing at it. It is also true that he is not getting around on pitches he should hit. What once was a homerun is now a foul ball. It could suggest past use of perfomance enhancing drugs, or merely that he is so screwed up at this point that he can't hit anything. But the simple truth is that there is little reason to throw strikes to Howard as his impulse control is zero. Sadly, there is no way out of this for Howard until he learns to lay off the sucker pitches below his knees.

Malcolm: Howard's 2006 looked more like this - started well enough with the average but didn't really turn the power on until May/June. He peaked in August and then ended the season as he began - hitting for avg. but not power. Any way you slice it, though, he did not have these prolonged cold spells during that season, or during his rookie season either (at least after the second call-up).

I don't buy that the problem is simply that the pitchers have adjusted to Howard since that season. The problem is that he has regressed as a hitter. I recall reading that the Phillies wanted him to be more of a pull hitter, that he would be able to get more out of his power potential by turning on inside pitches. Problem is, he wound up buying into that too much, to the point where he *is not the same hitter* he came to the major leagues as. It remains to be seen whether he can back to that hitter he was in '05/'06.

RSB: I don't really buy the theory about pitchers getting the book on him either. Where was that book in the last 4 months of last season? The fact is, pitchers have books on every hitter and, if every pitch followed the script, we wouldn't see too many homeruns. But it's not so easy to follow the script when the difference between a gopher ball & a perfect pitch is literally a matter of inches. Howard, however, is making it very easy for opposing pitchers right now. There's no need for the pitcher to try to hit the corner, and risk missing his spot by an inch, when he can just throw a slider 3 feet off the plate and Howard will flail at it.

I believe that Utley is being pitched around since they are not afraid of Howard anymore. As far as Burrell they probably are pitching around him since they are not afraid of Jenkins. Burrell is still getting his walks and is not striking out like he used to do.

Another thought on RSB's post. If that is true about the Phillies trying to turn Howard into a pull hitter, then whoever gave him that advice should be fired on the spot. Why would you take an opposite field hitter who had just posted one of the best statistical seasons of the last 50 years, & try to turn him into a pull hitter? To become a better power hitter? The guy had just hit 58 homeruns in a season. You can't get too much better than that.

I always felt that the Phillies' hitting coaches had a lot to do with Burrell's .209 season in 2003. Early in Burrell's career, the coaches got it in their heads that the reason for all his strikeouts was that he swung at too many pitches. This was exactly the wrong diagnosis. Burrell had been a very selective hitter from Day 1, and became selective to the point of being passive once the coaches tried to "correct" his strikeout problem by advising him to take more pitches. The result was that his strikeouts actually went up, with a huge number of those strikeouts coming on called third strikes. If what RSB is saying is true, then I fear we're seeing the same pattern repeated with Howard.

Few points:

- Still too early to write off Howard but if continues to struggle like this into early June you have to wonder at what point how much he can improve. Even guys like Ortiz has slowly started to get things together.

- Howard's HRs cover up the fact that he is on clip to strikeout more than 40 times this month. That is horrendous. Additionally, it really raises his SLG pct. and kind of masks his overall poor performance.

- Didn't really care about the strikeouts last year and still really don't. The problem as others have cited is that he isn't making contact. The other is that is KK/B ratio and BB/AB ratio have also declined too. I will take 1 or 2 K if he balances them out with 1 or 2 BBs.

- What bothers me about Howard's defense this year (and it didn't last year), is the inability to squeeze the damn ball. He has 3 or 4 dropped balls this year where all he had to do was squeeze the mit properly. That is frankly unacceptable at any level.

July 4, 2005 -- I was in Pittsburgh to watch the phillies. I got there early enough to watch BP. I focused on Ryno. The night before he hit a home run against the braves on his second night back with the club after Thome went down.

He was a workman during batting practice. He sprayed line drives to all fields like a sprinkler working from Right Field to Left Field and Back Again. He was patient and confident.

Now of course that is batting practice and it doesn't necessarily translate to game performance.

I haven't been to a game early enough to see Howard's approach to batting practice. But it's clearly that his approach at the plate is not the same. I don't think it's necessarily mechanical. From my seats on Sundays, it looks like Howard is still close to the plate. On TV because his right foot is OPEN at the start, it looks like he is not close to the plate. But that's not the case.

It's not a physical problem, last year we saw his stance was more upright and less agressive when he had the leg injury.

It's pitch selection and "not seeing the ball" which has popped up in his quotes a number of times.

He is not swinging at pitches out over the plate "middle away" as wheels might say. These pitches he used to take the other way. He know ignores or doesn't recognize them as strikes.

Pitches inside are typically sliders or other off speeds that tail away, but start inside and fall off but are close to the strike zone. He might foul those off or get a called strike. Typically the next pitch are junk pitches, and NEVER strikes. Similar pitch start inside, tail away, starting out at the knees and end in the dirt. And he's swinging at them... EVERY time.

This is not a permanent condition. Sometimes you lose the strike zone. It happens to pitchers. Sometimes they don't recover (Joe Cowley). But most Major League players do. It happened to Burrell.

Before we call Howard, Cecil Fielder or Dave Kingman or Rob Deer. As much as they were great sluggers, they did not put up the numbers that He has in his first two seasons. They weren't the same players that he is.

Speaking of Rob Deer. He has the lowest batting average for a single season for someone who qualifies for the batting title at .179.

So instead of the Mendoza line. We should be concerned that Howard's season average is above the Rob Derr line.

SOLUTION:

Unfortunately, Uncle Cholly's you play until you figure it out works if you are mired in a 2 week slump. This has gone on FAR too long. And he must sit for at least 2 weeks.

Tonight's lineup:

Rollins
Vic
Utley
Howard
Burrell
Werth
Feliz
Coste
Moyer

Glad to see Coste in there. Its the strangest feeling as a Phils fan to be happy the opposing team is starting a Lefty.

If Howard hits about .235 with 35 HRs and about 90 rbis, what will he be worth in arbitration? The Phils would probably offer him 10 million (like he got this year). I wonder what Howard will think he's worth after a year like this. One bad year wouldn't rule out a return to his original form although I doubt he ever will at this point. Frankly I think he should just take the first two pitches in every at bat and get a few walks. Flailing away like he is currently is foolish. He should make them pitch to him if he can. Make them stop throwing balls in the dirt by taking them.

When Chase Utley was batting, the pitcher threw every pitch to him on the inside corner and then did the opposite with Howard, throwing every pitch too low or on the outside corner. It's amazing to me that these professional hitters can't adjust to the way they are being pitched. Howard should try to take EVERYTHING to LF or CF right now if all they're going to do is throw junk on the outside corner.

I'm pretty sure that if I was in the starting lineup on a major league team (book title: "The 35-year-old Desk Jockey"), I definitely wouldn't lead the team in groundouts. But I would certainly lead the league in strikeouts. Would that make me a better hitter?


Hey he looked okay tonight.

I couldn't help but laugh, thinking about this thread tonight

Good timing for this post on Howard. Can we do one about Kyle Kendrick before his start tonight?

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