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Monday, July 25, 2011

FanGraphs: Slowinski: Ryan Howard and the RBI

While the barriers between traditional and advanced baseball analysis are falling every day — hearing David Cone cite FanGraphs during a Yankees-Rays broadcast this week was awesome — there are still certain players who are a wedge between non-saberists and saberists. It’s always the same pattern: one side thinks Player X is awesome, the other doesn’t. Flame wars ensue. Each side cites statistics to back up their position, then declares that the other side’s statistics are worthless.

Ryan Howard is one of those players. Traditionalists love him because he posts huge home run and RBI totals; saberists say he’s overvalued because of those same stats. And so the fight continues — wOBA vs. HRs, WAR vs. RBIs. In the end, the debate isn’t about Howard at all — it’s about which stats you want to believe.

I noticed one of these pro-Howard, anti-WAR columns the other day and it made me curious: Can I explain why Ryan Howard’s 2011 season is overrated without using sabermetric statistics? Can I point out that his contract overpays him without using information that would turn off a casual baseball fan? As it turns out, it’s pretty easy to do — though it’s worth noting that saberists might be dismissing Howard’s RBI “skills” too quickly.

Thanks to Tripp.

Repoz Posted: July 25, 2011 at 11:00 AM | 19 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, phillies, projections, sabermetrics

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   1. BDC Posted: July 25, 2011 at 01:31 PM (#3884653)
Can I explain why Ryan Howard’s 2011 season is overrated without using sabermetric statistics?


As TFA goes on to note, it's not hard: .247 (well, as of this morning, .246).

I was reading somewhere – maybe hallucinating, I dunno, 'cause I can't find it now – that Howard had the most "go-ahead" RBI in the majors this year. Which makes total sense: he's in the middle of a good order, and their pitching staff doesn't give up a lot of runs, and they go ahead a lot. Plus he hits considerably better with men in scoring position (as TFA also notes). This is all real stuff that really happens on the field, and he helps the Phillies win. The only thing to remember is that there are several first basemen and cleanup hitters in the league who would contribute more to that lineup than Howard would: even if (because of his clutchness) he's driving in as many runs as a better hitter could expect to, with that BA and his consequent middling OBP, he's not scoring as many runs as a better hitter would.
   2. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: July 25, 2011 at 01:56 PM (#3884674)
he's driving in as many runs as a better hitter could expect to, with that BA and his consequent middling OBP, he's not scoring as many runs as a better hitter would.

The counter argument most heard is "he's paid to drive in runs". Which is and isn't true, I suppose. Would you say a scatter-armed fielder is paid "to catch the ball"?
   3. smileyy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:44 PM (#3884796)
Ryan Howard's Agent proposes bringing back the Game-Winning RBI.
   4. SoSH U at work Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:48 PM (#3884801)
Ryan Howard's Agent proposes bringing back the Game-Winning RBI.


Ryan Howard's Agent has already achieved above and beyond what anyone could have expected of him.
   5. Bob Evans Posted: July 25, 2011 at 05:58 PM (#3884805)
The counter argument most heard is "he's paid to drive in runs". Which is and isn't true, I suppose.

The counter counter argument is, "You could pay a lot less and get more."
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 06:08 PM (#3884810)
Why concentrate on whether he's overrated or not? How about putting the effort to show how good or bad he really is. Show rbi per base runner(I wouldn't consider that an advanced stat personally) show pretty much everything.

Ryan Howards rank among firstbaseman/DH's who have qualified for the batting title(doesn't include Berkman who on almost any other team would be a firstbaseman)
War-15th,
AVG-24th
OBP-18th
SLG-16th
RBI-2nd
HR-7th
Total base- 11th.

I don't have access to Baseball-Prospectus sortable stats so can't say how he ranks among the same group in rbi opportunities, rbi percentage etc. looks like he does well in those stats(about 5th or so I'm guessing) so he does get a bonus for clutchitude.

