And it’s about Ryan Howard, the myth of protection, and Pat Burrell:
According to every substantive study in the history of man, the quality of the on-deck hitter has about zero effect on the hitter at the plate. Statisticians, pundits, seamheads and Sabremetricians (the good people from Society of American Baseball Research) have devoted countless hours to this, crunching the numbers from every possible angle, and no one seems to be able to prove that a good fifth hitter makes your fourth hitter any better — or that a bad fifth hitter hurts your fourth hitter in any way.
Space does not allow us to reprint them all here, but a sampling is posted today on the Courier-Post Web site for your perusal and amusement.
It’s just common sense, really. The hitter does not exist who will force a pitcher to throw more strikes to a .313-hitting, 58-homer behemoth. Mike Schmidt is retired, and Jimmy Foxx is dead. Pitchers aren’t that dumb; they will work Howard carefully, walk him or challenge him based on the situation and the strategy of the moment no matter who bats fifth in this lineup.
Wow, someone in the media actually noticed something like this. Amazing…and we march on:
Last season, when Howard was staggeringly unprotected, he hit 58 homers and the Phillies led the league in runs. Better protection means . . . what? Are we saying Howard didn’t hit enough home runs last year? Can we argue that the best offense in the league just didn’t score enough? Really?
“I was kind of proud of walking a hundred times, actually,” Howard said. “It was the first time I ever had a hundred walks in a season. That’s a feat for me; walks have always been hard to come by because I usually swing at a lot of pitches.”
Howard walked just 33 times in 88 games in 2005, when he won the Rookie of the Year award.
“In the second half pitchers were very careful, and I had to be patient,” Howard said. “The hard part is, you’re coming up there knowing they’re not going to give you much to hit — so when you do get a pitch, you have to be ready to jump all over it.”
Indeed, when Howard committed himself to being more selective and walking more, that’s when he took off. Before the All-Star break, Howard hit .278 with 28 homers in 316 at-bats and 33 walks in 87 games. Then he won the home run derby, and pitchers became more aware of him.
What?! Howard is PROUD of walking?!?! But he’s not swinging the bat, he’s not helping his club, he’s not driving in runs, he’s not…oh I can’t even type that stuff with a straight face. Walking is good, for both the player and the team. And Howard realizes that. And guess what? He was left so unprotected last year that he got the MVP award, belted 58 homers, and drastically improved as the season went along. Imagine if he was protected?!
And it turns out the Phillies have a guy who was pretty good after opposing pitchers walked Howard. You want to guess who it is?
Brace yourself . . .
Pat Burrell hit .423 after opposing pitchers walked Howard, with a .769 slugging percentage.
Yeah, but what have stats ever shown us? Take your evidence and shove it, boy!
Because Manuel was so quick to yank Burrell in the late innings, Howard often found himself batting ahead of the likes of Chris Roberson or Danny Sandoval — which led to a lot of intentional walks in the late innings that didn’t cost the opposition a bit.
Wait. Overmanaging hurt?!
But until then, the Phillies offense made great use of Howard’s walks — which is why they did, indeed, lead the league in runs scored.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Howard said. “When they’re taking the bat out of your hands by walking you, it’s frustrating. But at the same time, they’re putting you on base. You just hope the guy coming up next picks you up.”
The Phillies, particularly Burrell, did just fine in that regard. And it all makes the case that chasing the protection myth instead of adding to the pitching staff would be a mistake for the Phillies.
Well jeez, why would we want to upgrade our pitching when we could improve the league-leading offense?! Surely you jest, Kevin.