As Ryan Howard made the final out and walked slowly back towards the Phillies’ dugout for Saturday’s home loss, a fan tossed a beer bottle in his direction.
Howard wasn’t hit by the bottle, but the moment was symbolic of the former star’s current status in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
Howard, a Lafayette High and Missouri State product, brought Philadephia a championship in 2008 and deserves more respect than to have some gutless wonder throw a beer bottle at him. Why some fans feel the price of admission gives them free reign to treat athletes like robots instead of human beings is befuddling.
Howard’s struggles provide some perspective here locally, however. He signed a $125 million extension with the Phillies in 2010, then tore his Achilles tendon a year later in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals.
Howard hasn’t been the same since.
Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) is a valuable statistic found at Fangraphs.com that helps put offensive value into context. As the website notes, wRC+ is a statistic which “attempts to credit a hitter for each outcome’s (single, double, etc) value rather than treating all hits or times on base equally.” The statistic also takes ballparks into account, unlike batting average and RBI.
If that sounds confusing, just know the league average is 100 and Howard’s wRC+ this season is 40, or 60 percentage points worse than league average. In fact, he hasn’t had a wRC+ over 100 since 2013 when he produced a 111, and hasn’t topped 100 in four of his last five seasons.
This is where the aforementioned perspective comes in.
There will always be a segment of Cardinal fans that believe Matt Holliday was never worth the $120 million that the club committed to him back in January of 2010. The formula below isn’t official, but it’ll help explain the rationale behind this specific group.
Holliday makes a lot of money + he didn’t earn the NL MVP award = he’s total crap.
There’s no debating that kind of math, so don’t even try.
But consider that Holliday and Howard are both 36 years old. Holliday has earned $17 million per season since 2012 while Howard has made between $20-25 million per year since 2011 on a contract that still has one year on it after this season (with a $10 million buyout).
Holliday’s wRC+ this season is 114. That’s only 14 percentage points higher than league average (again, which is 100), but it’s a whopping 74 percentage points higher than Howard’s wRC+. In 73 games last season, Holliday’s wRC+ was 124 and the year before that he finished with a value of 132, so this isn’t a one year aberration either.
Holliday’s wOBA (another useful offensive statistic found at Fangraphs) is higher than Howard’s as well. But forget the sabermetrics for a second and realize that Philadelphia faces a bigger issue with Howard.
Up until recently, Howard’s dramatic decline had left Phillies manager Pete Mackanin in a tough spot. Tommy Joseph was waiting in the wings ready to take the first base job, but Howard and his massive contract were blocking the young prospect. The job is now Joseph’s, who became the full-time starter at the beginning of June, but now Howard’s value has sunk even lower.
In efforts not to kick a good man while he’s down, Howard isn’t the only aging vet with a bad contract and poor production to boot. Mark Teixeira (48), Alex Rodriguez (87), and even Albert Pujols (107) currently have worse wRC+ numbers than Holliday as well. Howard is just top of mind.
The Phillies, much like the Yankees or the Cubs before Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer cleaned up Chicago’s mess, have been unable to make an easy transition to the future because they’re currently paying for past mistakes.
Fortunately, the Cardinals don’t have to deal with a similar situation.
We can debate whether Holliday should still be hitting in the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup (which is moot given Mike Matheny’s penchant for keeping his left fielder in the No. 3 spot), but there’s no disputing that he still provides value. In fact, his ability to mix in at first base only increases his versatility.
Holliday isn’t blocking a top prospect, he’s not hitting like a beefed up version of Pete Kozma, and his contract has not, nor will it, impede John Mozeliak’s ability to add more salary to the roster. You can’t say that for other aging players like Howard.
Let’s make one thing clear: Holliday isn’t the threat at the plate that he once was. Nobody is arguing that. The Cards’ offense will continue to run through Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty and Aledmys Diaz for the foreseeable future.
This also isn’t intended to pile on Howard, who, again, deserves more respect than what he was shown this past weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
But viewing Howard and the Phillies’ situation from afar provides at least some perspective for what the Cards have in Holliday here in St. Louis.
There will always be critics, but compare players of the same age making roughly the same money and realize the Cards are receiving a much better return on investment as Holliday plays his contract’s final years.
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