Ryan Howard helped the Phillies beat the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night — their seventh win in their last eight games — with a 3-for-5 performance, including a double and a solo home run. It was crushed:
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Following the game, Howard is batting .257/.308/.507 with eight home runs on the year. He has a .250 isolated power (ISO), which is his best mark in that department since 2009 when he hit 45 home runs. The last three years have been particularly disappointing power-wise, as he finished at .204 in 2012, .199 in ’13, and .156 last season. Currently, the only first basemen with a better ISO than Howard are Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, and Anthony Rizzo.
Per FanGraphs, Howard has a 119 wRC+ now, which means he’s batting 19 percent better than the league average. He was at 88, 112, and 93 over the last three seasons. We’re not yet out of May and Howard has taken only 147 plate appearances, so we can’t draw strong conclusions yet, but this is about as good a start to the season as the Phillies could have reasonably expected.
There is one item of concern, which is his 5.4 percent walk rate. His career average is 11.4 percent, but part of his low walk rate is the fact that pitchers aren’t nearly as afraid to challenge him with fastballs in the strike zone as they used to be. If Howard continues to punish pitching the way he has lately, pitchers will return to throwing him breaking balls low and away and Howard will have to adjust and accept he’ll have to settle for a walk sometimes. Howard’s strikeout rate, at 26.5 percent, is around his usual rate of 28 percent.
Howard has also returned to struggling against left-handed pitching. He oddly presented a reverse platoon split last season, posting a .339 weighted on-base average (wOBA) against southpaws compared to .292 against right-handers. This year, that split is .238/.353 which is more in line with his career .317/.394 split. This is a good thing, as the average batter will see a right-hander three times for every one time he faces a lefty. If you’re not a right-handed-hitting platoon guy and have to have a platoon split, you want to perform better against right-handers.
Howard’s revival doesn’t mean much for on-field reasons as the Phillies are rebuilding. He could hit 55 home runs or just five and it wouldn’t matter. His resurgence, though, does bode well for a potential trade. Howard is owed $25 million in each of the 2015 and ’16 seasons as well as a $10 million buyout for ’17, so it’s effectively $60 million over two years. The Phillies have said they’re willing to eat around $50 million of that to facilitate a trade, but interest was still mild at best heading into the season. But now that he’s hitting at a level we haven’t seen in at least five years, American League teams in need of a 1B/DH type will at least do their due diligence with a phone call to GM Ruben Amaro over the summer.
A look at the AL teams who might have a use for Howard:
- Houston Astros: Neither first baseman Chris Carter (.281 wOBA) nor DH Evan Gattis (.268) are hitting. Former Phillies prospect Jonathan Singleton will eventually get the call up to take over first base, which will push Carter to share the DH role with Gattis or to the bench. If neither player heats up, the surprisingly competitive Astros may want to solidify the position.
- Los Angeles Angels: The Angels have gotten next-to-nothing out of the DH slot, mostly occupied by C.J. Cron (.221). In fact, their entire offense has been rather lackluster outside of Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun.
- Detroit Tigers: DH Victor Martinez (.247) was recently placed on the 15-day disabled list with knee inflammation. He had a career year in 2014 at the age of 36 but he’s been ineffective through nearly two months of the season. If Martinez doesn’t heal as expected or can’t find his way at the plate, Howard could look like an attractive option to keep them afloat in the AL Central race.
- Boston Red Sox: Mike Napoli has a .273 wOBA. He’s held his own against lefties, so they’d probably want to utilize a platoon if they were to get Howard. It’s actually a decent fit but I suspect the Red Sox have their eyes fixated on one particular Phillie.
- Minnesota Twins: The Twins are competitive for the first time since 2010. First baseman Joe Mauer isn’t moving off of first base despite only registering his first home run on Wednesday after 170 plate appearances. DH Kennys Vargas, however, was recently demoted after posting a .291 wOBA. The White Sox are the only American League team that has hit fewer home runs (23) than the Twins (29). Adding Howard would be nearly risk-free and would almost certainly provide some power to a mostly punchless lineup.
Ryan Howard’s Power Is Back
Author: Bill Baer
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