In today's Daily News, we wrote that it is getting increasingly difficult to believe that Ryan Howard is anything other than a power hitter who is approaching the bottom of his descent.
Look at the following spray charts, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net, from Howard's 2011 season and Howard's 2014 season.
I'll give you a minute.
Let's limit it to right-handed pitchers.
How about now:
Focus on the right-most section, to the right of the vertical gray line, and above the diagonal gray line (I drew both - fancy, fancy). Notice all of the red dots in the 2011 version? Those are home runs. I count 16 of them. Notice all of the red dots in the 2014 version? No, you don't. Because there are only two of them. There are 20 black dots in the 2014 version. Those are outs. In the 2011 version, I count 16 of them, though I might be partially colorblind.
2011: 16 home runs, 16 outs
2014: 2 home runs, 20 outs
Now look at the left-most section (to the right of the vertical and underneath the diagonal). Specifically, look at the number of outs, presumably fly balls, in left field in 2014, compared with the same in 2011. Now pay attention only to the vertical line. Look at how even the dots are distributed between the left half of the chart and the right half of the chart in 2011. Compare that with the distribution in 2014.
Charlie Manuel used to bristle when people suggested that Howard was on top of his game when he was driving the ball to the opposite field. That's because the reality is that Howard is on top of his game when he is driving the ball to center and right-center. Think about it: when a left-handed batter drives the ball to center or right-center, it means that he is getting around on the pitch. When Howard would homer to left field, it was usually because he was late on a pitch. But he had enough power and enough bat speed to overcome being late.
The tale these pictures tell is one of a hitter who has lost both his power and his bat speed. He doesn't have the power to make up for being late on pitches, and he is late on more pitches. We saw this with Raul Ibanez. When the Phillies signed him, he hit to all fields. By the end, he had turned himself into a dead pull hitter who could still crush fastballs on the inner half, but who struggled to do much else.
Think about all the times that we've seen Howard get a crushable fastball but fly out to left field. Those used to be extra base hits.
Correct me if you see something different.