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I didn’t embarass myself as much as I had feared

Posted by Sean Forman on August 16, 2011

8/16/11: New York Times Writer Sean Forman Defends His Article Stating Ryan Howard Is Overrated - Phillies // MLB | 97.5 The Fanatic

Here is the audio of the discussion with John Martz (sic) and Sal Palantonio (sic). I tried to make some headway, but I don't think I made any converts. The caller after me couldn't believe they were giving a platform for a heretic like myself.

For the record, the Phillies are great this year because of Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Howard and Ruiz (in about that order), not because Howard has a lot of RBI's.

78 Responses to “I didn’t embarass myself as much as I had feared”

  1. Brian R Says:

    I actually thought you did quite well, they just weren't going to listen to anything you had to say no matter how much sense you made. I like the fact that you repeatedly stated that you weren't saying Howard is a bad player just that RBI is a bad measure of a players worth yet they acted like you were saying he should be in the minors. Oh well for them.

  2. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    Sean, the problem is that you admit that Ryan Howard knocks in runs at an elite rate. And that means he is doing something right. But all you want to to do is look at his faults and not give him credit for the one thing he does "elite" and that I knock in runs at an elite rate. If you gave him credit where it is due every once in a while, you might not come off as such a hater.

  3. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    I agree with what you say, Chris, even though I despise the moronic term "hater" with all my heart.

  4. Sean Forman Says:

    Chris are you the World's Most Sensitive Phillies Phan™?

    Good grief, here are some positive Phillies articles I wrote to make you happy.

    Did you listen to the interview? I said about 8 times that I'm not saying he's a bad player and that he is slightly above average as a first baseman. Does that make me a hater?

    Do I need to genuflect whenever I mention his name? BTW, did you hear Sal touting him for MVP?

  5. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    I don't throw "hater" around too easily because I think it is a pretty harsh word. However, in this case, between the NYT article, Sean's comments on, and his interview on the Fanatic, he really has earned the right to be called a Ryan Howard "hater". To say that Howard, even in his four prime years, was "slightly above average" as he said in a comment on HBT is so insane coming from someone whose intelligence I respect so highly, that I really have no other explanation except to call him a "hater".

  6. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    Sean, Howard hater not Phillies hater. And Sal Pal should really stick to the sidelines on Sunday Afternoons.

  7. Mezzie Says:

    Except that compared with all the other NL first basemen, that's exactly how he rates no matter how you slice it. So "a bit above average" is exactly appropriate. How is stating the truth "hating"? Fanboyism is for hometown "analysts", not serious researchers.

  8. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    Mezzie, take a look at Howards first four full seasons and tell me just how they are slightly above average...without looking at the subjective WAR. In 2006 he hit 58 HRs and knocked in 149 runs. He batted .313, got in base at a .425 clip, And had an OPS+ of 167. But because he wasn't a good baserunner, and he doesn't play SS, his WAR isn't all that high. If sabremetric guys want to look at it, that's their prerogative. I choose to look at the actual numbers that are concrete and not subjective and they tell me Howard was Elite in 2006.

  9. Sean Forman Says:


    I said he's slightly above average THIS YEAR and LAST YEAR. Not 2006-2009. He was well above average those years, though not worthy of top five MVP finishes in 2007-2009.

  10. Neil L. Says:

    Sean, I listened to the audio. The talk show hosts did not have open minds to begin with. You were very deferential to them, in my opinion.

    Questioning a Phillie in their own backyard is akin to questioning the American constitution. You held your own and Baseball got a nice plug.

  11. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Sean, you did a respectable job of defending your position. If there is one thing you might want to consider, it is the adage that before you try to milk the goat, make sure it is a doe and not a buck. In other words, before you try to change someone's mind, make sure the person{s} is{are} capable of changing their attitudes in the face of valid persuasion.

  12. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    P.S. - You are still my favorite writer in the Times.

  13. Rajna Says:

    You should have mentioned the guys that would produce the same amount of RBIs other than Gonzalez, e.g. Morse. Or maybe I missed that part as I am watching the Phils game right now 🙂

    And I'd put Ruiz higher on that list (above Utley) because you can't have great pitching without a great catcher. But I agree with your statements, I hate the Howard hype as much as anyone because it takes the spotlight away from the real contributors. And I am still a Phillies fan 🙂

  14. Chris Fiorentino Says:


    You are right. Here is what you said..."At this point in his career, he is an average to slightly above average major league player. Even at his best he was a very good, but never great player"

    Now for you to look at his 2006-2009 stretch and not call it great is absurd. Averaging 50 home runs and 140 runs batted in for four full seasons does not equal "great"? Why not?

  15. Matt Says:

    Every New York Times writer has a built-in hatred for all things Philadelphia.

