But he’s also — at best — the third most valuable player on the Phillies, and reasonable arguments can be made that he’s not even that high. He’s big and he’s slow and despite that extra work he’s put in, it’s more likely than not that he’s going to age poorly.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of Ryan Howard’s most comparable players through age 29 — his age for the 2009 season — according to Baseball-Reference.com: Richie Sexson, Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, Willie McCovey, David Ortiz, Tony Clark, Mark McGwire, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff and Norm Cash. The only two guys on that list who didn’t fall off a cliff before age 36 are McCovey and McGriff, and they were a heck of lot skinnier than even Ryan Howard v.2.0 is. The rest of those names should constitute nightmare fuel for Phillies fans.
Ryan Howard’s new contract is a testament the enduring power of the Are-Bee-Eye. It’s also a testament to old-school ignorance: ignorance of aging patterns, ignorance of position scarcity, ignorance of opportunity costs … hey, take your pick. The Phillies have done a lot of things right over the last few years. But this is a big bowl of wrong.
Even if you think baseball’s salary per win goes up to $4.25 million this coming offseason and rises at a 5% clip every winter through 2017, Howard will need to produce an average of 4.75 wins from 2012 through 2017 just in order to justify his salary. If you factor in that Howard gets (even more) long-term security from this deal, then that average production levels goes up to 5.3 wins.
In other words, Howard will need six seasons that were better than his 2009 season, except over his 32-37 years. I’m not sure I would lay even money on him achieving even half of that. This contract is both incredibly risky and unnecessary since Howard was already signed through 2011. Say hello to baseball’s newest worst contract.
Part of it may be an overreaction to the Phillies making a mistake by not buying out a few of Howard’s post-arbitration years at a cheaper rate, but playing the waiting game would have:
1) Given Amaro time to see if Howard’s skills decline over the next two years or suffer a big injury that would limit or cut his production in a similar way
If Howard is worth $25 million, Pujols is worth $50 million a year.”
— ESPN’s Keith Law on the Ryan Howard extension.
Then again, Tyler Kepner of the “Bats” Blog doesn’t think it’s a bad idea:
Howard, 30, is an elite power hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies, with at least 45 home runs in each of the last four seasons. But he has transformed himself from a one-dimensional slugger into an asset in the field and on the bases, too. It helped earn him a five-year, $125 million extension on Monday from a team that had once been uncertain about how long to keep him.
But, even Crashburn Alley is very hesitant:
Most Phillies fans will love the extension, as it keeps a fan favorite in town for a long time. Stat-savvy fans immediately dislike the deal. Most Phillies fans will come to loathe the deal in several years when the Phillies are hamstrung by Howard’s relatively large salary and declining production.
Already, Howard has shown signs of decline as his walk rate has declined every year since 2007 and sits at a paltry 3.6% thus far in 2010. His BABIP has been lower as more and more teams have employed an infield shift against him. Opposing teams have also been bringing in more left-handed relievers to face Howard and his production against them has swiftly dropped. His strikeout rate has declined gradually but so has his isolated power. Using FanGraphs’ pitch type linear weights, Howard’s production against the fastball has dropped every year since 2006. He has swung at more and more pitches outside of the strike zone every year since he came into the Majors. Finally, his whiff rate (swinging strike percentage) has increased every year since 2006.
This will be a fun ride for two, maybe even three more years, but it will quickly become tumultuous.
And if you’re into charts and graphs, check this out (courtesy of Crashburn Alley):