Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is getting paid like a top-5 player. He has the 2nd highest contract in all of baseball by annual value, after only Alex Rodriguez’s bloated 2008 pact with the Yankees, and he has the 8th-largest contract by overall value.
But take a look at this chart of the position players with the highest total WAR over the past three seasons (2008-2010; go ahead, I’ll wait):
That’s right. Ryan Howard does not even appear in the top 35 players on the first page. In fact, if you add in pitchers as well, Howard does not even appear in the top 70 most valuable players over the past 3 seasons.
Now, WAR as a measure of value may not be perfect, but it’s become a widely used and highly respected way of measuring a player’s total value, and is one of the best measures we have at the present time.
How is it possible for Howard to rank so low? Well, the main thing is that Howard just isn’t in the very upper echelons of baseball players, by almost any measure. But WAR also takes into account things like positional scarcity (slugging first baseman are relatively easy to replace), home ballpark (Citizen’s Bank is very homer-friendly), and defense (Howard’s is definitely subpar).
I knew Ryan Howard’s contract was kind of bad, but I had no idea exactly how bad. Of course, it’s not as if Howard is a bad player by any means. There are something like 800 players who saw significant time in the majors over the past three seasons, so Howard is definitely in the top 10 percent. The problem is that he is getting paid as if he is in the top 1 percent, when he is not even close.