The Big Man Heats Up

Forget about the average.

Don't worry so much about the strikeouts.

Ryan Howard is tied for the NL lead in RBIs, and tied for second in the league in home runs. But go ahead, concentrate on his strikeouts.

Ryan Howard went 3 for 5 with a triple, two home runs and four RBIs in last night's 8-2 victory over the Red Sox. He was hitting a season-low .163 on May 7, but has hit a respectable .276 (40 for 145) with nine doubles, two triples, 13 home runs and 46 RBIs since. He has hit .500 (9 for 18) with one double, one triple, four home runs, and 13 RBIs in his last four games. He is tied for the National League lead with 62 RBIs. He is tied for second in the league with 19 home runs.

So, yes, Howard has been pretty productive for more than a month. It's just that people concentrate on his average and only remember his strikeouts. Howard has struck out 45 times in his 147 at-bats since May 7. That's one strikeout every 3.09 at-bats. He struck out 50 times in his first 123 at-bats this season, or once every 2.46 at-bats. So he's striking out less than when the season started.

Compare those ratios to previous seasons:

  • 1 strikeout every 2.66 at-bats in 2007
  • 1 strikeout every 3.21 at-bats in 2006
  • 1 strikeout every 3.12 at-bats in 2005

He's still striking out more than he had in 2006, when he won the NL MVP, and 2005, when he won NL Rookie of the Year. But he's also striking out less than last season, when he hit .268 with 47 homers and 136 RBIs. And while strikeouts look bad, they're not the killer everybody thinks they are. Baseball Prospectus studied the relationship between teams' strikeout rates and run production from 1950 to 2002. It found there was no correlation between the two. It also found that a hitter's strikeout rate correlates positively to power, slugging percentage, and walk rate.

Those are good things.

Those are the things that made Howard a $10 million man.

After another look at strikeouts by Baseball Prospectus in 2005, analyst James Click wrote, "On a very rough scale, a strikeout costs a team about three one-hundredths of a run. Looking at team totals from 2004, Reds batters led the league in strikeouts with 1,335. . . . All those failures at the plate cost the Reds an estimated 13.6 runs over the course of the season, or just over one win."

"When we're exposed to baseball growing up, when we play the game, putting the ball in play is important because the defenses are so bad that if you can just make contact and put the ball in play there's a good chance you're going to get on base," Baseball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan said in March. "At the professional level, defenses are so good that the difference between putting the ball in play and not doing it for routine plays is just not that great.

"You have to be focused on runs. How you get there doesn't actually matter. The shape of an offense doesn't actually matter. It's just a matter of how many runs. You see this throughout baseball. Take two different guys who go 10 for 50 over the course of two weeks. The guy who strikes out 25 times is going to look worse than the guy who grounds to second 25 times."

Would it benefit Howard to strike out a little less? Sure. His 2006 ratio would be a good place to be. Would it benefit Howard to strikeout a lot less? Not if it sacrifices his power numbers, which it might.


Got a question for Jamie Moyer? If you do, e-mail me here and I'll try to ask him later this week. Please remember to include your first name, initial of your last name and city and state where you live! Hopefully, we'll get his answers in Saturday's paper.

So, ask away!


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