    Fact is, Howard is what he is. I don't understand how the word "overrated" can be used? I mean ... what exactly about Howard is "overrated"? He knocks in runs and hits home runs. That's what he is. He hasn't be a GREAT player since his 2006 MVP year. After that season, pitchers started figuring out ways to pitch him and that's that. He is vulnerable to stuff low and outside. Actually, he rarely (IF EVER) gets a fastball in fastball-hitting counts. That's been going on for 2-3 years.

    So enough about Howard being "overrated." He's actually pretty "rated," if you know what I mean. I think everyone in baseball will agree he is no longer a top-5 first baseman.

  16. Chris Says:

    "I think everyone in baseball will agree he is no longer a top-5 first baseman."

    This statement is blasphemy many places on the internet. There are still places where it goes 1. Pujols 2. Howard.

    The view is very different inside the Philly bubble.

  17. Sean Forman Says:

    I defy you to make an argument without RBI.

  18. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    Averaging 50/140/.280/.380/.590/.970 144 OPS+ over four years is Great no matter how many other ways you want to look at it.

  19. Joe Garrison Says:

    As a seasoned broadcast journalist and a baseball stat fanatic ( I could have been on either side of the phone in that situation ) I have to say I was impressed with both sides as they made their points. I was entertained. I live in Pennsylvania and I watch the Phillies a lot. Anyone who watches critically would have to admit Howard does not lack for chances to put up RsBI. I think this is an attempt to look at a number simultaneously as a rate stat and a counting stat. Therein lies the opportunity for folks to disagree.

    Nice work Sean.

  20. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    To say that Howard, even in his four prime years, was "slightly above average" as he said in a comment on HBT is so insane coming from someone whose intelligence I respect so highly, that I really have no other explanation except to call him a "hater".

    God help me as I attempt rationality inside the bubble.

    Do yourself a favor. If you really value Sean's intelligence so highly, go back and think think the whole thing through again, this time dropping "Sean just hates Ryan Howard" as a plausible explanation. Face it, you don't know why Sean is not as well disposed toward Howard as you are. With what you know about Sean, though, the explanation must lie elsewhere. Agree? Maybe Sean's statistical methods don't work as well with Howard as they do with other players. Maybe he's holding Howard up to higher historical standards than you are, or than he ought to. Maybe you haven't understood all of what Sean is saying as clearly as you could. Maybe you're reacting violently to statements that, in a less emotional moment, you'd agree with.

    "Hater" has all the hot-button properties of the word "racist," along with the implicitly self-pitying note of "I'd have called him a less inflammatory name, but with bigotry that intense, what else could I do?" Are you really prepared to back up the between-the-lines accusations that you're making? One reason I consider "hater" such an objectionable term is that it forecloses the kind of civil discussion you're supposedly here to participate in. In fact, I'd argue that use of the term is designed to shut off further cordial communication.

    a pretty harsh word

    More than you know, big guy.

  21. Chris Fiorentino Says:


    Seriously dude? I didn't call him a freaking terrorist or baby-killer or anything like that. I said he is a Ryan Howard hater. Take the stick out of your butt man. It's a pretty common term..."Don't be a hater"

  22. Neil L. Says:

    "Every New York Times writer has a built-in hatred for all things Philadelphia. "

    Matt, what kind of sweeping paranoid statement is that?

    "The view is very different inside the Philly bubble."
    Chris, there is generally no home-team "bubble" in BR. That's what makes it different from other sites.

    Nobody who disagrees with you is a Ryan Howard hater.

  23. rogerbusby Says:

    Absolutely agreed. For a site that prides itself on looking forward we've spent an awful lot of time the last couple days discussing the English language and generally acting like a bunch of old fogys. Which, unfortunately, I'm about to join in on.

    Really, who gives a flying Freddie Fitzsimmons what the plural of RBI is?

    re: hater - Saying, "Sean, you must hate Ryan Howard" would be objectionable. Using the word hater in its current, slang-y context indicates a less fervent usage. It's a word that, because of its ludicrousness, shouldn't be taken seriously.

  24. Chris Fiorentino Says:


    I just have to wonder why Ryan Howard is being singled out by the Sabremetric crowd so much? Is it because Phillies fans love the guy? Why don't I see too many "Chase Utley is the man" articles from the sabremetric guys? Where's the "Shane Victorino is the man" article? Maybe it's because it isn't as sexy as "Let's point out all of Ryan Howard's flaws" articles?

    Again, to say a stat line like the following over 4 years is "very good" is just not being fair to the guy.

    50/140/.280/.380/.590/.970 144 OPS+

    He had a GREAT run from 2006 to 2009 and now, maybe Phillies fans still love the guy a little too much because of how GREAT he was during those years...years in which a World Series was won.

    But two things are pretty fair to say, at least in my eyes:
    1) Ryan Howard is still elite at knocking in runs, as admitted by Sean
    2) He was an Elite baseball player from 2006 to 2009.

