Remember when keeping pitchers honest against Ryan Howard was one of the primary concerns of summer? Either fans have short memories, or they’ve written off the issue as a bunch of malarkey.
It’s the Beerleaguer way to sweat the small stuff and ignore the big picture, and offensively, it doesn't get any bigger than Ryan Howard, who, as Baseball Prospectus likes to point out, "has been a statistical backwards sprint for two seasons." Howard's shockingly mediocre .339 OBP baffles statisticians most. Howard sees more outside slop and breaking balls than anyone in the game, but despite all that, the home run and RBI champ drew just 81 walks last season.
There have been so many theories on lineup protection that it’s hard to know where to stand. The latest number-crunching data suggests that it makes no real statistical difference, with at least some evidence that a hitter may actually improve with a lesser hitter behind him. For example, Manny Ramirez’s absence from the Boston lineup led to more intentional walks for David Ortiz, but Big Papi also hit for higher average and had a higher slugging percentage without Manny.
Nevertheless, no two power hitters are the same, and there’s definitely no one quite like Howard, who will no longer have Pat Burrell protecting him. Howard struggled through much of the season, but the lineup and protection issue was rarely questioned. The reason: Anyone who watched the Phillies last season understood that the best way to avoid Howard is also the best way to strike him out, and thus, minimizing the effects of Howard is a self-contained process, independent of the man standing on the on-deck circle.
According to research done by the Hardball Times, if a pitcher is trying to avoid pitching to a hitter, the hitter is significantly more likely to draw a walk, but is also moderately more likely to strike out, which is bad news for an extreme strikeout hitter like Howard. It all amounts to a no-win situation for the big man, who could also face the added adversity of being pitched to situationally, even more so due to the presence of Raul Ibanez.