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More Phillies, More Howard, More Hyperbole…

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, it was a pretty big contract, so I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised to see some BIG responses. Still, it’s created such a hornets nest of comments, that I had to revisit Howard’s massive extension.

Matthew Carruth from the always spectacular FanGraphs acknowledged the humor involved:

When the news first broke and the details started to emerge, I was tempted to fill this entire article with just me laughing. My co-writers convinced me that while an appropriate response, that was not quite informative enough so I have relented and will actually map out the value of Ryan Howard’s new extension. I’m laughing pretty hard, though, in case you wanted to picture it.

Can’t argue with him there, it was pretty funny, I mean not so much Modern Family (blatant, lough out loud) funny, more Office (incomprehensible and awkward) funny, but still… more from Carruth:

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.

I don’t know about the worst contract in baseball (cough-vernonwells-cough), but Howard sure will have to work hard to justify his 25 million a year. On the other hand, if you listen to some of the comments from Philly fans, this is a veritable bargain. To whit, somebody dubbed the Truth wrote (parenthesis comments are mine):

The contract may be huge but Howard deserves it. Really? (I’d love to know why, please elaborate?) Howard is the best run producer in baseball. (No, he’s not, that would be Albert Pujols) He has at least 40 HR and 135 RBI the last 4 seasons. (Yes, but only one of those is relevant…) Howard is the fastest player to reach both the 100 and 200 home run milestones in Major League Baseball history… For a player entering his 6th MLB season he has already accomplished a significant amount (yes, but for a player entering his 6th MLB season he’s also already surprisingly old).

NL Rookie of the Year (2005) – Irrelevant
2× All-Star (2006, 2009) – Irrelevant
Silver Slugger (2006) – Nice accomplishment, but four years old.
NL MVP (2006) – R’iiiiight…
NL Hank Aaron Award (2006) – Well, he did hit a lot of home runs, and they are shiny…
Home Run Derby winner (2006) – Yup, definitely worth 25 million…
Led NL in home runs (2006, 2008) – True.
Led NL in RBI (2006, 2008, 2009) – Wait for it… Irrelevant!
World Series Champion (2008) – So was Matt Stairs, is he getting a 25 million a year deal?
2009 National League Championship Series MVP – What?!?

Well, I can’t really say that I was convinced. Fortunately, on the side of reason is the good old King of Snark:

Howard ranked 28th among MLB hitters in WAR in 2009, 63rd in 2008, and 38th in 2007. Even if we just look at his bat, ignoring position and defense for the moment, he ranked 18th in MLB in 2009. The Phillies just handed him the second-highest average annual salary in the game, but he’s not the second-best position player in the game, or the fifth best, or even in the top 20. He’s not even the best player on his own team — that would be second baseman Chase Utley.

I can only imagine that Keith’s going to hear about that top 20 comment… but he’s fearless, so he continues:

This signing says to me that the Phillies are still stuck in the old model of player compensation, in which counting stats, especially home runs and RBIs, earn players the biggest paychecks, and knowledge of player aging patterns was largely absent from the industry.

A rebutal from the audience? Yes, how about you, Mr. dalegrey:

I guess this why you work for ESPN and not the Phillies or any other team anymore.

Nice, attacking his career choice, always a good sign that you have reason on your side. How about something from SI’s Jon Heyman (via twitter):

folks keep tweeting howard’s an overpay. but hes averaged 49.5 HRs/143 RBIs last 4 yrs. MVP finishes those 4: 1, 5, 2, 3

Yup, there are all those fancy MVP finishes, but what do they tell us? Maybe it’s just me, but I think they tell us that Howard is exceptionally good at compiling a gaudy numbers in two counting stats. Fortunately for him, those counting stats happen to be the ones that writers who like to denigrate stats use. That those same writers also happen to vote on MVP awards says more about the state of baseball writing than Howard’s MVP finishes.

Well, I could really continue here all day, but the wife wants dinner and what my baby wants… So, I leave you with perhaps the most salient point of all, courtesy of ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Here’s a simple barometer of whether or not this was a good deal for the Phillies: If Philadelphia were to put Howard on the trade market today, with almost seven years and $164 million remaining on his deal, how many offers would it get?

The answer, in all likelihood: zero.

Less than 24 hours into his contract, Howard — a star in his prime — is already considered by many in the industry to be overpriced.

Yup, the Phils really hit that one out of the park. High fives and scotches all around for Ruben and Friends…

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The Day the Phillies Jumped the Shark…

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, it’s happened. The writing’s now on the wall for the Philadelphia Phillies. We might have wondered this winter, when they pulled off a brilliant trade for Roy Halladay and then mucked it up by giving away Cliff Lee. Still, the Halladay trade and the subsequent contract he signed were enough to determine that Phillies management still remained cognizant of how to build a top flight baseball organisation. Then, today, with Ron Howard driving the boat, the Phillies strapped on their water skies, jean shorts, and signature leather jacket and… jumped over a great white shark.