  25. Ed Says:

    It's pretty clear to me that Howard is overrated. Meanwhile, the Phillies also have Chase Utley who has been the most underrated player in baseball in the past 6-8 years. The fact that he's never finished higher than 7th in the MVP voting is stunning. With the exception of 2006, his OPS is consistently similar to Howard's. Throw in the fact that he plays a more important defensive position and is a much better baserunner and it seems pretty clear that he's a much more important part of the Phillies success than Howard. And yet he consistently finishes way behind Howard in the MVP voting.

  26. Chris Says:

    if you don't think the sabermetric crowd has been promoting utley for the last 5 years, you just haven't been looking hard enough.

    howard is the lightning rod because he continues to get MVP votes mostly on the backs of more valuable guys who get on base, run the bases extremely well in front of him, and play more valuable defensive positions.

    he is very successful at driving in runs in his plate appearances. this is not all their is to team run scoring though.

  27. Chris Says:

    and also, there* in the previous post

  28. Zachary Says:

    They wouldn't listen to Jesus Christ if he said RBIs weren't great, so I think you did a fine job.

  29. Chris Fiorentino Says:

    @26 and @27

    Your Chase Utley article was three years old. And I liked the Shane article, but I was really looking for something a little more mainstream, like the NYT or even baseball-reference over


    Jesus Christ thinks RBIs are great.

  30. Hector Says:

    Big phillies fan mortified by the Howard outyears. Overweight sluggers into their 30s, anyone? Vaughn, Mitchell, Fielder, Horner, etc. Some legitimacy to paying for past performance, it builds organizational credit among players. Any other Phillies fans remember a quality player who wanted to come in the past 30 years until Halladay and Lee?

    But a warning, Mike Francesa just decided that now that Reyes is cooked, Howard is his guy for MVP. RBI's on a good team logic. I don't know why he can't support Braun or Fielder, who both have good old school and new school numbers for a good team. I don't think he has a vote, but I suspect more voters talk to him than read this site.

  31. Chris Says:

    taking down sacred cows is what is going to drive pageviews/sales in the "mainstream." just how it is. those are the types of articles they are going to want to put out there to the masses, to generate just this type of response.

    that was just one example of the utley love. a search should reveal many people proclaiming him as the second best player, aside from pujols, over the last 5 years or so. quite a compliment for a guy who never got the most MVP votes on his own team.

    here's one from 2009, on a site called espn

    need insider though. short version: dave cameron of fangraphs says utley is the man.

  32. Chris Fiorentino Says:


    You seem pretty reasonable so I am going to pose this simple question to you...

    From 2006 to 2009, was Ryan Howard an Elite hitter? Here's his stat line average those 4 years...

    50/140/.280/.380/.590/.970 144 OPS+

    Now, if he was not an Elite hitter those 4 years, tell me who you think were the Elite hitters those 4 years. Obviously, Pujols was Elite.

  33. Chris Says:

    I prefer not to use fuzzy terms like elite. I think they cause more confusion than clarity. By the numbers I trust, Howard ranks somewhere in the 8-12 range of hitters in that time. Guys who were clearly better were Pujols, A-Rod, Chipper, Holliday, Manny, Berkman. They may not have all hit for the same power, but superior on base players.

    The main issue I have with that argument is that 2006 is clearly the outlier in his career. If you look at the window from 2007-2009, he drops further to about the 20ish range. Now we are talking about a guy who derives almost all his value from hitting, being about the 20th best hitter around. That's fine, but when you factor in defense, position, baserunning, its not a stretch to say he's outside the top 35 or 40 players. That's ignoring pitchers, too.

    The guy was a deserving MVP in '06. Put that off to the side. Since then, he has not been a top 10 hitter, or a top 25 position player, for any extended period of time. Whether that equates to elite or not is up to you.

  34. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I don't think [Francesa] has a vote, but I suspect more voters talk to him than read this site.

    He doesn't have a vote.

    I wouldn't be so sure that more voters talk to him than read this site.** Well, I don't know how many read this blog, but it's my impression that this is pretty much the go-to site for stats, even among the general public. Stick almost any player into Google and see which link comes up on top. I'll bet most voters have come across B-R, and the more they use it, the more they'll look into the "advanced" stats shown on the front page and players' pages.

    BTW, what does he mean by Reyes being "cooked"? He's hurt. He thinks Reyes isn't going to play again this season?

    Why am I even asking...Francesspool is such a buffoon.

    ** And of the ones that do talk to him, I don't think Francesa's shaping their opinions. The voters are baseball writers; they probably shape Francesa's opinions at least as much.

  35. topper009 Says:

    @32, OK so you want to limit the discussion to
    1) Only offense since Howard is bad in all other areas of the game
    2) Only Howard's peak years even if other players who were active in 2006-09 had better 4 year stretches over other seasons in their career.

