What to Expect From Ryan Howard in 2014

Posted: February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

Ryan HowardMy how time flies. Ten years ago, Ryan Howard was a burgeoning prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization. The young slugger set records aplenty in 2004, slamming 46 home runs between Reading and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as a 24-year old blocked by Jim Thome at first base with the big club. It didn’t take long before Thome was shipped out of town and “Ryno” established himself as one of the game’s biggest stars with his 58 home run 2006 campaign. From that season through 2009, Howard was one of the most productive hitters in the world. His average of .278-50-143 over that time frame is rivaled by no one in Phillies’ history.

However, time must go on and people change. Injuries have derailed a once Hall-of-Fame level career over the last three seasons. Following the signing of his massive 5-year, $125 million contract extension in May, 2010, Howard experienced a dramatic decline in his power numbers. After hitting 58, 47, 48, and 45 home runs in the previous four seasons, the St. Louis native saw his home run totals dip to 31 and 33 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Then, came the unsightly severing of his Achilles tendon in the final at-bat of the team’s 2011 playoff run.

Since that moment, the Phillies have faltered. From their 102 win, banner campaign that season, Philadelphia has won just 154 games over the last two years. A key factor in their struggles has been the lack of a healthy Howard on the diamond. After playing in at least 143 games in each of his first six seasons, Howard played in just 71 games in 2012 and 80 in 2013. That’s 151 out of a possible 324 games without the 2006 NL MVP. When the best hitter and run producer in your lineup is out for half of your games over two seasons, it’s no wonder that the Phillies have failed to impress on the field.

The only sure thing is that Howard will get paid handsomely once again regardless of whether or not he returns to his former glory. The 34-year old will receive $25 million in each of the next three seasons, followed by a $23 million option in 2017 that includes a massive $10 million buyout. In other words, the Phillies will relinquish at least $85 million to Howard before his career comes to an end. Once considered a potential Jimmy Foxx clone, Howard’s career has instead gone the way of Richie Sexson.

So, what should we expect from the former slugger this season? According to Ruben Amaro, Howard is 100% healthy. Of course, we all thought the same thing last year, when the slugger looked impressive in spring training, only to perform very mediocre at the dish before being shut down due to injury. Healed from his Achilles injury, Howard hit .266-11-43 in 80 games. That’s just 22 home runs and 86 RBI over the course of a full season, a far cry from his past averages when the Phillies’ offense was a force to be reckoned with.

If Howard does not see a renaissance to his former glory; one has to hope that, at the very least, he can stay healthy for the entire season. A platoon at first base with Darin Ruf could be the answer to those problems. It would also likely make the Phillies’ offense better, as Howard hit a putrid ryan howard 1.173-3-11 against lefties in 2013. With Ruf playing against southpaws, Howard would have the opportunity to rest his aging legs a couple of times a week.

Will Howard ever get back to the 40+ home run, 120+ RBI clout? Its doubtful. In the post PED era, players don’t regain their power when they get older. Especially if they have had significant injuries to the lower body, as Howard has experienced. No, the best hope for the Phillies is to get 125-135 games out of the veteran at an ideal production level similar to what we saw from him in 2010-2011. That is, 30 home runs, 100 RBI, and an average that rests between .250 and .270. If Howard can put together that type of season in 2014, the Phillies will have a chance to make some noise in the National League. If the injuries return and the power doesn’t, it could be another 85+ loss season for the City of Brotherly Love.

Regardless, the best days of Ryan Howard are behind him. All we can hope for now is a return to the numbers that we saw when he ranked 10th in MVP voting just a few seasons ago.

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