I touched briefly on Howard’s limitations when the “trading him for Albert Pujols” nonsense percolated, but just to review: His greatest claim to fame is his prodigious power and his copious RBI totals. One’s legit and one isn’t. He doesn’t run the bases, is a weak fielder, has a body that wont age particularly well, and – oh yeah – he’s twelve days younger than me. Trust me when I tell you that my wily eyebrows and rogue nose hairs have the Bride telling me daily that I’m an old, old man (my cranky demeanor probably doesn’t help either).

I don’t want you to think that I think Ryan Howard’s a bum, he’s not. He’s got phenomenal power and decent plate discipline. He’s also made strides to become a better fielder and seems to be a nice guy, but he also cannot hit lefties. Serioulsy, in 957 lifetime at bats against lefties, Howard has a phenomenal 54 home runs. He also has a .226 batting average, .309 OBP, and .443 slugging percentage. Against righties, Howard is essentially Albert Pujols (1.064 OPS), but against lefties he’s Alex Gonzalez (.752), but without the defense at short. So, basically the Phillies are committing 25 million a season to a glorified platoon hitter who’s going to age poorly. Great! As the incomparableRob Neyer points out, Howard’s deal really is a victory for the RBI believers over logic. Which for any intelligent Philly fan (and given that none of them seem to realise how valuable Chase Utley is, I’m starting to wonder if there actually are any…) must be a real kick in the n***s.

But, it acutally gets worse, because there’s also this… in baseball history there have been 20 players to receive 100 million deals (ARod of course has two of them). In order of size, courtesy of Cots Baseball Contracts:

Alex Rodriguez, $275,000,000 (2008-17)
Alex Rodriguez, $252,000,000 (2001-10)
Derek Jeter, $189,000,000 (2001-10)
Joe Mauer, $184,000,000 (2011-18)
Mark Teixeira, $180,000,000 (2009-16)
CC Sabathia, $161,000,000 (2009-15)
Manny Ramirez, $160,000,000 (2001-08)
Miguel Cabrera, $152,300,000 (2008-15)
Todd Helton, $141,500,000 (2003-11)
Johan Santana, $137,500,000 (2008-13)
Alfonso Soriano, $136,000,000 (2007-14)
Vernon Wells, $126,000,000 (2008-14)
Barry Zito, $126,000,000 (2007-13)
Mike Hampton, $121,000,000 (2001-08)
Jason Giambi, $120,000,000 (2002-08)
Matt Holliday, $120,000,000 (2010-16)
Carlos Beltran, $119,000,000 (2005-11)
Ken Griffey Jr., $116,500,000 (2000-08)
Kevin Brown, $105,000,000 (1999-2005)
Carlos Lee, $100,000,000 (2007-12)
Albert Pujols, $100,000,000 (2004-10)

Now, I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but since the Bride’s at work and the Jays are getting hammered by Boston, let me break it down. Of those deals, the second ARod contract, Mauer, Tex, CC, Cabrera, Santana, and Holliday were all handed out recently enough that the jury is still deliberating in regards to their overall worth. So that leaves us with 13 monster contracts to examine. The Yanks would give Jeter his deal over again and obviously Pujols’ contract is a massive bargain (calm down people, I mean relatively). You could argue that both Manny and Helton were worth their money – of course the Devil’s Advocate in me would point out that both their team’s spent several seasons regretting that much dough going to one player – but still each has been roughly worth their large contract, even if marginally so.

I’m not sure, if given the choice to go back in time, whether or not the Mets would still give Carlos Beltran his monster deal, but FanGraphs estimates his dollar value over the first five years of that deal to be 101.5 million, so we’ll chock it up as a win. If you’re keeping track at home, and I hope one of us is, that leaves Soriano, Wells, Zito, Hampton, Giambi, Griffey Jr, Brown, Lee, and Texas’ ARod contract as deals that the team came to regret. In the case of a few of those guys (cough-vernonwells-cough) when I say regret, I mean waking up after a wild night out with a 300 pound, naked man named Earl spooning you…

So, out of thirteen 100 million contracts, that’s five, or just slightly more than one in three, that a team received reasonable value from. Really only three (Jeter, Pujols, and because of the ’04 and ’07 titles, Manny) would be no-brainer do them again deals, and at least twice that many were outright disasters. To be clear, I’m saying that spending a 100 million on a player will work out at best a third of the time, and nearly half the time it will cripple any franchise that isn’t spending a 140 million on salary. I don’t know much about numbers, but that sure seems like bad math to me.