    Even following these rules which gives Howard a huge advantage, here are the players who produced more batting runs above average (not counting baserunning even) than RH:
    Pujols 253
    ARod 163
    Mauer 152
    Chipper 152
    M Cabrera 151
    Teixeira 147
    Holliday 147
    Berkman 144
    Wright 143
    M Ramirez 141
    H Ramirez 136
    Fielder 136

    Howard 128

    I would think the word elite would not include someone who ranks #13. Remember Howard plays in a hitter's park which means his OPS is not as impressive as it looks.

  36. Johnny Twisto Says:

    He did cite OPS+ which adjusts for park.

  37. topper009 Says:

    Now, to Sean.

    Much applause, I feel your pain man. Far and away, the most embarrassing aspect from this "interview" is Sal Pal, who is so mind numbingly stubborn, emotional and thoughtless about this subject he comes off as being as clueless about how baseball works as the average fan, yet he is a professional sports "analyst". He was just so opposed to even considering hearing what you had to say and be open minded about learning something new and then thinking about it.

    I don't even know where to begin with him, you can tell by his tone he is thinking "this is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever heard, this is a bunch of crap that some nerd made up who got cut from his high school baseball team". The only thing he can say, over and over, is "but he produces runs", and you keep coming back and telling him that many players would produce the same number of runs given his chances. He then thinks he is being smart by making a standard un-researched argument about Rollins, Victorino and Utley being up and down yet Howard being consistent when he led the majors in RBIs for a while. His point being essentially "see Howard didn't even have all these great baserunners in front of him all the time and didn't even have the most baserunners on during this time", and then you come back right away with he actually had 200 more baserunners than anyone else during this time, which was in the article that Sal Pal obviously did not bother reading.

    Then since he has no idea what he is talking about and he can really say to counteract anything you said is "he produces runs", he comes out with the favorite toy of the standard, ESPN loving, uninformed sport fan masses. "What will you say when he leads the Phillies to the championship?" When he said I was hoping you would say two things:

    1) If they win it it wont be because Howard is leading them, hes just along for the ride
    2) I guess he would be at least twice as good as Ted Williams and Ty Cobb combined since they never "led their team to any championships"

    So nice work on getting the first point in.

    When will people stop using number of championships in arguments about comparing players to each other?

    Anyways great overall job embarrassing these clowns with facts and numbers that countered each one of their "points" about the greatness of Ryan Howard, I'm sure you felt like I do each time someone comes on here and says WAR is a stupid stat because it shows that the player I like isn't that good, therefore I don't consider WAR as valid for any arguments.

  38. Andrew Says:

    This discussion is ridiculous. Howard is a good hitting first baseman in a league full of them. He's above average offensively, good, but not great relative to others at his position. He also plays bad defense and can't run. Overall, he's put up between 2 and 3 WAR in 4 of the past 5 seasons, which is slightly above average. He had a very good year in 2006, but didn't even deserve the MVP then. Pujols' triple slash was better across the board in a less hitter-friendly park and he played better defense and ran the bases better. Howard won the MVP because he hit 9 more home runs and drove in 12 more batters. It's a perfect example of what's wrong with traditional baseball analysis.

  39. Chris Says:

    WAR does not tell the whole story for a guy with Ryan Howard's splits.

    He consistently hits much better with runners on base because of the defensive alignment he faces. This makes him more valuable than his context-independent statistics imply. His splits make him a de facto "clutch" hitter, somebody who produces more in higher leverage situations - not because he handles pressure exceptionally well or thrives in big moments or whatever, but because teams cannot overshift their infield with runners on base.

    Not mentioning this important caveat is almost as silly as only looking at RBIs.

  40. nightfly Says:

    I'm still trying to wrap my brain around WAR being "subjective."

    WAR is an accumulation of the value of every good and bad thing that a guy can do. If you don't like the defensive and baserunning components, that's fine - just use offensive WAR - all of that has been calculated using the actual values of every single play that has happened in a baseball game over the course of decades.

    It adjusts for position because, in general, it's far easier to find a strong hitter at first or the corner outfield spots than it is up the middle, with catching being a particular case because it's so specialized. So, a SS hitting 25 homers gives more value over a 1b hitting 25 homers - he's rarer. That, again, is an objective and verifiable fact.

    WAR isn't the only thing, but it's far from useless, and quite a long way off from "subjective."

  41. topper009 Says:

    You want context, since 2010 Howard has 4.5 Situational Wins added, good for 24th place in the majors. Does not change the argument at all, so this caveat is not that important. He is certainly nothing special anymore. In his glorious peak, 2006-09, he was 2nd in this stat, far behind Pujols
    Pujols 24.841
    Howard 17.817
    Berkman 17.137
    Utley 17.061

    But adjusted for Howard's PAs he is 5th in (WPA/LI)/PA from 2006 - 2009. Again, this does not take into account the negative value he provided his team on the bases and in the field during this time.

  42. Dan D. Says:

    "For the record, the Phillies are great this year because of Halladay, Hamels, Lee, Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Howard and Ruiz (in about that order), not because Howard has a lot of RBI's."

