First baseman Ryan Howard became known as “The Big Piece” of the Philadelphia Phillies during the late 2000’s for his contributions hitting in the middle of the lineup for those power-packed teams.
An examination of his big-league career reveals that Howard delivered 1,475 hits which included 382 home runs, second in franchise history, over his 13-year career spent entirely with the Phillies.
Howard was the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year and the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player. For that 2006 campaign he was also awarded a Silver Slugger Award. Over each of the next five years, Howard finished among the top 10 in NL MVP voting every season and he was the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 National League Championship Series.
The NL home run leader in both 2006 and 2008, Howard blasted 45 or more homers each year from 2006-09 and drove in 136 or more runs in each of those seasons. He was a National League All-Star on three occasions, in 2006, 2009, and 2010. In 2006, Howard won the Home Run Derby during the All-Star Game festivities at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Should Howard have made the NL All-Star team even more than just those three times? Questions such as this seem to be on the slugger’s mind these days, at least when reading between the lines of this tweet from late April:
Thank you. @CSeidmanNBCS if I hit .265 in today’s game, do you think I’d make the All Star team? Also, just for fun, since baseball is on hold, can you come up with what my batting average would be, with out the shift, and a full season of at bats? #askingforafriend https://t.co/ocavGKTAeq— Ryan Howard (@ryanhoward) April 29, 2020
Let’s examine each of the seasons in which Howard did not make the All-Star squad to see if, perhaps, he should have more selections on his record. Certainly he would not have been considered in either 2004 or 2005. Howard received just a September cup of coffee in ’04. He was not promoted until May in ’05 and didn’t take over fully from the injured Jim Thome until the start of July.
Also, over his final five seasons from 2012-16 it would be hard for even Howard himself to make the case for his deserving to make an All-Star team. He slashed just a cumulative .226/.292/.427 over these five years, averaging a relatively weak 19 homers and 66 RBIs per season.
So, what we’re really talking about here are the 2007, 2008, and 2011 campaigns when Howard was in his productive prime and the Phillies were still one of the top teams in all of baseball.
I’ll begin by listing the year and the first basemen who did represent the NL at the All-Star Game that season along with each of their stats at the break: slash lines as well as home run and RBI totals. Also, same stats for Howard at that point.
Howard stats at the break – .256/.377/.555 with 21 homers and 67 RBI
NL starter: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee – .284/.376/.620 with 29 homers and 70 RBI
NL reserve: Derrek Lee, Chicago – .330/.411/.479 with 6 homers and 42 RBI
NL reserve: Albert Pujols, Saint Louis – .310/.411/.516 with 16 homers and 52 RBI
NL reserve: Dmitri Young, Washington – .339/.390/.512 with 8 homers and 43 RBI
Howard was second to Fielder at the break among NL first basemen in homers and RBI. And it’s always tough to argue against the future Hall of Famer Pujols.
Not only was Lee hitting for a high average, the three-time Gold Glove Award winner was also an outstanding defender at first base.
In his 12th big-league campaign, what would prove to be his penultimate season in Major League Baseball at age 33, Young was the mandatory lone representative for the Washington Nationals. That, combined with his high average and OBP, had to be the decisive factor in beating out Howard.
The NL “Final Vote” ballot that year was stuffed with five pitchers. Another Young, Chris Young of San Diego, got the spot based on fan voting.
Howard stats at the break – .234/.324/.508 with 28 homers and 84 RBI
NL starter: Lance Berkman, Houston – .347/.443/.653 with 22 homers and 73 RBI
NL reserve: Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego – .276/.345/.503 with 22 homers and 71 RBI
Howard led the league in home runs and RBI at the All-Star break and would ultimately finish as the Natonal League MVP runner-up. He was certainly killed here by his extremely low batting average.
Gonzalez was selected as the mandatory lone representative of the Padres. His average was significantly higher and his OBP was also better than Howard’s, with their slugging percentages a push. Gonzalez’ homer and RBI totals were also strong, and so it really is hard to argue for Howard over him.
Utley was once again voted as the starting second baseman. He was joined by closer Brad Lidge as the only Phillies representatives on that year’s NL All-Star team.
Howard may have ultimately lost out due to another unusual situation. On June 16, Willie Randolph was fired as manager of the New York Mets. Randolph had been chosen by the NL All-Star manager, Clint Hurdle of Colorado, as a coach. He was then replaced by Chicago Cubs manager Lou Piniella.
When the NL All-Star team was announced, the Cubs, who already had three position players voted as starters for the game, had four pitchers also named to the team. With 13 pitchers, certainly someone such as Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol could have been left off. It begs the question, how much input did Piniella have in the final selections?
Howard stats at the break – .257/.353/.475 with 18 homers and 72 RBI
NL starter: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee – .297/.415/.575 with 22 homers and 72 RBI
NL reserve: Gaby Sanchez, Florida – .293/.374/.472 with 13 homers and 50 RBI
NL reserve: Joey Votto, Cincinnati – .324/.438/.507 with 13 homers and 55 RBI
Yet another instance of Howard losing out to players who put up much better batting average and on-base percentage numbers. He was tied at the break with Fielder atop the NL leader board in RBIs this time around and was tied with Pujols, who also didn’t make it, for fifth in the league in homers. In what was his final year in Saint Louis at age 31, the miss was Pujols’ first after eight straight NL All-Star appearances.
This was also likely another instance of his missing out due to the mandatory player requirements. Sanchez was the lone Marlins representative named to the team.
The Reds had three other hitters named to the NL team that year, so Votto received the spot due to his all-around excellence and not because of a mandatory spot.
The Phillies, in the midst of their record-setting 102-win regular season, saw third baseman Placido Polanco become the only elected starter for the NL squad. Outfielder Shane Victorino and pitchers Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee were also named to the team. So, the Phillies already having five representatives may also have worked against Howard that year.
Clearly, Howard was hurt by his low batting average totals, which also suppressed his on-base percentage figures. Were he a .280 hitter and .370 OBP guy he would have been impossible to leave off the NL All-Star team during his prime years.
His defense, which can be described as poor at best, may have been a smaller factor working against him. Finally, the requirement that every team have at least one representative may have worked against him.
So, to answer the question – should Ryan Howard have made more National League All-Star teams than the three for which he did appear?
To me, Howard clearly deserved an All-Star berth in both 2007 and 2008. Especially egregious was his failure to be included on that 2008 NL team.