Howard Vs Wright - it's no contest

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some of the wife’s coworkers were having a little argument about the NL All Star selection. On one side we had two Phillies fans, and on the other a Red Sox fan. The Phillies fans thought that Ryan Howard deserved to go the All Star Game. The Sox fan thought David Wright deserved it. Far be it from me to ever agree with a Sox fan, but this time I think I have to. Let’s forget everyone else who might be more qualified. That’s too complicated a question to get into right now. Let’s just compare David Wright and Ryan Howard. First off, I’ll throw out some of the points they made, such as assigning credit towards this year’s voting for past performance. I don’t believe in that. Please ignore all the seasons that Cal Ripken was an All Star on reputation alone - Cal Ripken saved baseball after the strike, and is above reproach. Nothing you can say or do will ever change this fact. I don’t care that Howard led the league in home runs in 2006. He was an All Star that year, and deservedly so. I don’t care that Wright was unfairly blamed for the Mets' catastrophic nosedive at the end of last season. He hit .352 in September and October, and it’s his fault they choked? Please. What matters is this season. And this season, Wright is clearly better than Howard. First, look at fielding. Wright is a good fielder. He won a Gold Glove last year. I know I’m not giving credit for last year, but fielding stats are impossible, and I haven’t seen either of them play enough to judge fielding prowess. It’s enough for me that Wright beats Howard in Gold Gloves (1-0) and Wright plays a real position, third base, while Howard plays the position where you stick your big immobile slugger (Hello, Prince Fielder). If someone can show me that Howard is more valuable in the field this year than Wright, I’ll listen, but I’m going with my gut on this one. Then we’ll look at hitting. Howard leads Wright in home runs, RBI, intentional walks, and double plays. Wright leads in every other offensive category. Let’s look at what Howard leads in. Leading the league in home runs is very nice. It’s valuable to your team, and a good reflection of your worth as a hitter. Point to Howard. Leading the league in RBIs is largely a function of getting up with runners on base. It’s not a consistently good measure of a batter’s ability. Intentional walks are fine, but largely a function of runners on base and the guy hitting behind you. And while hitting into double plays is something the player has some control over, Howard’s small lead (7-11) is not really statistically significant. Wright leads in everything else. Howard is hitting .234. There is no scale on which that is good. But, you may say, what about clutch hitting? Well, first, it’s a myth. But second, Howard is having an absurd year in the clutch, while Wright is pretty miserable. Wright has a .247 batting average and a .737 OPS with runners in scoring position. Howard is at .330/1.079. That’s a pretty big difference. But let’s examine a little more closely. For those not familiar, BABIP, Batting Average on Balls In Play, is a good measure of a batter’s luck. .290 is about average. Anyone significantly higher is probably lucky, and anyone significantly lower is unlucky. Much lower means your line drives are going right to a fielder, while much higher means you’re hitting ‘em where they ain’t at lot more than average. It’s true that a consistently high BABIP would indicate a guy with great bat control, but there are precious few examples of that in the history of the game. Wright’s BABIP with runners in scoring position is .250. For the season, it’s .302, not far from average. Howard, on the other hand, is at a ridiculous .403 with runners in scoring position, against a pedestrian .272 overall. What does that mean? It means that Howard has been absurdly lucky in the clutch this year, while Wright has had a rough stretch. Howard seems to be a monster in the clutch, but it’s entirely unsustainable, and if you watch, he’ll taper off in the second half. Ryan Howard is a great player who should have a very successful career. Everything I’ve heard says he’s a good-natured guy, positive in the clubhouse, and a guy you want on your team. I like Ryan Howard. But David Wright is simply having a better season, and is more deserving of the All Star selection. If Howard has a problem, he should take it up with vastly overrated Matt Holliday, a strictly average hitter when he’s not in Denver.

Posted in: baseball , statistics