    I would in no way have Rollins ahead of Howard - just because he happens to play a position that other teams have poor run producers right now doesn't mean he has really been particularly good at all. But - would ANY Phillie fan worth their weight (Chris??) actually think Howard has been a better PLAYER than any of the other 6 listed in front of him? If you are 7th (and not even really THAT close to 6th) best player on your own team - you should not get a single MVP vote - I don't care how many RBIs & Home Runs you have. There's a reason why Dave Kingman got very few MVP votes in his career - and that was when the media LOVED home runs and RBIs more than any stat outside of batting average.

  43. Andrew Says:

    Yes, Howard does perform better with runners on base, but it's not because he's some sort of ultimate 'run producer.' He has a bad reputation with the sabermetric crowd, not only because he's a paragon of the traditional stats, but also because of his terrible contract and the contrast between him and his teammate on the right side of the infield. No matter how you shake it, though, the guy gets way more credit than he deserves. In 2008, he received 12 first place MVP votes. He hit .251 with a .339 OBP. His OPS was .881. Yes, he was still 20% better than the league average hitter by wRC+, but that's not MVP level, and he performed negatively in the field and on the bases. His WAR came out to 2.8, yet he received 40% of the first place MVP votes. That's a problem. He's not the only one guilty of being overrated - Ryan Braun came in 3rd in the MVP voting that year with only 2.0 WAR due to a horrendous performance in the field - but he's the most guilty.

  44. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    If you are 7th . . . best player on your own team - you should not get a single MVP vote . . . There's a reason why Dave Kingman got very few MVP votes in his career

    Only one? Kingman generally treated the press as if they were deformed radioactive lepers.

  45. Thomas Court Says:

    I just listened to the audio... When I hear Palantonio's voice, I keep thinking of Ray Romano.

    I think Sean held up pretty well.

  46. Timothy P. Says:

    Juan Pierre hit his second HR of the season last night, and he also hit a walk off single in extras for the win! Juanderful!

  47. Timothy P. Says:

    @43 I love Howard and he is the poster child for the traditional stats folks. The SABRmeters throw child-like tantrums when they catch baseball fans reading material not yet approved by the Ministry of Information.

  48. Lee Panas Says:

    Chris #39, you make a valid point about performance in high leverage situations. If we are talking about MVP awards, it's reasonable to consider a statistic such as WPA as part of the discussion. Howard does better by that measure than he does on a situation independent metric such as batting runs. Here is how he ranks on WPA among first baseman since 2007:

    2007 8th
    2008 10th
    2009 4th
    2010 10th
    2011 4th

    So, he looks better by that hitting measure but still not elite (and that's without even getting into defense and base running).

  49. Andy Says:

    All this furor is funny to me. Sean's original NYT article was right on-point. I've made numerous anti-Howard posts on this blog over the last few years, noting that he has been given an incredible number of RBI opportunities and hasn't really cashed in the way he should have. He could (should?) have had some 160-170 RBI seasons.

  50. Timothy P. Says:

    @49 I've made numerous anti-Howard posts Hmmm? How come? if you want to point out that Pujols is better, that's fine. Maybe Texiera is better in your eyes? I think you might have unintentionally given us a glimpse of what's in your heart by using the term anti-Howard to describe your posts and what it is your goal is here.

  51. John Q Says:

    Sean's main point was really about RBI's and the weaknesses of that stat because it's so context & opportunity driven. He used Howard to highlight the weakness of the RBI stat. The real problem is that RBI is so engrained in baseball that it's difficult to take it out of the discussion.

    Sean was mainly highlighting the fact that Howard has had the benefit of batting behind Rollins, Utley and Victorino.

    Bat Howard in the 8th spot and he'd have considerably less RBI's or put him on the Padres as Sean suggested and he'd have less RBI's or put him on the Padres and bat him 8th and he'd have about 50 RBI's.

  52. John Q Says:


    One of Sean's points as far as Howard being overrated is to compare him to other 1b's not middle infielders etc.

    If you take batting average, he's well below the Median for 1b from 2006-2011 with at least 2000 plate appearances. Ryan Howard ranks 16/23 with a .275 average. That's right in between Conor Jackson at .277 and Casey Kotchman at .272.

    If you take on base percentage, he's right about the Median point for 1b from 2006-2011 with at least 2000 plate appearances. Ryan Howard ranks 12/23 with a .370 OBP. That's right in between Jason Giambi with a .376 and Paul Konerko with a .369.

    The one thing Howard excels at is slugging percentage, he's 3/23 for 1b from 2006-2011 with at least 2000 plate appearances. He has a .562 pct which is right behind Miguel Cabrera at .565 and ahead of Prince Fielder at .540.

    Slugging pct is slightly flawed in that a HR is not worth 4 times the value of a single so it tends in inflate HR hitters true value.

    On base is the most reliable metric and On Base rates Ryan Howard as a Median 1b which is basically what Sean was saying all along.

