Neyer: Ryan Howard is basically Shin-Soo Choo

There have been a lot of people who have followed in Rob Neyer’s footsteps over the years, but there still isn’t anyone better at writing stuff that pisses off mainstream baseball writers:

Ryan Howard is pretty good. I mean, he’s no Shin-Soo Choo. But pretty good, for sure.

You probably think I’m just some snot-nosed blogger trying to make a name for myself.

You’re right. After all, it’s patently ridiculous to suggest that a Cleveland Indian who’s unknown to all but the most rabid fantasy owners should even be mentioned in the same breath with a Philadelphia Phillie who has led the National League in RBIs in three of the last four seasons.

If you don’t know where Rob goes with this next, well, you’re just not familiar with his work.

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Comments

  1. ecp said...

    I’m not a rabid fantasy owner and I know who Shin-Soo Choo is.  I like Shin-Soo Choo; he’s a good young player.

  2. TC said...

    Scanning the comments on the article, I have to say: Neyer has to have the best readers of any ESPN reader. 

    It does seem to me that Choo and Howard are different enough players that we’re kinda sorta talking apples and oranges here.  Choo is a great OBP guy with moderate power while Howard is a moderate OBP guy and outstanding power.  Choo is going to hurt you a little bit virtually all the time.  Howard will sometimes not hurt you at all, and sometimes hurt you a bunch.  Choo’s contributions to the Indians add up over a season.  Howard’s value to the Phillies comes in bursts.  I can see the guy being either the goat or the hero of the series with little trouble.

  3. Beansters said...

    For fantasy purposes this was no contest. Filling 3 OF spots is tough and Choo was available late and outperformed many high picks (see: Soriano, Alfonso). Meanwhile, you could probably have taken Adrian Gonzalez in the 3rd or 4th round and saved your top picks for a scarcer position rather than drafting Howard. Plus his AVG is usually horrendous and tough to make up, although he was saved this year by the high BABIP. Go Rob!

  4. Spoilt Victorian Child said...

    I guess on some level I can understand the enjoyment he gets out of this (and that you get out of tweaking your NBC readers). But if you’re going to aim for such an easy target, you really have to hit it. Judging by the comments, his trolling seems to have failed. Isn’t that sort of embarrassing?

  5. Kevin S. said...

    Alex Rodriguez missed more than a month of the season to a hip surgery he appears to be well-recovered from.  Scaling A-Rod to Howard’s plate appearances makes him a 6 WAR player.

  6. Kevin S. said...

    And yes, I know you can’t just directly scale them like that, but to ignore the fact that A-Rod missed a lot of time when citing his WAR is disingenuous at best, deceptive at worst.

  7. Spoilt Victorian Child said...

    Sort of like saying that Howard is not a “prodigious slugger” on the basis that Shin-Soo Choo had an outstanding year in left field?

  8. Kevin S. said...

    No, actually, not like that at all.

    Also, please point out where he says Howard isn’t a prodigious slugger on the basis of the year Shin-Soo Choo had.  Because in the article I read, he does a comparison of all aspects of their respective games.

  9. The Rabbit said...

    I agree with TC completely: Different types of players and both valuable.
    Howard vs. Choo? I “owned” Choo on one of my fantasy teams; I “owned” Howard on another.
    Choo is a very good young player who hits for average, steals some bases, and has some power.  If you were comparing him to the Phillies lineup, I’d say that Choo is Shane Victorino with greater home run potential.
    Howard finished 5th in the major leagues in 2009 in fantasy value at MLB.com, one of the sites where I play fantasy ball. I drafted him last year, too, and he finished 12th.
    Howard’s final line:.279-45-141 .571 SLG.931 OPS Fielding was never his strong point but he’s worked at it.  He’s not Tex but he’s greatly improved and is more than adequate at 1st.
    For those who don’t play fantasy baseball: It depends on what stats are kept and whether you play head-to-head or rotisserie as to what kind of player holds the most value.

  10. Spoilt Victorian Child said...

    I can see that I am not explaining myself very well, so here is a longer post.