So, does giving Howard a 125 million deal (and a 25 million yearly average to boot) seem like the decision a smart franchise makes? Especially when you factor in the glorified platoon hitter with a DH’s body? Look, I’ve been wrong before (the Bride would tell you often), but as soon as I read of this deal, I instantly thought, “Yikes, in three years, we are going to look back at this signing as the moment that the Phillies dominance in the NL East started to crack. Or, more accurately, we’re going to see it as the moment when the Phillies jumped the Shark…

Trading Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard…

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s a report on ESPN today that the Philadelphia Phillies have been having internal discussions about trading star slugger Ryan Howard to St. Louis for Albert Pujols. That’s strange, because I’ve been having internal discussions about trading my bicycle for a Ferrari. I mean, I think it would be a good deal for the local dealership, because my bike has a really nifty basket on the front and it even has a pink Barbie Bell.

I know, I know, Ryan Howard is a really great player. He’s an MVP, he’s averaged 49.5 HRs in his four full seasons, and he’s won three RBI titles. Plus, he’s only been in the majors for five years, so he has a long career ahead of him. Thus, if St. Louis has doubts about whether or not they can sign Pujols, it would be smart for them to swap him for Howard, right?

Well, actually no. It would probably be one of the worst trades St. Louis could make. Right off the top, much like Minnesota with Joe Mauer, I’d be surprised if St. Louis didn’t come to a deal with their iconic player. In the article Buster Olney (who, don’t get me wrong, is a great baseball writer) mentions that Howard is from St. Louis and that’s really great, but Pujols has been the best player in baseball for the last six years, while wearing a Cardinals uniform. That’s a little more relevant to fans than where a kid went to grade school. He also equates it to the Twins moving Johan Santana and the Jays moving Doc, but the difference is that in those scenarios, those teams knew they had to move a player who was absolutely going to leave the following winter. Thus far, there is no sense that the Cardinals will lose Pujols, so I would imagine that they’ve barely begun to ponder the doomsday scenario of having to get equal return for the best player in baseball.

Having said that, even were the Cards to decide that trading Pujols was the only recourse, then moving him for Howard makes no sense. When Howard was a young buck, he was blocked from joining the Phillies by Jim Thome. Why does this matter? Because despite only four full seasons, Howard is actually a few months older than Pujols.

Which brings us to the talent. Without hyperbole, Pujols is the best player in baseball (with apologies to Mauer, and Hanley Ramirez), while Howard is the most overrated player in baseball (with apologies to almost everybody that Dayton Moore signs). To the casual fan (or the fan still using the triple crown stats), Howard seems like the preeminent slugger in MLB. His four top five MVP finishes certainly prove that mainstream journalists think he’s pretty good, and that’s because Howard does two things really well. One he hits a lot of home runs. Two, he hits behind Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Chase Utley… what’s that? That’s not a skill that he has? Well, congratulations… You get it, now why can’t MVP voters?

Ok, yes I’m being a bit factious, but the RBI thing is so beyond debate at this point, that it’s kind of like arguing who won their breakup, Britney “I can’t find my underwear or my children” Spears or Justin “Dick in a Box” Timberlake.* Howard gets an inordinate amount of credit for hitting home runs, which is good, and batting behind Utley and company, which is contextual. He strikes out in record setting numbers, he doesn’t run the bases well, his defense is suspect (although much improved in 2009), and most importantly, he’s only average at getting on base.

*(If you’re new to this, then that’s fine, but lets just say that RBIs are what’s known as a context driven stat, so they don’t tell you much about someone as a hitter, other than that his teammates were on base. Want to know more? Well, it just so happens that the great and mystical Joe Posnanski wrote eight billion words on this topic yesterday)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Howard isn’t a good player, certainly he is. It’s just that most Howard fans think those 140 RBI seasons mean he’s a top ten player in baseball, when he’s barely a top ten player at his own position (and since I know you’re going to argue this one, here’s an unofficial off the top of my head list: Pujols, Fielder, Cabrera, Teixeira, Gonzalez, Youkillis, Lee, Howard, Morneau, and Votto… although I might be forgetting someone and Votto might actually be too low). So, basically we have an inferior player, who’s slightly older, which would be fine, if Howard were signed to Evan Longoria’s contract (the best in baseball), but he’s not.

This year, King Albert will make 16 million, while Howard banks 19. Next year the Cardinals will have a 16 million option for Pujols, while the Phillies will be shelling out 20 million for Howard. Of course, the big reason that the Cards might have to move Pujols, is that in 2012, Albert is a free agent… but so is Howard.

I doubt that St. Louis has even considered the possibility of trading Pujols, let alone considering what they might want in return for him, but I can guarantee that unless Cards management wants to be looking for employment outside of baseball, there is no scenario in which they would consider moving Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard.

So, the Phillies can internally discuss it all day long, but that and five dollars will get them a coffee from Starbucks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to bike downtown to pick up my new Ferrari…

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