Howard’s Numbers Don’t Lie

By Chris Murray
Updated: July 14, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — I’ve always felt that All-Star games, regardless of the sport, are oft-times the manifestation of who’s the most popular rather than what’s done on the field.

And even when folks want to look at statistical measures of achievement on the field, there’s always somebody coming up with a stat to trump the one to justify that player’s spot on that team.

In baseball, there’s enough statistical analysis to make any mathematician blush or a cynic like myself vomit. For me personally, numbers and math are like kryptonite — something I usually avoid like the plague.

Not on this occasion.

Welcome to the official, “Why the Hell Ryan Howard wasn’t on the National League All-Star Team?” edition of today’s BASN column. Last night’s All-Star Game at New York’s Yankee Stadium was played without the game’s best slugger and that was downright wrong.

Last Friday, Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, manager of the National League team, named New York Mets third baseman David Wright to the National League All-Star team to replace Chicago Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano.

What? Was he out of his mind or what? Uh, Clint have you checked the National League homeruns and RBI leader board lately? No one on the National League squad has more than that Howard guy from Philly.

Hello! How about those 28 homeruns and 84 RBIs?

I’m not going to say Howard should have been a starter because the fans make that decision and the Phils first baseman struggled earlier in the season.

However, with those numbers mentioned above he could have been a reserve or a DH because they were playing in an American League park. You can’t ignore the league leader in homeruns and RBIs.

There is absolutely no question that Howard should have been on the All-Star team. Unfortunately, Howard will be the first National League homerun and RBI leader not playing in the All-Star Game since 1948 when Cincinnati’s Hank Sauer didn’t make the team.

Everybody I talked to from colleagues, to ex-players, and current Phillies had different views on what Howard has done statistically during the first half of the season. That’s where I learned that you can develop paralysis by analysis with baseball statistics.

When I vociferously pointed out Howard’s run production which included RBIs and runs scored (146-84 RBI and 62 runs scored) were higher than Wright’s and on par with starting National League first baseman Lance Berkman of Houston (152-73 RBI and 79 runs scored), I was told Wright was just a better overall player, especially on the defensive end and Howard has struggled at times defensively with errors in the field.

Wright does have a better average at .286 than Howard at .234. And last, but not least, the Phillies first baseman has 129 strikeouts and is well on pace to breaking his own major league record.

You see that’s the infuriating part about all the stat geeks in baseball. You can come up with any statistical measure to sway an argument to support your own point of view. I got hit with everything from Wright has a better on base percentage at .386 to Howard’s .325.

And then someone said well look at the number of Howard’s errors at first base, 11 to be exact. That was used to negate the numbers he put up offensively. The runs he may have cost the team and etc.(BTW, his offensive numbers still trump his miscues in the field)

Holy you-have-too-much time on your hands, Batman!

A local talk radio geek here in Philadelphia whined about how small Citizen’s Bank Park is and that it makes it easier for Howard to hit homeruns. Wow! This column would run all day to mention the great sluggers in the history of baseball who hit in small parks.

All I could say was stop!

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had been saying something at various press conferences in the week leading up to the All-Star break that I thought cut through all the BS of certain statistics: He produces runs.

And guess what, people? The more runs you produce for your squad you win game.

At the risk of boring you with even more numbers, Howard is now batting .330 with runners in scoring position and .293 with runners in scoring position with two out. When you saw last night’s game, you should have asked yourself what’s wrong with this picture?

“When you look at his hitting with men in scoring position, his homeruns and his RBIs, he’s a run producer. How can you possibly overlook that stuff?” said Manuel. “Yeah, he has (129) strikeouts and has a low batting average, but those are hard numbers (RBI, homeruns, average with men in scoring position) to pass up.”

After the Phillies beat the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, July 9th — on a pair of RBIs by Howard, Manuel made the point even clearer when a reporter asked about Howard’s batting average.

“As long as he produces runs and he hits in big moments in the game. To me that might be the most important thing,” Manuel said. “I sit and argue all the time about batting average.”

“A guy can hit a low average and produce 100 or so runs, he’s more valuable to me than that the guy who hit .300 and doesn’t do a whole lot.”

Isn’t the object of the game to score more runs than your opponent — to win the game? To quote Kansas Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards: “You play to win the game. Hello!”

If you’re a Phillies fan or a baseball fan, would the Phils be in first place without Howard’s homeruns and runs batted in?

No and Hell no! Do the math.