The Ryan Howard Contract Extension: Feast or Famine For The Phillies?

April 27, 2010 by  
Filed under Fan News

On Monday, the Philadelphia Phillies announced that they had signed first basemen Ryan Howard to a $125 million, five-year contract extension. The deal includes a sixth year club option, that could potentially keep him in Philadelphia until 2017. 

Ryan Howard will be paid $20 million in 2012 and 2013, $25 million from 2014 to 2016, and the club option is for $23 million with a $10 million buyout. 

That, my friends, is a lot of money.

Immediately after this deal was released, fans, pundits, analysts, scouts, and statisticians took to the web, and took to the airwaves to dissect this deal. 

The response was both incredibly passionate and incredibly polarized. 

As usual in baseball, the key difference in opinion seemed to be between scouts and sabermetricians.

This dynamic in baseball has been overplayed and stereotyped since the publishing of Moneyball, but the Ryan Howard deal seems to have brought the argument volume to full pitch (pardon the pun).

Casual fans and old-school baseball people love this deal. 

The deal keeps Ryan Howard in a Phillies uniform for years to come. It keeps his powerful bat in the heart of the Phillies lineup and it keeps Ryan Howard in Philadelphia where he is beloved and is a significant part of the community. 

Statisticians and sabermetric analysts hate this deal. 

The Phillies wildly overpaid an overrated baseball player. Not only that, but they are giving a significant raise to a player whose skill-set will drastically decline throughout the remainder of the deal. 

Now, in full disclosure, I am not a statistician. I took an Statistics In Economics course my freshman year of college, with a teacher who showed almost no signs of life unless he was regaling you with the story of his first visit to Carnegie Hall.

Nor am I a baseball scout. In fact, I have never even played competitive baseball.

But I am a devoted follower of the Philadelphia Phillies, have done my research, and fancy myself knowledgeable of the MLB.

From this, I have concluded that a true verdict of this contract lies somewhere between those two poles.

Here’s why.

Ryan Howard is a great baseball player. He is not the best player on the team, that honor belongs to Chase Utley. Nor is he the teams flashiest player, that honor(?) belongs to Jimmy Rollins. 

But he is a very good player.

He has hit over 40 home runs and batted in over 130 runs every year since 2006. He has been a valuable component of the Phillies post-season qualification in 2007, their World Series victory in 2008, and their National League pennant in 2009.

Sure, he strikes a lot, but their are only a few teams in the MLB that would not be happy with Ryan Howard as their first basemen. 

But Ryan Howard has his flaws.

Ryan Howard strikes out with great frequency (he led the league with 199 strikeouts in 2007 and has topped 180 every year since 2006). 

Ryan Howard does not a play a premium defensive position, and he does not seem to play that position very well. 

Hard hitting baseball bashers that strike out a lot and play poor defense are very common in baseball, but they are rarely regarded as premium players. 

Ryan Howard is a very good baseball player that is now earning an elite baseball salary. 

Over the course of his contract, Howard’s guaranteed salary per year will be more than any other baseball player except for Alex Rodriguez

This is where the extension begins to look foolish. 

In my opinion, one of the most important sabermetric hitting statistics is Weighted On Base Average. Weighted On Base Average provides a weighted combination of On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage. Essentially it measures a players ability to get on base and create runs.

In 2009, Ryan Howard’s wOBA was .393, good enough for 10th in the MLB among first basemen. 

UZR is a statistic that attempts to show the value that a player has defensively.

In 2009, Ryan Howard’s UZR was 2.0, good enough for 8th in the MLB among first basemen. Interestingly enough, defense is the only quality where advanced statistics prove Howard to be more valuable than the common perception. 

Although this is only a very basic overview of Howard’s statistical value, it gives the notion that Howard is merely a pretty good first basemen. 

But you cannot judge this contract solely on a statistical basis. 

Ryan Howard has provided rare talent since he graduated to the big leagues. He has hit a ton of home runs, a ton of RBI’s and played pretty good defense. 

He may struggle against left-handed pitching, continue to flail away at breaking balls, and strike out too often, but more importantly he has been more than willing to address these flaws.

Over the past two years, he has lost over 30 pounds in order to increase his agility and improve his defense, which he has. 

He has shifted his stance, shortened his swing, and is working on improving his pitch identification. 

He has done everything that Phillies have asked of him, and more, while managing to thrive in one of the nations toughest sports towns. 

He has been a fundamental aspect of the Phillies organizational renaissance on the baseball diamond and off. He brings fans to the seats and sells merchandise. 

He has allowed the Phillies to begin acting like the big-market organization that they have always had the potential to be.

It is precisely this organizational growth that is reflected in this contract.

This is a classic big-market oversigning, the kind of signing you see from the Yankees.

These signings are not always a bad thing however.

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira were two incredibly important parts of the Yankee’s World Series victory last year, and will continue to be productive players for years to come. But do you really think  that Rodriguez and Texeira will be performing up to the $20 and $21 million they will be earning in the last year of their contracts, when they are ages 42 and 37, respectively?

Most likely, no.

Ryan Howard has helped turn the Phillies into the type of organization that can make these deals.

Small market teams have to operate in the way that is most economically efficient in the long term, all the time.

Big market teams can overspend in the future to get the most that they can in the present.

This contract is not a tremendous bargain for the Phillies, but I do not think that it will be the type of contract that cripples a franchise.

The Phillies were right to give Howard a contract that locks him up for what is left of his prime.

Just not for this amount of money, or this many years.  

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Article Source: Bleacher Report - Philadelphia Phillies

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