For the second-straight year, Ryan Howard finished 10th on the MVP ballot, including a fourth-place vote and three fifth-place votes, reinforcing the value of traditional stats and players representing elite teams.
Shortly after Sean Forman of Baseball-Reference.com penned a controversial piece for the New York Times rating Howard as the seventh-best player on his own team, stoking the flames in Philadelphia at a time when Howard had gone hot and taken over the league lead in RBIs, I ran into Forman at a nearby coffee shop and made a friendly wager with the stat guru. Forman said that despite his claim that Howard was statistically mediocre based on many metrics, he would still finish in the top 5 on the MVP ballot, citing the voters' penchant for traditional stats and players who anchor winning teams.
I took the bet. At the time, Shane Victorino, not Howard, was the one generating the most MVP buzz among Phillies. That soon changed. By September, the Big Piece had once again bullied his way into the picture. On September 10, he led the league in RBIs (111), was third in home runs (32) and was working toward a 1.259 September OPS. In a Beerleaguer poll conducted Sept. 10, 55 percent of readers believed he'd finish in the top five in MVP voting for the fifth time in six seasons.
Sean's wager seemed to be on solid ground. Then Howard and the Phils started sputtering. Bruised and battered, Howard fell into a mid-September swoon, and with the Phils a lock to clinch, Charlie Manuel started sitting him. Then the team fell into a horrendous eight-game losing streak at a time when baseball writers were sharpening their pencils.
By his standards, Howard finished with a "pedestrian" line of .253/.346/.488 and stalled out at 33 homers and 116 RBIs, but in the mind of voters, he contributed a more meaningful season overall than Shane Victorino (13th), Cliff Lee (15th) and Hunter Pence (16th).
WAR, the metric Forman had originally cited in listing Howard as the seventh-best Phillie in August, valued him as the 10th-best by season's end, behind the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Vance Worley and just ahead of John Mayberry Jr.
In the mind of voters, he was still better than Jose Reyes and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, a worthy consolation prize for Sean.
Left field: Yesterday, Jim Salisbury listed 10 names to watch as the Phillies seek depth in left field. There isn't a sexy, cost-effective name in the group. Most appalling: the possibility of reuniting with Aaron Rowand, who the Phillies have had "long-standing interest" in bringing back to Philadelphia, according to Salisbury.
I'm a big believer in the idea that "You can't come home again" in Philadelphia. My gut already says that Jim Thome, at age 42, will go bust. Rowand, who was originally acquired for an aging and redundant Thome in 2005, is totally cooked. There's no amount of clubhouse moxie that would make Rowand's non-production at an outfield corner worth it. I'd rather let Domonic Brown sink or swim. The Phils are in great position to gamble on youth in a low-pressure situation like a left-field platoon.