Ryan Howard, the Phillies' slugger, may or may not be at 100 percent in April as he is attempting to come back from a torn Achilles tendon that he suffered making the Phillies last out of the 2011 season (the optimistic out there believe he will be ready to play in April though it may take a bit longer). However, as much as the Achilles issue bothers me, I'm more concerned with a slowly deteriorating skill set with the 31 year old first baseman whose best days are already behind him.
(1) As I mentioned, despite only six full seasons at the big league level, Howard is already 31 years old and he turns 32 on November 19th. Given his body type, and this has been brought up a lot in baseball circles, there is a concern that he could lose his skills a bit sooner than others who are more physically fit. These two issues make the 5-year, $125 million extension the Phils signed him to look exceedingly risky.
(2) Howard strikes out in more than a quarter of his at-bats. The number hasn't gone up in recent years, it's remained steady, but all those strikeouts certainly mean that his .313 batting average from 2006 will end up being a career best. It should also be pointed out that he has failed to hit .255 in two of the past four years.
(3) His OBP has gone down each of the past two seasons: .360, .353 and .346.
(4) His SLG has gone down each of the past two seasons: .571, .505 and .488.
(5) His .488 SLG percentage and .835 OPS in 2011 were career worsts.
(6) He hasn't hit 35 homers the past two years after hitting at least 45 in 4-straight seasons.
(7) The last two years he's failed to reach 120 RBI, this after reaching at least 135 in 4-straight seasons.
(8) The last two years he failed to score 90 runs, the only two times in six full seaosns he has failed to do that.
Now you might say points #7 and #8, the counting stats, are somewhat dependent on others in the Phillies' lineup so you aren't ready to "blame" Howard for slippage there. I agree, to a point. Still, he's not driving in or scoring runs like he did over the first four years of his career, and last time I checked the Phils still have a pretty solid batting order don't they? The real concern with Howard in the fantasy game is threefold. (A) He's gonna be lucky to hit .280. (B) He never steals bases. (C) His power is on the decline.
The average major league hitter usually produces something like the following line: 19 percent line drives, 43 percent ground balls and 38 percent fly balls. In Howard's case his career ratios are 23 percent line drives, 39 percent ground balls and 38 percent fly balls. That's right. Despite all the homers, the fact of the matter is that Howard simply doesn't hit that many balls into the air. In truth, his fly ball ratio is the same as the big league average. Given that fact, Howard must convert a substantial portion of his fly balls into home runs toi keep his homer total elevated. If his HR/F ratio were to slip at all, the results would be catastrophic to his homer total since he just doesn't hit enough fly balls to make up for a lack of conversion. Therefore, when I notice that his HR/F ratio has gone down 3-straight seasons I'm very nervous. Not only has it gone down, but it's gone way down. Here are his HR/F ratios from his six full seasons.
39.5, 31.5, 31.8, 25.4, 21.1, 21.7
That's a massive fall off. It's also the reason why (A) he's bee in in the low 30's in homers the past two years and why (B) I think his ceiling in the homer category is 35 homers, not 45 like it was from 2006-09.
So we've got an aging, injured first baseman who never steals bases, barely betters the league batting average, and one who's power seems to be slipping. I'm not predicting a collapse for Howard in 2012, but even if that Achilles of his is healthy, I wouldn't draft him expecting anything other than the levels that we've seen the past two years – his salad days just aren't coming back.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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