Breaking Down Howard

howard 0824.jpgIn case you missed it, you should read Tom Verducci‘s story on Ryan Howard.

The gist: Howard saw more breaking balls last season than any hitter in baseball, and 49 percent more than any other left-handed hitter. He saw left-handed pitchers in 35.8 percent of his plate appearances, compared to the average left-handed hitter, who saw them 18.5 percent of the time. Howard also got a breaking ball 39.7 percent of the time, 57 percent more often than the average player.

Howard’s percentage of breaking pitches also has jumped every year since he reached the big leagues: 20.54 percent in 2004, 21.34 percent in ’05, 29.17 percent in ’06, 33.62 percent in ’07, 31.49 percent in ’08 and 39.66 percent in ’09. He saw breaking balls an astounding 57.4 percent of the time against the New York Yankees in the ’09 World Series, when he struck out a Fall Classic-record 13 times.

So what’s the cure?

“I don’t want to speak about Ryan, but usually most hitters, if they make the adjustment to the pitch, they are less apt to see as many,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “Any pitcher is going to try to exploit any weakness of any hitter, especially a big power hitter. Most times with notorious power hitters, you try to pound them in and go soft away. At least that’s what it’s been since I’ve been around.”

Milt Thompson said he plans to set up the pitching machine, put Howard in the cage during the days he does not play in the Grapefruit League and let him see breaking balls.

One after another.

Over and over and over.

“We have to let him see them if he is going to see a lot of them,” Thompson said. “He looks good right now. I think he’s going to be fine.”

Both Thompson and Charlie Manuel said the best antidote to the breaking-ball diet is patience.

Howard must wait for a good pitch to hit.

Howard has not walked more than 81 times the previous two years.

“He should get 150, easy,” Thompson said.

“I know he can hit them,” Manuel said. “When he stays on them, he can hit them. When he hit .313 in 2006 and had 58 homers, he hit breaking balls, sliders, changeups. As long as he follows the ball, tracks the ball and stays on it … as long as he keeps his balance, he can make contact. I’m not worried about it, because he will find a way to hit those. He can hit them. He’s already showed me that he can.

“But I don’t want to talk to him about walking. I want to talk to him about getting good balls to hit. If he gets good balls to hit, he will walk. It’s like telling Jimmy Rollins to walk more. Jimmy Rollins is a good hitter. I want him to get good balls to hit. Don’t swing at high fastballs out of the strike zone and things like that. Howard is a big strong power hitter. The walks will come if he gets good balls to hit and works the count.”

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Brad Lidge said this morning he hopes to start throwing to hitters soon.

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Shane Victorino is not on the travel roster to Tampa to play the Yankees tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise everybody else is headed to George M. Steinbrenner Field.

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The Zo Zone is on Facebook and Twitter. His Phillies book “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” is available online, and at Delaware Valley bookstores!

7 Comments

Thanks for the link Todd, interesting stuff. It amazes me that he put up such great numbers last year despite all the lefties, breaking balls and the shift! But, as Verducci points out, he’s likely to see even more this year so he better start hitting them…

Thanks for the breakdown Tom, I like it. I think Howard is going to have a “Breakout” season this year. I’m predicting an over 300 average and over 70 home runs! And a couple more stolen bases.

Frank, Phillies Phan

As most people should see, he has to hit those pitches he getting the most of, but then hitting one or two fo them isn’t enough, he has to hit at least one a week for teams to be hesitant at using those pitches and he has to be more consistant through the whole season, and if he can accomplish all that then he’ll be in line for another MVP award.

- MLB Critic

Good to see that Milt & Co. will be emphasizing more patience against breaking balls. A Ryan Howard that can walk a lot more would be a scary hitter indeed.

The big thing the Big Piece has to do is recognize count situations. Swinging at the 1-2 slider or curve that you know the pitcher will waste isn’t good. One thing I noticed about Ibanez was his ability to bounce back from 2-strike counts. Howard needs to foul more of those tough pitches off and find a way to put them in play. It would be interesting to do a stat comparison between his home runs with 2-strikes and with fewer, I will bet it’s a drastic reduction – one that merits a change to a contact hitter mentality in those situations. An added benefit – if he’s not pulling everything with 2-strikes, the shift actually becomes a hitting opportunity for Howard. If Howard loses 5-10 HRs, but drops 20-30 strikeouts (at minumum), I think it’s a good trade.

centercounter, here is a link to Howard’s splits with different counts. His numbers drop precipitously with two strikes on him, and have been that way consistently throughout his career. I didn’t know it was that bad….

http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/split.cgi?n1=howarry01&year=Career&t=b#count

Howard’s flailing at 2-strike breaking pitches out of the strike zone again today, good for two strikeouts in his two at-bats.

Happ looked great, one-hit ball for four innings. But the Phillies are hitless.

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