Howard may be the greatest Phillie EVER !by Joseph Birmingham
I am not by nature a sports reporter. I started my writing career early in life as a lyricist, then compiled several volumes of short stories, then became a novelist. I did this as I got my degree is Broadcast Telecommunications and it was always expected I would become either a broadcaster or producer/director/editor. My life has taken a different path, and so while I remain a wordsmith, I am essentially reporting sports from the viewpoint of a fan with a good degree of statistical analysis thrown in for good measure.
That being said, I did some research. This is what I found.
There have been rumors of a Howard-Pujols trade and sentiment seems to pretty pretty well divided. I am a traditionalist and loyalist so I firmly believe Ryan should remain big man on the Phillies teams for his entire career. And here is why.
Currently the modern player who holds the most offensive records for the Phillies is the incomparable Micheal Jack Schmidt. Mike still holds the marks for hits, total bases, homeruns, RBI’s, walks and strikeouts. Howard can certainly challenge some if not all of these. Schmidt’s 548 homeruns and 1595 RBI represent 11 full seasons for Howard at his current pace, which means he should be getting there around 2016 when he is still 36 years of age. And Howard has been working himself into better shape as he ages, so I firmly believe he will be a player, barring serious injury, who will play until he is 40. Schmidt played until he was 39 himself so no reason why Ryan Howard can not do the same.
Schmidts hit record stands at 2234, Howard has 750 after less than 5 full years. Again, Ryan beats it if he maintains his current pace until 2018. Schmidts total base record of 4404 represents 10 more years of Howards current level of production so he might not get that one, but could if he plays to age 40.
Schmidt’s BB and K’s records at 1507 and 1883 may be challenged by Howard as well. He is certainly on track to break the strikeout records after 4 1/2 seasons with 878 of them, but his strikeouts are slowly going down as his walks go up and he gets more selective at the plate. If he plays 11 total seasons to get the homerun and RBI team records, and you extrapolate out his current BB and K numbers he would be at 1116 and 2146 ! Hopefully he will strikeout less and walk more, especially if he continues to hit 40 dingers and drive in 140 plus year after year so I am expecting both his career numbers will exceed Schmidt’s before he is done.
Billy Hamilton still holds 3 team records he established in the 19th century, with 508 stolen bases (OK ! No worry Howard will challenge that one !) a career .361 average and .468 OBP. The latter two records will never be touched, even in the new era of steroid influenced statistics, simply because pitchers are better, ballparks are different and seasons are longer with more at bats, allowing batters to need to sustain these percentages for more overall AB’s over the course of a career. Delahantys career marks for doubles (442) and triples (157) are all the more astounding because he set these marks in that same era prior to 1900 but again, outfield arms were not what they are today along with larger ballfields so doubles and triples were a higher percent out of total balls hit back then than today.
Ashburn the great still holds the record for singles, my guess this is because that is about all he hit in his career here, with 1811 of them !! And the great Chuck Klein holds the remaining offensive records with an unreal .553 career slugging percentage and .935 OPS. Howard is currently at .586 and .961. If he stays there, two more team records will fall.
So currently, 5 greats hold all the Phillies batting records over the past 127 years and nearly 20,000 games. And Howard is the only Phillie to play since Schmidt retired that even had a hint of besting ONE of these records, and I think he stands a good chance to hold 8 or more of them if he finishes his career here.
Now, one word about Pujols. He rocks, no doubt about it. But look deeper at the big picture here.
Pujols got an earlier start than Ryan did, and in his 9 years with the team, they have gone to 2 World Series and won 1. In Howards 5 seasons with the Phillies they have gone to 2 World Series and won 1.
In Pujols career his team has averaged 90.8 victories per year getting to the post season 6 of 9 seasons. In Howard’s 5 full seasons the Phillies have averaged 88.8 victories and gotten to the post season 3 of 5 seasons.
All statistics considered, excpet for the fact that he got an earlier start, these two sluggers are nearly identical on output and team contribution. But consider this. Pujols has been in the big leagues nearly a decade now, while Howard is still relatively fresh by comparison. And Pujols came to a team that had 17 NL championships and 10 World Series appearances in their history, whereas Howard came on to the losingest team in professional sports history, that had a glimmer of hope way back in the 80’s when the above mentioned Mike Schmidt anchored them en route to a lone World Series win they had waited nearly 100 years to achieve. Here is Ryan Howard taking them there twice in as many years after his team only won their division once since he was born.
Therefore, is is my assertion that Howard has made more of an impact on Philadelphia than Pujols did in St Louis. I also believe Albert will be on the decline by his 35th birthday (look at GriffeyJr and his fast early start) which may actually allow Howard to exceed him in career numbers in some categories by the time all is said and done. The next 5-7 years will tell us if this is truly the case, but I expect to see Howard’s slugging and OPS go up, while his strikeouts continue to drop. He already averages more homeruns and RBI per year than Pujols does.
So while I see merit in exploring the rumored trade, I think it would be in the Phillies best interests to continue to groom Ryan Howard to be the anchor on a team that statistically compares more favorably then any team in Philadelphia history. The current group of players could easily win 5 or more World Series before the older group starts to decline and retire. And with a strong farm system and the current emphasis on upgrading the pitching staff at every opportunity, I believe team management and ownership is looking at this big picture as well and will make the right moves rosterwise to give these Phitens a chance at becoming the dynasty we have all been waiting for.
FINAL NOTE: Pujols is a career .992 fielder and Howard .990, so all the talk about how much better Albert is in the field doesn’t wash with me either. And Howard is rapidly improving in that arena as well.