The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan has a new(ish) column and the gist is this: The Phillies offense stinks this season, and that proves Ryan Howard is great.
I disagree for the following reasons:
1. Compared to last season, the Phillies’ offense hasn’t been that bad. The Phils are averaging 4.3 runs per game this season, after averaging 4.4 per game in 2011 (and only 4.17 runs through the all-star break in 2011).
2. Compared to other teams in the league this season, the Phillies’ offense hasn’t been that bad. Only 5 NL teams have scored more runs.
3. Sheridan’s assertion that Howard’s clutchness is what the Phils are missing is not really true, either. Only four NL teams have a higher average with runners in scoring position this season (and, for what it’s worth, the Yankees have a terrible team batting average with RISP and they’re in first place in baseball’s toughest division). I mean, yes, every team could use somebody to get clutch hits. And, yes, Howard had a high batting average with runners in scoring position last season (.298)(though not as high as Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins or even Chooch Ruiz). But that doesn’t mean Howard is clutch. He had a much lower average with RISP in 2010 (.275) and lower still in 2009 (.267). Clutchness just isn’t a skill that many players posses, if any players do.
Sheridan’s misunderstanding of what ails the Phils aside, what really bugged me about the column was the subtext; it was, at heart, a defense of Howard’s much maligned contract:
On the one extreme, you have the stat crunchers, who can prove with mathematical certainty that Howard should be grateful to be playing in a semipro league somewhere. On the other extreme, you have those of us who think Howard has an impact on games well beyond his own OPS numbers.
This statement misrepresents the opinions expressed by most credible baseball analysts at the time Howard signed his wholly unnecessary contract extension. You didn’t hear people say, “He sucks!” You heard a lot of people say, “What’s the rush?” When Howard signed his deal, he was still two years away from free agency. It made no sense to lock him up that far in advance, considering his age, body type, and the fact that he was scheduled to hit free agency at the same time as Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
But if Howard’s contract was hotly debated at the time he signed, it is no longer. The extension was a mistake, plain and simple. That much became clear the second we learned that Howard tore his Achilles tendon, an injury that has derailed his 2012 season and possibly his career.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. But that’s the point! Sheridan has the benefit of hindsight and he’s still defending Howard’s contract extension. Come on Phil. The “stat crunchers” have won this argument. Let it go.