    BR version of WAR has him rated as an slightly above average fielding 1b whereas Fangraphs WAR has him rated as a very poor fielding 1b.

    Another problem with Howard is that he strikes out too much. He's the major league leader in K's since 2006 with 1054. Among 1b's he's first by a wide margin, the next closest 1b in k's since 2006 is Carlos Pena with 761.

    He's extremely overrated in that he didn't deserve that MVP in 2006, Beltran or Pujols should have won the award. And he hasn't deserved most of his MVP votes since 2007. His MVP votes from 2007-2010 are mostly a joke (5th, 2nd, 10th). He didn't deserve any MVP votes in 2007, 2008, or 2010. In 2007 he finished 41st in WAR in the NL, in 2008 he finished 40th in WAR in the NL, and in 2010 he finished 55th.

    His only case from MVP votes other than 2006 came in 2009.

  53. Santos Says:

    Accumulating RBIs (or RsBI) is not a skill. Why are we still arguing about this? Judge the player on his skills not his circumstance.

  54. Thomas Court Says:


    Once upon a time in the 1980's there was this stat called Game Winning Runs Batted In (or GWRBI). You got one everytime you drove in the run that put your team ahead for good. Kinda how being the pitcher when your team goes ahead for good can get you a "Win."

    But then people like the Wizard Wizard of the Web (Sean Forman) came along... and soon the GWRBI fell out of favor... and the townspeople cast out anyone who mentioned them. Now it is a fairy tale... or scary story fathers tell their sons while putting them to bed:

    "Now go to sleep... Wake up early... and eat all your vegetables... or the Wicked Wizard of the Web will come and render all your accumulated Little League stats meaningless."

    The End.

    The morale of the story is, that despite being entrenched on our baseball cards and our minds, RBI's are a semi-flawed way to evaluate a slugger. But some people are still enamored with how shiny this stat is. I honestly think that if Ryan Howard came to bat with the bases loaded EVERY time up this season and had driven in only 100 runs that those guys from Philly would be calling back Sean and saying, "See??? See how Ryan Howard produces?"

  55. John Q Says:


    I think the GWRBI was abolished before there was even an internet. I think MLB stop using that stat in 1988?

  56. Andy Says:

    Timmy P, you might be reading more into my comment than I intended. I was referring to posts I made here that Howard is just not as good as many people think.

    Here are some.

    Ryan Howard is disappearing when the Phillies are behind

    What worries me about Ryan Howard

    Ryan Howard

  57. Mike Says:

    Sean, I heard the interview. Sal is very good at what he normally does, football. They had an agenda with you before you got on the line with them and they stuck to it. I just could not believe both of them failed to listen to the simple premise that Howard has so many RBI's based on more opportunities than any other player and other players given the opportunities Howard has had would have more RBI's. Maybe if you said to Sal "If Clinton Portis carries the ball 500 times and scores 15 touchdowns and Darren McFadden carries the ball 50 times and scores 5 touchdowns..." he would have got the point.

    I would like to hear you discuss the article with the show's regular host, Mike Missanelli. He is a staunch Ryan Howard defender. He is extremely hard-headed about the subject.

    Anyway, I thought this was an excellent piece on your part.

  58. mosc Says:

    RE24 is here to save us from the absurdities of RBI's. It sheds great clarity on when Howard was driving in runs and when he wasn't. Keep in mind that first basemens in general have a much higher than 0 average RE24 and feast your eyes on this:

    2006: 73.9
    2007: 35.9
    2008: 38.2
    2009: 46.8
    2010: 23.0
    2011: 28.3

    I think sub 30 years for an "elite" first basemen are a little bit of a head turner. Clearly his 06 year was spectacular and he deserved his MVP driving in an historic amount of baserunners. This year, he's doing pretty well (11th and rising lately, he was ~50th a few weeks back) which seems to point to 2010 as an outlier. The guy drives in runs and that's not using RBI to say it. There are a handful of better run producers in baseball, but not many. He is an above average cleanup hitter which makes him way above average of a replacement player. Top 5 first basemen seems legitimate ignoring 2010. Averaging 06-11, he's very high on that list.

    I think RE24 is so good for looking at cleanup hitters that I went straight for it ignoring the others. It more straightforwardly looks at runs crossing home plate from the positives of his bat.

  59. Tom Says:

    Sean, thank you for trying to provoke some thought in the Philly area. It was a lost cause before it started due completely to the forum and the people you were talking to.

    For what it's worth I don't think Sal is very good at football either. For example, he was very high on Todd Pinkston:

    My favorite take away from the show was : "the laboratory of what you do". I'm going to work that into conversation every day for a while.

  60. Tom Says:

    Oops, wrong guy. ignore that middle piece.

  61. Timothy P. Says:

    @56 Andy. ...anti-Howard Your words my friend!

  62. Andy Says:

    Yes but those words were a short cut for "blog posts I wrote that pointed out ways in which Howard is overrated". I suspect you are assigning more meaning to my words than I intended.

