Don’t Blame Ryan Howard

Even before Ryan Howard struck out looking to end the NLCS on Saturday, he was already being fitted with goat horns, especially by broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. If you watched any of the last few games of the series, you heard some version of the following phrase every time Howard stepped into the box:

“Here’s Ryan Howard, who does not yet have an RBI in the series.”

You could count on one hand the number of times the Fox crew said his name and failed to mention his series RBI total. So, when Howard took strike three on a nasty slider from Brian Wilson in the ninth inning, the narrative was confirmed, and Ryan Howard has now become the reason the Phillies lost the series.

There’s only one problem – besides Jayson Werth, he was the only guy who did anything offensively against the Giants. The Phillies lost in spite of Ryan Howard’s performance, not because of it. Here are the individual NLCS lines for each Philadelphia starter.

Shane Victorino: .208/.296/.250
Placido Polanco: .250/.360/.350
Chase Utley: .182/.333/.227
Ryan Howard: .318/.400/.500
Jayson Werth: .222/.375/.611
Jimmy Rollins: .261/.320/.304
Raul Ibanez: .211/.250/.263
Carlos Ruiz: .167/.318.333

Howard led the team in batting average, on base percentage, and extra base hits in the NLCS. And yet, because he didn’t knock in a run, Fox decided that he was struggling at the plate. Usage of the statistic like this is why the sabermetric community has spent so much time working to explain its faults – if it was put in context, it’s not the worst proxy for offensive prowess, but too often it is used to tell a story that is simply not true.

The Phillies lost not because Ryan Howard didn’t hit when it mattered, but because all of his teammates except for one failed to bring the offense when the season was on the line. Howard had some noticeable failures, but on the whole, he did his job. In this case, RBIs are more deceptive than descriptive.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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12 years ago

Good stuff. I am pretty sure I saw him hit two doubles off of lefties during the series as well. It clearly wasn’t his fault they lost this series. Still, the contract is way more than he deserved.