It still looks like if you just ignored football after the Super Bowl and tuned back in for Hall of Fame game you could have saved yourself a whole lot of worry. With the players and the league starting to knock off major points of the negotiation, for the first time you can start to believe those, “deal right around the corner,” rumors. This isn’t to say that we haven’t missed out on some off-season football action. The draft had all the excitement of a junior prom and free-agent movement and speculation has been quelled. I scanned through the archives from last year and at this point last summer I’d already offered NFL Power Rankings. Something like that would still feel ridiculous now. But, we’re progressing, and the biggest step looks like the implementation of the rookie wage scale.
For a long time the money at the top of the first round has been obscene while the paltry sums paid to lower picks often lead to hold-outs and can lay the foundation for a bad relationship between a player and team. There isn’t a ton of information out on the agreed upon terms yet, but it sounds like all rookies will be given a four-year deal and then there will be a team option for the fifth year that will guarantee a salary based on position and draft order. The very top picks will miss out on the piles of guaranteed cash, but the salaries should be a bit more fair across the board and some players may have the opportunity to get into a free agency a bit earlier. It’s the kind of deal that validates reaching for a guy like Cam Newton, because it will no longer be a 50-60 million dollar investment.
Phils Injury News: In a development that should surprise no one, Placido Polanco will head to the DL, retroactive to July 5th. I hope we don’t waste any time lamenting his flight to Arizona. Polanco has been struggling for a long time and it looked like the compensations he was making to alleviate the pain rendered him ineffective at the plate. It got to the point where he wasn’t helping the team by toughing it out, and now we have to hope he can get somewhere close to where he was to start the season. The Phils will continue to try to get lucky with Michael Martinez, I imagine, and hope for the best. The good news is Ryan Madson is back after throwing some rehabs over the break. I imagine Madson will be plugged right back into the closer’s role, despite Antonio Bastardo’s obscene numbers. The last 50 hitters or so he’s faced are hitting something like .025 against him. That’s almost impossible.
There’s been a ton of talk about Ryan Howard in the local media and airwaves over the break. I guess with time off and nothing to do, people just sat back and said, “So….Ryan Howard.” It kicked off with a Bill Conlin article calling the masses ungrateful for Howard, denouncing new metric stats, and from there every talk show host around has offered an opinion. It’s a great example of the new stats vs. the old. It’s RBI vs. WAR, essentially. Did you want my thoughts on Howard? Well here you go:
Howard is a very productive player. Forget about his salary. Everyone is overpaid, and maybe the Phillies could have saved 15 million over the course of the deal or something, but who really cares about that? Having a home run hitter in the line up is a little like having a quarterback. You don’t absolutely need a prototypical clean-up hitter, but it always helps. That said, the number of them available are limited. Is Howard an elite player like Albert Pujols or Adrian Gonzalez? No. But, he’s still in that next tier of players that are hard to come by. And, considering he’s a known commodity in Philly and we’ve seen him perform in the biggest spots, I’d say there are only 3 or 4 1st baseman I’d rather have.
Howard is also a victim of his own ridiculous numbers. The same numbers that slightly blind some of his supporters created an unreachable level of expectation. When Howard was putting up .300/55/145 years, you are talking about historic production. If he maintains that level, he becomes a top-5 all-time offensive player and I think we all know that is not what he is. At the same time, those huge numbers pad his “average season” significantly. I’ve heard a lot about Howard being a 40/140 guy on the radio or numbers in that ballpark. He’ll have to get very hot in the 2nd half to approach those numbers. The general downturn of offense, the fine tuning of the Howard shift and his inability to make some adjustments to the lack of fastballs he sees has turned Howard into a less productive hitter. I’d say he’s more of a .265/35/125 player these days, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.
Now, in terms of the RBI, this is where is some of the newspaper guys and radio guys are making fools of themselves. Yes, Ryan Howard is among the ML leaders in RBI, but that can be a misleading stat. He has hit with more people on base than anyone in the league. His RISP numbers, or a stat like RBI percentage give Howard much more pedestrian RBI numbers. The old-school guys don’t listen to this. They say, how can Howard have 72 RBI on a bad offensive team and not be producing?
Well, one of the reasons the team is not a great offensive team is because Howard is off his peak performance. So, am I saying Howard should have 85 RBI? Well no, but he easily could have that many, and that would be a total that would really put him on pace for these 145 RBI seasons that everyone is talking about. Sure, it was likely steroid induced, but Juan Gone once had 105 RBI at the break. Seventy-two RBI in 91 games, while very good, is nothing to crack the record books over. The Phillies do get guys on in front of him and the lack of RBI production from elsewhere in the lineup leaves theses guys on for Howard. There hasn’t been a 3-hole hitter clearing the bases in front of him all year is the point.
So, that’s the deal on Howard. The Phillies are lucky to have him, because there are few people who do what he does, but he’s never going to be Albert Pujols, and the days of him hitting .300 with 50 bombs are probably over too. We just have to hope he continues to work on his approach against lefties and against the breaking ball and hope he catches one of those hot streaks he’s famous for in the 2nd half and runs up near 40 homers.
The Open Championship is almost anyone’s to win. It looks like about seven or eight shots might separate everyone who makes the cut. That means a hot round gets anyone in the thing, and right now 30, 40, 50 guys could win the tournament. Rory McIlroy is hanging around, but looks far less sharp and far less likely to hole a putt than he did at Congressional. There have been plenty of disappointments headlined by Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell both missing the cut. There’s an old guy, Tom Lehman, near the top of the board and amateur Tom Lewis is still only 3 shots behind. If you are a fan of the American young gun, Dustin Johnson is carrying that flag while co-leader Lucas Glover will be ignored. But, for my money, the best story is Darren Clarke. I don’t think there would be a more popular winner in Europe, in the locker room, pretty much everywhere. It’d be a great cap to his career. The best news is, with the bunched board it should be a wild finish, regardless of the names involved.
All right, I’m out of here. Gotta do some scouting on Japan for the Women’s El Cupo Worldo Final. Between that, the final round of the Open and the Phillies day game, Sunday afternoon is pretty much a dream TV day. And, since the unseasonably dry weather will be leaving us, might as well cozy up with the A.C. Until Monday…