Should Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle call Charlie Manuel about Ryan Howard's worthiness to replace Alfonso Soriano on the National League all-star roster, Manuel might ask him a few questions instead:
How many RBIs does Howard have?
How many home runs has he hit?
What place is his team in?
Where does he hit in his team's lineup?
Hurdle already has replaced the injured Soriano in the NL starting lineup with Rockies leftfielder Matt Holliday, but he still must find a player to replace him on the team. Howard deserves serious consideration for that spot, along with Phillies leftfielder Pat Burrell.
Howard leads the major leagues with 27 home runs and the NL with 83 RBIs. If Hurdle doesn't choose Howard to replace Soriano, Elias Sports Bureau's Santo Labombarda said Howard could become the first player to lead his league in home runs and RBIs at the all-star break and not make the all-star team since Cincinnati Reds leftfielder Hank Sauer in 1948.
"I'm part of history," Howard joked after yesterday's 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park, where he went 2 for 4 with two home runs and three RBIs.
Sauer was hitting .275 with a league-leading 24 homers and 64 RBIs in 1948, but the NL starting outfield featured Cardinals leftfielder Stan Musial, Phillies centerfielder Richie Ashburn, and Cardinals rightfielder Enos Slaughter. Reserve outfielders included Boston Braves rightfielder Tommy Holmes, Pittsburgh Pirates leftfielder Ralph Kiner, and New York Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson.
The things that could hold Howard back (and should not) are his average and strikeouts. He is hitting just .234 and has struck out an eye-popping 125 times. He is on pace to finish the season with 47 homers, 144 RBIs and 217 strikeouts, which would shatter the major-league record he set last season with 199 strikeouts.
But two things about Howard's average and strikeouts:
He was hitting a season-low .163 on May 7 but has hit .272 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs since. So, while a low batting average typically correlates with poor production, that's not the case here. Howard also is hitting .333 this season with runners in scoring position, which shows he has been coming up big in clutch situations all season.
Strikeouts are overrated.
Baseball Prospectus looked at the relationship between teams' strikeout rates and run production from 1950 to 2002. It found no correlation. It also found that a hitter's strikeout rate correlates positively to power, slugging percentage, and walks per plate appearance. After another look at strikeouts by Baseball Prospectus in 2005, analyst James Click wrote, "On a very rough scale, a strikeout costs a team about three one-hundredths of a run."
That's statistically insignificant.
Howard's run production is not.
"Find somebody that has produced more runs than him?" Manuel said. "I think that's kind of hard to do. He's leading the league in homers, and he's leading the league in RBIs. I'd say, who tops that? What's the name of the game? Produce runs. He does that."
That's why Manuel does not concern himself much with Howard's average. Sure, he would like his strikeouts to drop a bit, but not at the expense of the run production he provides.
"Would you take him out of your lineup?" Manuel said. "He does about twice as much as other guys do. How can you take him out of your lineup? What he does sits right there in front of you. That's one thing about this game. Nobody can take away your performance on the field. It sits right there in front of you. The numbers tell the story."
And it should be enough to get Hurdle to think long and hard about putting Howard on the all-star team. He just needs to see past his average and strikeouts and look at the numbers that really matter.
The former Milwaukee Brewer was an all-star once in 13 seasons, in an injury-plagued year that followed three seasons in which he averaged 38 home runs but hit lower than .250.
He has hit at least 40 home runs in each of the last four years but hasn't made an all-star team since 2002, his first full year in the majors, when he hit 26 homers with a .249 average.
He played in 13 All-Star Games, including three in seasons when he hit less than .250. Except for one injury-plagued season, he averaged about 40 homers in his all-star seasons.
He played in 12 All-Star Games, showing outstanding power every year but a batting average that varied greatly, between .201 and .312.