I don't know about you, but I've recently been taking a look at the hit charts over at the MLB.com websites. John Beamer showed me they existed a few weeks ago, and I've been playing around with them since then. I wanted to take a look at a few different players to show random details about their offensive games, so here goes.
First up, we have Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies. Howard is thought of as a beast of a hitter, most well known for his homerun power. Like most big guys, you might assume he is mostly dead pull, like say, David Ortiz. Sadly for fans of the shift, Howard is dangerous to all fields.
On the left we have Howard at Citizens Bank Park in 2005, and on the right, 2006. Now here's the part I think is interesting. Going the other way with the pitch, Howard either flies out or hits a homerun in all but five or six (depending on what you consider to be left field and left center) batted-balls in a two-year span at Citizens Bank Park. Two of those five or six were doubles that landed on the warning track. Howard has incredible power going the other way; considering how far some of the balls he pulls travel at his home park, it's no wonder he's earning a reputation as one of the most feared hitters in the game as soon as he is.
Howard has a few mind boggling statistics this year. He has hit a homerun on 37.6 percent of all of his flyballs (measured using only outfield flies) and has infield flies in a mere 3.8 percent of all flyballs. For some context, David Ortiz is only at 25.6 percent HR/F, Manny Ramirez is at 23.4 percent, Albert Pujols is at 23.5 percent, Jim Thome is at 27.3 percent, Adam Dunn is at 24.1 percent, and the 2004 version of Barry Bonds was at 32.8 percent.
My favorite part about Ryan Howard is actually how quickly his hands adjust to a pitch. Study his hand movement sometime if you catch a Phillies game; he's not quite at the adjustment stage that Manny Ramirez or Albert Pujols are at, but you can see that he has a talent for shifting his hands, adjusting to the pitch, and spraying the ball to whichever part of the field would be easiest. A hitter capable of that kind of adjustment can hit anything anywhere, and with some of the other bats in the Phillies lineup, it's tough to avoid Howard sometimes.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the struggling Brian Giles, who has managed a .381 on-base percentage, but coupled it with a .378 slugging. His home park is to blame for a great deal of the power loss; after all, in three full seasons at PETCO, Giles has 19 homers with 27 on the road, as well as 40 PETCO doubles versus 52 road ones. San Diego has allowed him to hit more triples though, 11 to 5. Let's take a look at his past three years in PETCO:
Top left is 2004, top right is 2005, bottom is 2006. There are a few things to pull from these charts. First of all, the homeruns are fewer in each year. Secondly, his doubles are not traveling as far as they used to, another sign that his power is decreasing rapidly. And lastly, he only has one triple at home in 2006, although that could also have to do with aging and slowing down. The fact that his doubles aren't increasing when his homeruns and triples fall down is the bothersome point.
Giles had a spike in his line drive percentage last season, up from 20.5 percent in 2004 to 23.5 percent. He has fallen just a tick below 20 percent LD this season though, and his groundball percentage increased a few more percentage points. Since 2004, it has jumped from 35.8 to 40.1 percent. With more grounders than previous by roughly five percent, and the flyballs and line drives he hits traveling shorter distances than previous, you have yourself an explanation for his continually dropping slugging percentage.
The drop in production is noticeable on the road as well. He has hit .269/.385/.361 at home, but only .271/.376/.394 on the road. It's getting to be time where Bruce Bochy should use Giles in the two-hole due to his on-base percentages, but it's also getting to be time where he sits against left-handers. He's hit a paltry .205/.322/.246 against them this season, and only .250/.343/.359 in his entire time in a Friars uniform. Then again, he's well above average defensively according to Zone Rating (league average ZR in right is .875 this year; Giles is at .892 with 3.52 runs above average), and he can still hit right-handers (.295/.403/.429). By the way, this is the same sort of decline I expect Bobby Abreu to undergo once it's time. Slow drop in power while keeping his high on-base, with his secondary skills keeping him useful. That might be the kind of thing that derails Hall of Fame campaigns though, even if it keeps a player productive. Giles is currently still worth almost 10 positionally-adjusted Net Runs Above Average per 150 games, which is still very good. As Joe Sheehan says, OBP is life.