Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ryan Howard: 2010 NL MVP?



At CNNSI.com, they had 13 experts make predictions for pretty much everything about the 2010 season.  While there were a few surprises (one picked the Reds to win the NL Central and another picked Ricky Nolasco to win the NL Cy Young Award) they agreed on a lot: Yankees will win the Series (8 out of 13), Phillies wiil win the AL East (unanimous), Braves phenom Jason Heyward will win the NL Rookie of the Year (12 out of 13). 

They were some different choices for NL MVP, probably because there are concerns about Albert Pujols' health.  The selections: Albert Pujols (5), Hanley Ramirez (2), Prince Fielder (2), Chase Utley (2), Troy Tulowitzki (1), Justin Upton (1).  I can easily imagine any of these players putting up numbers good enough to win the MVP this year (although Justin Upton might be a stretch).   

There are a few other players who would could have been plausibly selected (Ryan Braun, Derrek Lee, Matt Holliday), but the snub that surprised me the most was Ryan Howard.  He finished 3rd in MVP voting in 2009, 2nd in 2008 (in a fairly close vote), 5th in 2007 and 1st in 2006 (the only player in the NL to finish in the top 5 each of the last 4 years). 

Yes, he strikes out too much (typically around 200 times a year), can't run and doesn't play good defense.  What he does is hit balls over the fence and drive in runners better than anyone else in baseball.  It was a somewhat shocking, though, to see how much better:

Most RBI (since 2006)
Ryan Howard 572
Albert Pujols 491
Alex Rodriguez 480
Justin Morneau 470
Miguel Cabrera 463

Most HR (since 2006)
Ryan Howard 198
Albert Pujols 165
Adam Dunn 158
Prince Fielder 158
Alex Rodriguez 154

He has such a lead, that he's still #1 if you take it back to 2005, when he only played in 88 games.

Since 2006, he has had at least 45 HR and 135 RBI each year.  There have only been a few players in Major League History to do that more than twice over the course of their entire career:

45, HR, 135 RBI (Since 1900)
Babe Ruth: 8 (1920-21, 1926-31)
Ryan Howard 4 (2006-2009)
Sammy Sosa: 4 (1998-2001)
Lou Gehrig: 3 (1927, 1931, 1934, 1936)
Alex Rodriguez: 3 (2001-02, 2007)
Ken Griffey: 3 (1996-98)
Jimmie Foxx: 3 (1932-33, 1938)

I can understand why they picked other players: Not only are they all good, they're more exciting and have better all around games.  Ramirez,  Utley, Tulowitzki and Upton could all be considered 5 tool players, while Fielder put up Howard-like numbers last year with a better batting average and fewer strikeouts.  It's normal to be more intrigued by players that do it all as opposed to a specialist. 

While Howard game is only hitting, this will be an interested season for Howard.  The power numbers have been there, will probably be similar but his batting average, strikeout and walk totals are what need to improve.

Howard's batting average and walks have slipped since 2006, when he hit .313 with 108 walks in addition to 58 HR and 149 RBI.  In 2008, his average slipped to .251 with 81 BB and 199 SO (and still came close to winning the MVP).  Last year, he brought his average to .279, walked 75 times and struck out 'only' 186 times.  In the 2nd half of 2009, he hit .305 (compared to .257 in the 1st half), while hitting just as many home runs. 

He hit well early in the postseason, winning the NLCS MVP, hitting .333 with 2 HR and 8 RBI in 5 games.  In the World Series, well, Game 1 wasn't too bad, with 2 doubles in 5 at bats (he hit .174 with 1 HR and 13 SO over the 6-game series). 

If he can get his average up closer to .300 this season, lower his strikeouts and put up his typical power numbers (45 HR, 145 RBI), he'll be right there in the MVP discussion, and might even win it again if Pujols can't up his usual numbers.

Update (April 2nd):  There was an interesting tidbit about Howard in Jayson Stark's new article: Who are the American Baseball Idols of '10?:
And a couple of ticks down the lineup, Ryan Howard (.306 spring average, .882 OPS) had such an eye-opening offensive approach this spring, he caused one scout to predict: "If he keeps this approach all year long and remembers there's another side to the field, he's going to hit .300 and he's going to win the MVP by a mile."
Update (April 3rd): ESPN put up their Awards picks today.  They had 38 experts make their selections, and Howard was predicted to win NL MVP by two experts: Joe Morgan and Brendan Roberts (ESPN Fantasy).  The rest of the selections: Albert Pujols (16), Troy Tulowitzki (5), Hanley Ramirez (4), Chase Utley (4), Prince Fielder (2), Matt Kemp (2), Ryan Braun, Andrew Ethier, Matt Holliday.

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