    This is Rob’s argument: Bill Conlin and Tyler Kepner (among others, presumably) seem to think that Howard is comparable to A-Rod as a slugger. That is ridiculous (“a bit of a corrective is in order,” “I’m not sure what’s going on here”) because Howard was arguably not even as valuable as Shin-Soo Choo this year.

    Presumably he means to tie this in with his broader point that the Yankees’ offense is much better than the Phillies’, but for whatever reason he doesn’t actually say that.

    One problem with this argument is that the reason that Howard is arguably not as valuable as Choo is not that Howard has been playing poorly—it’s that Choo has been playing outstandingly well. So well, in fact, that he was also more valuable than A-Rod this year (but yes, only because A-Rod missed a month).

    Another problem is that he does indeed compare all aspects of their play, whereas the quotes he is taking issue with were only comparing Howard and A-Rod as hitters.

    The reasonable way to compare them as hitters is to compare their batting statistics—not to compare one with a third-party in all aspects and leave it as self-evident that the other is superior to that third-party. The reason he does not compare Choo to A-Rod as well is that doing so would show that his comparison between Choo and Howard is a lot less meaningful than he presents it as being. That is what is disingenuous.

    This year, A-Rod’s wOBA is .404 and Howard’s is .393, good for 10th and 19th in the majors respectively. A-Rod is clearly the better hitter, but it is pretty reasonable to compare them. Moreover, if a .393 wOBA with 45 home runs does not qualify one as a prodigious slugger, I am not sure what does. There is no reason, from an analytical standpoint, to include Shin-Soo Choo in the analysis of these points. Neyer includes him for two reasons: 1) antagonize Phillies fans (which is fine with me); and 2) to make his argument appear stronger than it actually is to the casual fan who has never heard of Shin-Soo Choo (which is lame and disingenuous).

  11. Daniel said...

    The scarcity issue is a good point, but lets not overstate it. The reason that he is one of so few players who hit 40/130 for 4 straight season is the combination of him arriving in an era where a bat could play at first without consistently hitting over .230. In the past, his skill set would need to get on base just to play.
    He has a scarce skill set for the modern era, but to try to put that in historical perspective like that would be to say that John Franco was one of the best left handed relievers to ever play since he held the save record without noting that he was a consistently good reliever who started closing games when the stat began to be used in a certain way.

  12. Jacob said...

    @Jim C – You’re right, Howard is much skinnier this year.  But, that doesn’t change the point that he probably has peaked and is quickly approaching the beginning of his decline phase, assuming he ages like most hitters with his skill set.
    And, I’ll take A-Rod.  Overall, he’s a better hitter than Howard, and he plays a tougher defensive position.

  13. Jim C said...

    Instead of just comparing stats, let’s just ask this. Who would you rather have on your team if you were a major league GM. Howard, who is younger, has more room to grow, and has proven his ability in the clutch in two postseasons, or A-Rod, the admitted cheater, who has, up until this postseason, has shown little in the clutch, and is an arrogant, yet insecure, me-first whiner.

  14. Vin said...

    @ryan: doesn’t four straight seasons of 40/130 qualify as ‘statistical evidence’, too?

    I’m not sure you meant it this way but it’s just a particular pet peeve of mine when announcers say things like “I don’t care about those damn statistics” and then say “look at how many RBIs Mr. Clutchy drove in in the 8th or 9th innings with two outs this season!” Which is a statistic.

  15. Jacob said...

    @Jim C.  The only thing about Howard that’s going to grow over the next few years is his waist.  Howard always reminds me of what Bill James wrote about Cecil Fielder: “A big fat guy who hit home runs for a few years.”

  16. Jim C said...

    @Jacob-Maybe you haven’t watched any baseball this year, but Ryan Howard is much slimmer than in previous seasons. And you did not address the real question, who do you want on your team and in your clubhouse? Howard, A-Rod, or Shin-soo-choo? I know this may be heresy for this site, but there is a lot more to winning ballgames than stats. You would know that if you’d played or coached much.

