If you told me that through the first three games of the season, Ryan Howard was batting .308, had driven in three runs, and had a homerun, coming into this season, I’d be more than happy with that output. I certainly wouldn’t have expected my Spring Training assessment of Howard to hold so true, while Howard’s stat line looked that productive.
I’m assuming Howard is going to stay healthy over the course of this season, because that isn’t really something I can project. Even with that, I’m not sure that there won’t be days where the Phillies are facing left-handed pitchers and Ryne Sandberg elects to sit Howard in favor or Darin Ruf. Howard has become virtually useless against left-handed pitchers, and his plate discipline has gotten increasingly worse since his rash of leg injuries. The funny thing about that analysis, is that I’ve always been a Howard apologist. He’s still going to hit some homeruns if he is healthy, but don’t be surprised if he strikes out 150 times in 400 at-bats either. (That is slight exaggeration.)
From what I’ve seen out of Howard so far, 150 strikeouts in 400 at-bats might not be an exaggeration at all. Frankly, it might have been an underestimate. In 13 at-bats, Howard has struck out seven times. On that pace, Howard would strike out 215 times in 400 at-bats, which would put him only eight strikeouts away from the all-time MLB record for strikeouts in one season (223), that Mark Reynolds set in 2009. The only difference is that Reynolds did that in 578 at-bats that year, not 400.
Howard isn’t a stranger to leading the league in strikeouts (he’s done so three times), but even when he struck out 199 times in 2007 and 2008, he had over 525 at-bats both times. He was also putting up elite power production then (over 45 homeruns and 135 RBIs both years), so the strikeouts were well worth it.
Howard’s plate discipline has been dangerously bad in the first three games, which is largely do to the fact that he appears to be pressing at the plate, and still not being able to plant on his back left leg.
When pitchers have made mistakes and left pitches out over the plate, Howard appears to have power, and can drive the ball, at least a bit. Still, he doesn’t appear to have full health on his back left leg, which really makes me question how Howard is going to be able to drive the ball for the entire season, especially to the opposite field. It also makes me wonder if Howard’s leg is a ticking time-bomb that is set to go off sometime this Summer, and put the Phillies in a situation where Darin Ruf ends up playing the last three or so months of the season at first-base. While Ruf is a nice luxury to have, Howard on the disabled list for the better part of another season, making $25 million, would be far from a luxury.
We are only three games into the season. Perhaps I’m just overreacting, but so far, my analysis on Howard seems to be spot-on. He still has pop, but in the games where that pop doesn’t show up, Howard is almost guaranteed an 0-for. That taken into account, I’m not sure if Howard will get to the point to have an infamous season in terms of strikeouts, or slug the 26 homeruns that I projected him to. Like I said in my projections for Howard’s season, I can’t project someone staying healthy or getting injured, but when you don’t seem to be healthy through the first three games of the season, it usually isn’t a good sign for how you will fair the next 159.