Offensively speaking Ryan Howard is roughly middle of the pack at his position, and is a liability while on the field. You don't have to talk about a players ratedness, just show where he ranks and let the readers infer from that.
   7. shoewizard Posted: July 25, 2011 at 06:33 PM (#3884825)
I don't have access to Baseball-Prospectus sortable stats so can't say how he ranks among the same group in rbi opportunities, rbi percentage etc. looks like he does well in those stats(about 5th or so I'm guessing) so he does get a bonus for clutchitude.


Although he is 5th in OBI (Others batted in) he is just 30th in OBI% among hitters with at least 200 PA's. If I set the PA's to 300 he "jumps" to 24th, right behind clutch Gods Stephen Drew and Martin Prado. He's better than average, but not remarkable.

TOP 5 in OBI%, minimum 300 PA's.

1.) Chipper Jones 22.2%
2.) Ryan Braun 21.8
3.) Michael Young 20.8
4.) Nelson Cruz 20.3
5.) Neil Walker 20.2

None finished in the top 10 last year, but Walker was 11th. So he is your "RBI CLUTCH GOD" the last two years
   8. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 06:52 PM (#3884838)
thanks for the work. Although I was comparing him to just firstbaseman/dh's in my original listing, but I guess if you can show other players, regardless of position, with better clutchiness it might take a little away from the Howard fanclub.
   9. Toolsy McClutch Posted: July 25, 2011 at 07:03 PM (#3884844)
This is all real stuff that really happens on the field, and he helps the Phillies win.

I too am a WPA fan.
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 07:17 PM (#3884852)
I was reading somewhere – maybe hallucinating, I dunno, 'cause I can't find it now – that Howard had the most "go-ahead" RBI in the majors this year.


If you go to game logs it lists go ahead hits(I assume that is the same thing---would love for bb-ref to come up with a way to either look up some of those stats, and a 'career' compiler of the game log headings)

First person I looked to check this stat is Lance Berkman who like Ryan Howard has 20 go ahead hits, couldn't find anyone ahead of him though.(looked at Bautista, Agon, Kemp, Young, Beltre, Teix and Youkilis)
   11. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: July 25, 2011 at 07:32 PM (#3884873)
The counter counter argument is, "You could pay a lot less and get more."

You can't get more RBIzzzz. :)
   12. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: July 25, 2011 at 07:51 PM (#3884905)
The counter argument most heard is "he's paid to drive in runs". Which is and isn't true, I suppose. Would you say a scatter-armed fielder is paid "to catch the ball"?

FWIW in 2011 Ryan Howard has seen the 2nd highest # of baserunners in the MLB
2010: 12th
2009: 4th
2008: 7th
2007: 6th
2006: 2nd
In that time frame he has easily batted with more baserunners than any other player in the MLB

Top 10 2006-2011:

Ryan Howard 2764
Alex Rodriguez 2599
Miguel Cabrera 2536
Robinson Cano 2526
Albert Pujols 2478
David Ortiz 2474
Adrian Gonzalez 2469
Raul Ibanez 2417
Torii Hunter 2329
David Wright 2255

Which list tends to heavily overlap the 2006-2011 RBI list:

1 Ryan Howard 755
2 Albert Pujols 669
3 Alex Rodriguez 657
4 Miguel Cabrera 653
5 Mark Teixeira 638
6 David Ortiz 603
7 Matt Holliday 602
8 Prince Fielder 599
9 Adrian Gonzalez 583
10 Carlos Lee 579
11 Raul Ibanez 564
   13. Frisco Cali Posted: July 25, 2011 at 08:05 PM (#3884928)
Offensively speaking Ryan Howard is roughly middle of the pack at his position, and is a liability while on the field.