  17. Derek Ambrosino said...

    He’s done something only four players have done,40/130 for four straight years…

    Um, okay. What is particularly significant about the arbitrary milestones of 40, 130, or four consecutive years? The answer is nothing.

    Albert Pujols hasn’t done it. Alex Rodriguez hasn’t done it. Does that mean it is evidence of how rare the feat is and how prolific Howard is for having accomplished it? No, quite the opposite, in fact. It means that the milestones are arbitrary and of no significance unto themselves.

    This discussion brings to mind Bill James’s comment about how it’s not difficult at all to pluck arbitrary cut-off points in a combination of statistical players that will misrepresent a merely good, or very good, player among those of historical significance. One of my personal faves is the 300 HR, 300 SB, 400 2B club, consisting of Barry Bonds, Mays, Dawson, and Steve Finley. (If you drop the 2B benchmark to 300, you add Bobby Bonds and Reggie Sanders) Anyway, the point is you have a few all-time greats, some borderline HOF-ers/occassional MVP candidates, and some occassional All Stars. The combination of the milestones doesn’t actually mean much of anything at all in regards to whether the achieiving player was historically great, very good, or just good, but to possess a complimentary skill set and circumstance allowing him to achieve the same numbers. 

    Further, Howard hits in a juggernaut of a line-up and plays in a phone booth. Do we ignore that? From 1998 – 2002, Todd Helton averaged 39 HR and 128 RBI, barely off the pace, but nobody really cares. Why? Because context matters. The irony, of course, is that Helton was a better player in his prime than Howard anyway…

    And, just to throw some more gas on to this stat guys vs. non stat guys debate, does the fact that you fellas are arguing Howard’s prolificness mean that we’ve finally convinced you that his 200Ks are ostensibly meaningless?

  18. Roger Moore said...

    @Jacob.  And guess who is rated as Ryan Howard’s #1 most similar player by Baseball-Reference.  If you guessed “Cecil Fielder”, you win our prize.

  19. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Ryan Howard is a fine player; he’s clearly one of those guys who is overrated by the traditional fans and, for that basis, becomes something a whipping boy for the saber crowd. It is important to note that the stat guys, the group with which I identify, (generally speaking) don’t make these points to slander Howard or demean his value (we think he is very good), but just to highlight how incomplete a picture focusing on the triple crown stats give you of his prowess, and that of others.

    Ryan Howard is not on the short list of the best players in baseball. That’s it. Nothing really to see here.

    By the way, his “proving” his clutchiness in the postseason the past few years is kind of like that time two years ago when I “proved” my roulette skills when I was down to my last few chips down in Atlantic City. You would realize this too is possible if you played roulette and instructed on gambling theory and oddsmaking. …What, that sounds ridiculous? Yeah, it does, doesn’t it!

  20. ryan said...

    i believe in statistical evidence as much as the next guy who reads rob neyers (and craigs) column, but at some point you just have to sit back and recognize the fact that howard has done something only four other players in the history of the game have done…4 straight seasons of 40/130…batting average, OBP, WAR, etc be damned.

  21. Eric J said...

    Very disappointing effort from Rob.  No, Howard isn’t one of the 5 best players in baseball, or however high the mainstream press would rank him.  But he’s probably one of the 30 best position players in the game, which is pretty good.  Saying that Choo had a better year should be done to bring attention to Choo, who’s quite underappreciated, rather than in some weak attempt to bash Howard.

    Also, the Phillies’ offense was more than 2% better than league average.  OPS+ is calculated using a baseline that removes pitchers.  The NL average OPS+ was 94, which puts the Phillies at roughly 8% over league average.  They tied with the Brewers for the league lead in team OPS+.  And OPS+ doesn’t account for their basestealing, which is about as good as any team’s has ever been.

  22. kevin said...

    While I agree with Neyer that, in general, big-RBI guys are overrated, he ignores the scarcity issue. As you get higher on the performance curve, it’s harder and harder to find players. So even though Ryan Howard’s hitting is only moderately better than Choo’s, it’s a crucial advantage. There are lots of guys who hit like Choo, but a lot fewer who hit like Howard. Scarcity makes Howard more valuable than he appears.

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