  63. Doug Says:

    @39, Chris.

    "His splits make him a de facto "clutch" hitter, somebody who produces more in higher leverage situations - not because he handles pressure exceptionally well or thrives in big moments or whatever, but because teams cannot overshift their infield with runners on base."

    @43, Andrew.

    "Yes, Howard does perform better with runners on base, but it's not because he's some sort of ultimate 'run producer.' "

    Both of the above point to context, and imply that that somehow we have to adjust our evaluation or assessment of Howard's performance because of the context in which he hits. To which, I would say this:

    1. Batters have no control over the base/out situations in which they hit (with the slight exception of a weaker hitter following a much stronger hitter with the weaker hitter therefore influencing the runners on base in his own plate appearances by dint of the opposition's inclination to walk the very strong hitter ahead of him).

    2. Therefore, the batter's "job" should be to make the best of the batting situations he is presented with

    3. To fairly evaluate a batter, we should evaluate how well he did "his" job

    4. To compare batters, we should compare the degree of each batter's success in doing their own job. We shouldn't speculate on how well this batter might have done other batters' jobs, or how well other batters might have done this batter's job

    Based on the above, it seems to me that situational metrics like RE24 or WPA are probably better options if we really want to evaluate how well did the batter do his job, meaning to what extent did the batter succeed in the situations he was presented with.

    Now, to get to specifics around Howard, Chris and Andrew above are both recognizing (to state the obviois) that:
    - Howard's batting approach (left-handed, dead pull hitter) is more successful in runners-on-base situations than bases-empty situations.
    - Howard does have considerable power
    - Howard does strike out a lot (which limits double-plays, and limits force outs that would replace a better baserunner with Howard)
    - Given the above, Charlie Manuel is using Howard well by playing him so that he is more likely to be batting in situations (men on base) that complement his attributes

    But, instead of "complaining" that Howard's situations are advantageous to him, why not look at what he did with those situations.. Mosc @58 has some relevant RE24 stats in this regard. Why not look at the same stat for other batters to whom one might want to compare Howard? To me, it seems a lot more productive to compare what batters actually did, using RE24 or other situational metrics, than to try to level situational contexts or speculate on what they might have in other situations.

  64. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    @24/ Chris Fiorentino Says: "@22 I just have to wonder why Ryan Howard is being singled out by the Sabremetric crowd so much? Is it because Phillies fans love the guy? Why don't I see too many "Chase Utley is the man" articles from the sabremetric guys??..."

    @26 and @27
    "...I was really looking for something a little more mainstream, like the NYT or even baseball-reference over"

    Chris, if you want a reference that is both more current and more mainstream, I refer you to the Baseball Prospectus 2011 Annual - they called Utley the second best player in baseball the past five years (behind Pujols). They also had a great line about Utley, that "he's probably the only gritty white guy in baseball history that doesn't get his full due". Forgive me if the quote is not exact, I'm not at home .

    I don't really understand how a serious fan could compare Howard and Utley, and conclude that Howard is the better player. OBA matters. Defense matters. Defensive position matters (a lot). Baserunning matters. Howard's HR advantage doesn't make up for these areas.

  65. Ben Says:

    I'm also a "hater" hater, but not as much as I hate "it is what it is."

  66. Al Dimond Says:

    @58: Let's look at 2006. Pujols was 66 batting runs above average using context-neutral stats, and Howard 62. Pujols was 67 runs above average in RE24, and Howard 74 (leading the NL). So... let's say Howard really was 12 runs better than his context-neutral stats suggest. The WAR framework can easily account for this; using b-r WAR for everything else, Howard comes in at 7.0 WAR, still a win behind Beltran and 1.3 behind Pujols. An excellent season, and third-best in the NL, but that's it.

    If Howard was the best hitter in the NL in 2006, he wasn't necessarily the best player.

  67. Scott Says:

    Sal sounds like his usual delusional self. Talking sabermetrics to these guys is like trying to explain trigonometry to a first grader.

    Sal admits himself "I just don't get it"... exactly. You will never get it. You are stuck in your antiquated view point.

    They blew the article out of proportion because it presented something that completely goes against what they grew up believing makes a good baseball player.

    RBI's are over rated and I can't understand why they don't understand that point? Branch Rickey didn't believe RBI's were even an incredible way of telling that someone is a good player how many years ago. So why do so many of today's so called analysts have trouble grasping these proven concepts.

  68. Timmy P Says:

    @67 Howard hits a lot of HR's also, is that an overrated stat as well? I don't like how SABRmetrics punishes a guy that has a great year because some other guy had a better year.

  69. Mike Felber Says:

    SM usually corrects for incorrect assessments of relative value. HRs are very valuable, RBIs are gaudy & have little to do with just how good you are in neutral contexts. We should adjust Howard downward relative to many elite & near elite hitters, when looking at the total game/contributions a player makes.

    To say Howard had a great year in '06, but several were better in overall value, is eminently fair.