We can be sure that his baserunning makes up for those weaknesses.
   14. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: July 25, 2011 at 08:24 PM (#3884958)
Ryan Howard 2764
Alex Rodriguez 2599
Miguel Cabrera 2536
Robinson Cano 2526
Albert Pujols 2478
David Ortiz 2474
Adrian Gonzalez 2469
Raul Ibanez 2417
Torii Hunter 2329
David Wright 2255

Which list tends to heavily overlap the 2006-2011 RBI list:

1 Ryan Howard 755
2 Albert Pujols 669
3 Alex Rodriguez 657
4 Miguel Cabrera 653
5 Mark Teixeira 638
6 David Ortiz 603
7 Matt Holliday 602
8 Prince Fielder 599
9 Adrian Gonzalez 583
10 Carlos Lee 579
11 Raul Ibanez 564


Robinson Cano sucks ass!
   15. Walt Davis Posted: July 25, 2011 at 08:58 PM (#3885009)
On average, don't hitters do better with runners on?

Citing Howard's "decline" might be convincing, in itself, to the "average" fan the article is (kinda) targeted to, but with offense down so much this year, lots of guys are going to be putting up career lows. Francoeur is roughly repeating his career stats and has a 114 OPS+ this year (20 points above his career). If Howard had maintained just his 2010 stats, his OPS+ would be around his career average of 138.

Also Howard's numbers with men on are greatly affected by him being pitched around. He has a nearly 50/50 split in PA between men on and bases empty yet (men on first):

123 IBB vs 4 (that's impressive)
26 HBP vs 13

Unintentional walk rates are about the same. His BABIP is higher (333 vs 316) and his ISO is higher (309 vs 262) so he definitely hits better in those situations but about 1/3 of the OPS increase is due to the IBB and HBP. Which is fine ... and it makes him one of the most FEARED batters in our time.

Since somebody brought him up, let's look at Berkman. His PA split is not quite 50/50 and favors nobody on over runners on. His OPS difference is just 63 and about 30% of that is due to an increased ISO_OBP (somewhat lower unintentional rate with runners on). His BABIP is higher (328 vs 302) while his ISO is a smidgen lower (247 vs 258). So Howard is "clutchier" than Berkman.
   16. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: July 25, 2011 at 10:08 PM (#3885060)
On average, don't hitters do better with runners on?

Yes. There are two factors. One is windup vs stretch. The other is selection bias. Bad pitchers, and pitchers who are pitching badly (fatigue, loss of control/stuff etc) allow more baserunners. Meaning hitters are more likely to come up with runners on. And obviously they hit better against guys that are bad.

It varies quite wildly yty, but IIRC the difference between bases empty and men on is usually between 20 and 60 points of OPS.
   17. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: July 25, 2011 at 10:54 PM (#3885081)
Yes. There are two factors.

Also, since you're looking at OPS, you'll see some inflation via sac flies (which hurt OBP but not SLG) and intentional walks (which pretty much all come with runners on).
   18. cardsfanboy Posted: July 25, 2011 at 11:27 PM (#3885099)
Isn't another factor the positioning of the infielders, most notably the first baseman holding the runner?
   19. Cyril Morong Posted: July 26, 2011 at 05:39 PM (#3885770)
I would say that Howard is only 47th in SLG (.463) with runners on base this year in all of baseball with guys with 150+ PA in that situation. Teixeira leads with .667.

Howard is 20th in AVG (.304) with runners in scoring position this year in all of baseball with guys with 100+ PA in that situation. Votto leads with .424.

But somehow Howard over his career has managed to hit better with ROB and RISP. His AVG/SLG with none on is .266/.528. With ROB it is .285/.593 and .281/.561 with RISP. The one difference that seems pretty big is the SLG with ROB.

From 1991-2000, ROB SLG was .422 in all of baseball and .411 with none on. Since 2006, it looks like SLG with ROB is about .009 higher than with none on. So Howard is way above that being .063 higher. Some of that might be because he is a lefty. But whether it is luck or some real clutch talent is hard to say.

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