Ryan Howard’s HR/FB rate, at 23.5%, is lower than his HR/FB rate in any of his full years of play, in which it was always above 30%. He has replaced some of those HRs with doubles and 23.5% is still a very good rate, but the drop in HRs is interesting and even more interesting is where those HRs have gone.
Ryan Howard has been the epitome of power to all fields. Jeremy Greenhouse previously noted he hits historically high numbers of HRs to the opposite field, and, it seems, prior to this year he hits HRs almost uniformly to all parts of the field (most power hitters hit the majority of their HRs to the pull field). This year, though, almost all of his HRs have been to dead center with very few in the pull field and only one opposite shot. Dead center is not the best place to try to hit HRs as it is the largest part of a ball park.
Next I wanted to see if Howard has seen a drop in his fly ball distances. Again these distances are using the GameDay data which records were the ball was fielded or landed for a HR. Consider two hits, one to center and one pulled, both travel the same distance in the air but then roll to the wall where they are fielded. Since the wall is farther away in center it will be recorded as a longer hit. Thus this method will overestimate the distance of fly balls to center field.
Here you can see Howard’s power to all fields. The average lefty has power to the pull field and drops off to opposite field. Howard’s power peaks at dead center, but is present to all fields. This year he has even more power to center and less power to the pull and opposite fields. This is why his HRs have mostly been to center, he is missing them to the pull and opposite fields and his overall HR numbers are down.
Finally let’s look at the location of the pitches he hits for HRs.
Before this year he hit pitches all over the plate for HRs. This year he has hit fewer inside and outside pitches for HRs, which is probalby why he is missing all those opposite and pull field HRs.
So we know why Howard is hitting fewer HRs, a drop in power to the pull and opposite fields, but it is too early to tell if these differences are small sample size realated or a real shift in true talent.