Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Legend of Ryan Howard

At Phillies Nation the other night, The Dipsy wrote an article on whether Chase Utley had the potential to be the Greatest Phillie of All Time. The comments that followed were very interesting, with some arguing that Utley's own teammate, Ryan Howard, would have a better chance of entering the Hall of Fame if their careers ended today or in the near future.

One comment in particular struck me and I wanted to take a closer look at it. The comment was written by Michael Stubel. He had this to say:

"Howard, on the other hand, is a monster. If he is clean (and I hope and believe he is), his numbers from 2006-2009 are historic. He has the chance to put up 4 consecutive years of at least 40 home runs and 135 RBI. Say all you want about ballpark sizes and hitting among other great hitters who get on base. If my research is correct, only 3 players have accomplished the 40/135 feat in four straight years: Babe Ruth, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., and, if his ‘09 numbers hold up, Ryan Howard. Think about that. It’s amazing. And for the record, Bonds, Gehrig, Williams, Foxx, A-Rod, McGwire, Mays or Aaron did not accomplish that feat. And Sosa, of course, was a cheater".


I decided to take a closer look at Ruth, Griffey Jr., Sosa and Howard's power numbers.

Babe Ruth: 40+ HR, 135+ RBI for 7 consecutive seasons

26 years old - 1926 - 47 HR, 150 RBI, .372 BA
27 years old - 1927 - 60 HR, 164 RBI, .356 BA
28 years old - 1928 - 54 HR, 142 RBI, .323 BA
29 years old - 1929 - 46 HR, 154 RBI, .345 BA
30 years old - 1930 - 49 HR, 153 RBI, .359 BA
31 years old - 1931 - 46 HR, 163 RBI, .373 BA
32 years old - 1932 - 41 HR, 137 RBI, .341 BA

NOTES - The Babe started this historic run in his 9th season of playing baseball after "retiring" as a pitcher.

Ken Griffey, Jr.: 40+ HR, 135+ RBI for 4 consecutive seasons

26 years old - 1996 - 46 HR, 140 RBI, .303 BA
27 years old - 1997 - 56 HR, 147 RBI, .304 BA
28 years old - 1998 - 56 HR, 146 RBI, .284 BA
29 years old - 1999 - 48 HR, 134 RBI, .285 BA

NOTES - Griffey, Jr. never came close to these single-season numbers after 1999 and was beset with injuries for the rest of his career. His 4-year streak of 40 HR+, 135+ RBI began in his 8th season of playing baseball.

Sammy Sosa: 40+ HR, 135+ RBI for 4 consecutive seasons (ASTERISK)

29 years old - 1998 - 66 HR, 158 RBI, .308 BA
30 years old - 1999 - 63 HR, 141 RBI, .288 BA
31 years old - 2000 - 50 HR, 138 RBI, .320 BA
32 years old - 2001 - 64 HR, 160 RBI, .328 BA

NOTES - Sosa almost certainly was using Performance Enhancing Drugs during this streak. His streak began in roughly his 8th or 9th season of playing baseball.

Ryan Howard: 40+ HR, 135+ RBI for 4 consecutive seasons (if his 2009 averages hold up)

26 years old - 2006 - 58 HR, 149 RBI, .313 BA
27 years old - 2007 - 47 HR, 136 RBI, .268 BA
28 years old - 2008 - 48 HR, 146 RBI, .251 BA
29 years old - 2009 - 37 HR, 111 RBI, .272 BA thus far (50 HR, 150 RBI projection)

NOTES - Ryan Howard has 162-game averages of 50 HR and 142 RBI's.

The data above suggests that Ryan Howard is the most prolific power hitter in the history of professional baseball for the first four complete seasons of his career. Eliminating Sosa from the discussion, he'll have numbers that only Ruth and Griffey, Jr. have consistently put up.

The fact that Griffey Jr. never came close to his power numbers after the age of 29 could be a bad omen for Howard. On the other hand, the fact that Ruth/Griffey Jr./Sosa didn't start their streaks of 40+ HR/135+ RBI until their eighth seasons or later auggests a faint possibility that Howard could keep this up until perhaps the age of 33 to 35 years of age.

For argument's sake, let's say he surpasses Ruth's streak and puts up 8 consecutive years of 40+ HR and 135+ RBIs. This gives him, at the end of the 2013 season and at the age of 34, career numbers of around 400+ home runs and 1,200+ runs batted in after his first 8 complete seasons. Astounding. Incredible. And if his batting average were even .030 points higher, the numbers would be even more amazing.

We've got one of the greatest of all time, and I think too many expect too much from him every single at-bat.

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