Would You Rather: The Big Piece vs. el Hombre

In what I hope will become somewhat of a recurring “View From Broad Street” segment, I would like to introduce a classic baseball would you rather scenario.  On the heels of Buster Olney reporting on ESPN.com that the Phillies have discussed the possibility of trading Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols in an epic swap of future Hall of Fame first basemen.

First of all, let it be said that this is complete BS and that Buster Olney is a hippie weirdo.  He gets some good info, and I read a lot of what he writes, but as far as dorky baseball writers go, this guy is just some strange little dude from New Hampshire or Vermont or something (who the shit knows the difference anyway?) and this story was probably more of a wet dream for him than an actual conversation with a source.

This is a Phildelphia blog, and I am a Ryan Howard fan.  If Ryan Howard and my Miller Lite were hanging off a cliff, I’d save Howard and go throw Back some Coors Originals with him.  The Banquet Beer.  Delicious.

^That is a disclaimer.

This is analysis:

Howard was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year, the 2006 NL MVP, the 2008 league-leader in Home Runs and Runs Batted In , and who has averaged 127 RBI since coming into the league (635 total).  Compare that to Pujols’ 608 RBI in the same span, an average of 121.6.  Not a staggering difference until you consider the fact that these numbers include Howard’s 2005 season where he split time with Jim Thome and totaled 63 RBI in just 88 games.  That means in half a season less (about 350 at-bats), Howard still knocked in 27 more runs than Pujols.

Why so much emphasis on the RBIs, you ask?  Well, here’s the thing about Ryan Howard.  He’s not the best player in the league.  Albert Pujols may be.  But Ryan Howard has a role on the Phillies team as the clean-up hitter: knock in runs.  And he does that job better than anyone in baseball.

In the time since he came into the league, Howard’s closest competitor other than Pujols is Mark Tiexiera with 602 RBI over that span, an average of 120.4 per year.  A-Rod, who has missed time with injuries and a steroid suspension came in at just 509, while the next closest competitor I was able to find was Miguel Cabrera at 569, almost 70 fewer than Howard.

Comparisons between the two often come down to two things: Howard’s strikeouts and Pujols’ superior fielding.

Both fair points, but consider this: Howard made only two more errors in the field last year than did Pujols, with a fielding percentage of .990 compared to Pujols’ .992.  Combine that with a slimmed-down physique that has led to better range, and Howard is no longer a defensive liability.  He still has trouble turning double plays from first when he has to throw on the inside of the runner going to second, but he gets to way more balls and is just more nimble out there.

The strikeouts are no comparison.  Howard strikes out more than everyone except Mark Reynolds and Steve Phillips.  Howard has averaged 173 strikeouts over the last 5 years (again a number influenced by the half-season, the number should actually be more like 191.25).  Over that span, Pujols has struck out 58.2 times per year.  Just a 115 strikeout difference per year, that’s all.

Let’s move on from that one.

The next consideration that factors in here is contracts.    These are really the reason why this trade would even be considered.  That’s because Pujols is entering the final year of his contract, leaving his current team the Cardinals afraid that they’ll lose him.  However, if you’re the Phillies and you just let Cliff Lee walk after acquiring Roy Halladay because of his $9 million contract for this upcoming year, and you have Jayson Werth’s beard coming up on a contract that is going to cost a lot of money, why would you add yet another pay increase a year before you have to?  And if you thought the Phillies letting Cliff Lee walk started a commotion about them being too cheap, imagine if they let Howard and Pujols walk away within a calendar year of one another.

Maybe the most important thing here is chemistry though.  The Phillies of the late 2000s have been a very successful team, especially over the last three seasons.  As far as I can tell, this success breaks down to about 48% skill/talent, roughly 9% luck with injuries, somewhere near 12% Charlie Manuel being the perfect combination of mastermind and absolute buffoon, and the remaining 31% just straight camaraderie between teammates.  People like Aaron Rowand, Chan Ho Park, and Pat Burrell will openly admit that they wish they’d never left.  Scott Eyre said after last season that he would only play this year in the Majors for the Phillies, because going to any other team after being with the Phils would be such a letdown.  Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco are proof that people on the outside want in on the Phillies mojo, and guys like Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino will openly talk about the clubhouse atmosphere playing a huge part in their development from non-roster invitees to World (f—in’) Champion All-Stars.

The three biggest creators of this chemistry are Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.  They’re the Jerry, George, and Elaine of the Phillies.  (NB: If I had to choose a Kramer I think It’d be Werth because he seems to have a little bit of a screw loose)  Chase is George.  He’s a openly maniacal (remember when he wouldn’t talk to reporters about his hit streak?), he has a knack for saying inappropriate things (HR Derby in NY, WFC speech), and he’s somewhat secretly the centerpiece of the whole thing (like George, who was based on the show’s creator Larry David).  Jimmy and Ryan are Jerry and Elaine.  I can’t really decide who is who, but I’m leaning towards giving it to Jimmy since we’ve seen him open up so many seasons with a sort of performance when he annually calls out the Mets.  The two even make a pretty cute couple singing their “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” remix.

Seinfeld comparisons aside, Howard is “The Big Piece.”  He’s a guy who tells his teammates “Just get me to the plate, boys” and then goes out and wins the fucking game with one swing of the bat.  He’s a straight up G, and I would venture to say 90% of this team’s swagger comes straight from the enormous shoulders of Ryan Howard.

He means more to this team than his 140 RBIs every year.  And they mean a hell of a lot.

He’s good for a +5 in the “expected September wins” department, because every year around that time he decides “that’s right, there’s a thing called left field and I don’t have to hit every single ball over the right field fence.”  And then he cranks some of Tom McCarthy’s “Oppo-Boppos,” and reminds us all why Scott Franske should be actively planning the assassination of Tom McCarthy.

The last element people mention anytime Howard comes within a sneeze of St. Louis is that Ryan Howard grew up there, and still has a soft spot for the organization and the softest most pussy-whipped fans in sports.

Well I’ve got news for you St. Lunatics, Ryan Howard is here and he is here to stay.  He just purchased a house this summer in beautiful Blue Bell (outside of which my uncle has been known to lurk in his car) right in the same development as Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.  Jesus H. Christ is that going to be a good Little League team in 10 years.

Maybe as good as the Phillies are going to be this year, with Ryan Howard and NOT Albert Pujols.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Would You Rather: The Big Piece vs. el Hombre

  1. I liked the post and your analysis,. As an outside observer attached to neither team, I’d prefer having Pujols (not that I wouldn’t be euphoric with Howard). Aside from the contract issue, he has Howard beat in career slugging, fielding, and average (where he leads by some 50 points). They’re both the same age (30) and have the same number of rings, but Pujols has two more MVP awards (including the last two). I would love having either, but, contract aside, I’d have to go with Pujols. Good read though. Keep it up man.

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