  70. mosc Says:

    @66 you are basically going beyond neutralizing the number of runs based on situation. You are also neutralizing them based on baserunners as well. Why penalize a hitter for having runners on when he comes up? He still has to drive them in. He still drove in more in those situations than you'd expect an average player to do by a huge margin. You have to be careful not to double account for things like you are doing. Puhols had fewer RBI situations, sure, but Howard did exceedingly well in those situations.

    What you're doing is like a messed up obp where you basically correct batting average by number of plate appearances without adding in the walks. Basically dropping a guy's batting average as an added out every time they walk. If you want obp, you add walks. If you want run production, you include all situations the batter faced and look at how well they did in those situations. Correcting the situations themselves is a double correction.

  71. mosc Says:

    I want to add, RE24 takes into account the value of situational hitting to a much larger extent than just straight baserunners. Puhols didn't hit in the high-rbi situations as much. You can't assume he would produce at the same level. Hitters are pitched to very differently given the 24 different base/out situations.

  72. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    The only thing Ryan Howard is "guilty" of is being a very good baseball player in a context that gives him more opportunities than anybody else to rack up RBIs. The media, and fans who think RBIs are a good player performance metric, are who is guilty of making him overrated.

    The one thing I didn't like about Sean's first take here after writing the article is the idea that Ryan is an "RBI hog". There is no such thing. being a hog means you take things that you should have left for other people to do. The implication of even creating a category of "RBI hog" is that you somehow should leave runners on base rather than drive them in, or hit doubles or triples instead of home runs so as to leave yourself on base for the next guy. Dunno, that sounds like being an RBI hog would be a good thing.

    Oh, please don't throw me into that Briar Patch!

    What Howard does that limits his value with the bat is to strikeout too much and walk too little. It's true that if he could adopt a strategy that gave him more walks and fewer strikeouts, it could make him better even if it meant giving up a few hits as well. It's possible that adopting such a strategy would lower his RBI totals even as it helped his team, but it's also quite possible that he is already using a strategy that gets the most out of his body and brain, and that approaching his PAs more like, say, Jim Thome would just make him stink, rather than turning him into a better hitter.

    Unless you've got excellent evidence that it would make him better and not worse, the idea that he is an RBI hog is ridiculous. It's not like the guy plays like Ichiro or Guerrero, hacking at everything, the kind of style that is *obviously* bad unless you have the combination of speed and bat dexterity to turn it into a .300+ average.

  73. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I don't like how SABRmetrics punishes a guy

    It doesn't do that. That's a patently absurd statement. Please stop repeating it.

    If you have an issue with someone unfairly denigrating a particular player, take it up with that person. It has nothing to do with newstats. They are tools, they have no opinions.

  74. Johnny Twisto Says:

    It's an interesting thing about Howard. If he is so easily (relatively speaking) defended with the bases empty, but much more effective with runners on base, he becomes a more valuable player by virtue of playing for a team which gives him so many runners. On a weaker offense, his own numbers would probably decline (I'm talking about his numbers like BA, SLG, HR, which are theoretically more independent, not just RBI which are teammate dependent). And he'd appear to have become a worse player when really he was just hitting in fewer situations he could take advantage of.

    I suppose this is true -- to an extent -- for most players, but it seems Howard might be an extreme example.

  75. Johnny Twisto Says:

    The one thing I didn't like about Sean's first take here after writing the article is the idea that Ryan is an "RBI hog". There is no such thing. being a hog means you take things that you should have left for other people to do. The implication of even creating a category of "RBI hog" is that you somehow should leave runners on base rather than drive them in, or hit doubles or triples instead of home runs so as to leave yourself on base for the next guy. Dunno, that sounds like being an RBI hog would be a good thing.?

    What I would consider an RBI hog is a guy who is swinging at bad pitches in an attempt to drive in the run, rather than taking a walk if he doesn't see any good pitches. Trying to pump up his own numbers even if it is worse for the team. If he sees 30 PA of bad pitches, maybe he gets 5 hits and RBIs, but also 25 weak outs. Whereas another batter might not get any RBI but gives the following hitters more chances to drive in more runners.

    That said, I don't think Howard does this (though I don't see him that much).

    One can argue about whether batters should expand their strike zones in particular situations. It's a valid argument. But in the major leagues, a cleanup hitter should have some good hitters behind him. Usually it will be a net negative to chase bad pitches because you don't think the guys behind you can get the job done.

  76. Timothy P. Says:

    Nobody is listening to you Twisto. I'm taking a fiber therapy laxitive.

  77. Michael E Sullivan Says:

    O really Tim? JT is one of the names I scan for when I don't have time to read a whole comment thread. You on the otherhand -- if this site had a killfile, you'd probably be in it.

    JT@75: I agree it could be plausible to level this charge at somebody who was a real hacker, but it's not like Howard never draws walks. He's got an average OBP, just not really strong outside his best years.

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