Let’s say the Phillies figure out the mess that has placed them in the middle of a 1-5 road trip, they relearn how to score runs and get into the playoffs for a fourth season in a row. Hey, it could happen, after all they benefited from the Mets’ collapse in 2007, overcoming a deficit worse than the one they face now. Anyway, so if the Phillies get into the playoffs and Ryan Howard continues to produce at the current rate, is he the MVP again?
Like mentioned before, this is a hypothetical and since there are two-and-a-half months remaining in the season, there still is a lot to be determined. However, the one thing that is guaranteed is that Howard will hit at least 40 home runs and top 120 RBIs this season.
Let’s put those numbers in perspective for a moment before we get into the real reason why Howard could be the MVP.
Currently, Howard is one of four players in Major League Baseball history to reach the 40-120 plateau in four consecutive seasons. If Howard were to get there again this year, he would join Babe Ruth as the only players to club 40 homers and drive in 120 runs in five consecutive seasons.
For even more historical perspective on Howard’s numbers, he has 714 RBIs in 824 career games which comes to an average of 140 RBIs per 162 games. Considering that Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Jim Rice maxed out at 140 RBIs in a season and that Howard’s career-high is 149, it shows Howard’s historical and uncanny consistency.
Howard hit four homers in four games last weekend at Wrigley Field, one that bounced out onto Sheffield Avenue that witnesses say was the longest hit in the ballpark this season, and appears to be getting into that zone he finds during the last few months of every season.
Oh yeah, that late-season surge. Though they say there is no way to apply a metric to how “clutch” a hitter is, maybe we can try with Howard, so here it goes:
Of Howard’s 243 career homers, 96 of them have come during the final two months of the season, while 247 of his 714 RBIs have come during the same time period. Yes, that’s 40 percent of his career home run total and 35 percent of his RBIs when the games seem to matter the most.
Homers and RBIs don’t do anything for you? OK, try
this—Howard’s OPS in September is 1.112 with a .314 batting average, and his
second half OPS is 1.047.
That points to the fact that Howard gets going when a lot of players start to wind down. You know how they compare Howard to other big sluggers that faded out during their early 30s with injuries and broken down bodies? Guess what? They were wrong. Hey, I was one of those guys and once put Howard in the same class as guys like Mo Vaughn, Greg Luzinski and Boog Powell—big fellas who piled up the numbers early and faded soon after their 30s. I’ll admit it, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Howard is an athlete. He’s big, but not built like those other guys and he’s never been injured. He had a sinus infection, but never an injury. Not once.
None of this explains why Howard could be an MVP in 2010, though. To start, his strikeouts are down a bit and as a result his batting average is right around .300. His slugging is down slightly, but he’s on base for a career-high in hits, doubles and runs.
Howard will have competition, of course. Count on Albert Pujols being in the mix, along with Joey Votto from Cincinnati, David Wright from the Mets and Corey Hart from Milwaukee to name a few. However, special recognition goes to players who carry their teams into the playoffs and if the Phillies get there it likely will be because Howard takes them there.
Yes, the Phillies need some pitching and some support for Howard since Jayson Werth appears to have gone into the tank. Still, Howard is the man for the Phillies. He’s been the team’s best hitter and the go-to guy in the clubhouse, as well. In the quiet din of the clubhouse after games, Howard has assured the traveling media that they could rely on him for quotes and insight. No, it doesn’t sound like much, but that’s leadership that often goes unnoticed. See, Howard does the dirty work of dealing with the press so his teammates can go about their business. Pete Rose famously did that for the Big Red Machine and the 1980 Phillies, allowing Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt to become MVPs.
The difference in this case is that Howard is the MVP. He’s been rewarded with the big, fat contract and as a result has kept the team on his back. If the Phillies rally to get back to the playoffs, Howard will have earned that salary and he’ll probably have the numbers to show it, too.