Sometimes, one struggles for things to write about. Sometimes, ideas jump up and bite you.
Sunday ESPN’s Buster Onley wrote a story about discussions within the Phillies organization on possibly offering Ryan Howard in exchange for Albert Pujols. Here are a couple of interesting quotes from the article.
The logic for a Howard for Pujols swap, as discussed within the Phillies’ organization, could fall along these lines: Pujols, 30 years old, is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, and early conversations about a contract extension have not led to any long-term deal.
… Howard, who is just a couple of months older than Pujols, would not be a bad alternative. In the past four seasons, Howard has hit 198 homers and accumulated 572 RBIs, and has finished in the top five of the NL MVP race.
Okay, so there’s the logic for floating the idea. The question begging to be answered is does Ryan Howard offer similar value to Albert Pujols? Obviously no, right? Let’s take a look at the data.
Offense Production. I graphed out each player’s weighted On Base Average (data from, as always, Fangraphs), and Adjusted OPS (data from Baseball Reference) to see how they compared over their careers. AP came up in 2001, Howard in 2004, but for the purposes of this exercise, in the graphs below year 1 is the first season for each in the major leagues.
They had comparable arcs for their first 3 years in the league, but as time has gone on Albert Pujols consistently hits at a higher level than Ryan Howard. Now, Howard’s claim to fame is his power, so let’s review OPS+ for each.
Remarkably similar to the wOBA graph. Pujols hits in a hitting neutral park, Howard plays in one of the best hitters parks in the NL, yet AP is a better power hitter than Howard. Now, we expected this, because Pujols is widely considered the best hitter in the game today. So let’s take a look at defense.
Defensive Prevention. AP came up in 2001 but didn’t become the everyday first baseman until 2004, the year Howard came up. Howard also had a brief apprentice period, becoming the full-time guy in 2006. For the purposes of this comparison, I’ve looked at only the years they were both full-time first basemen, where full-time is defined as more than 100 games. That leaves us with 4 years of data, 2006-2009.
Whoa, maybe there’s something here. AP had been far superior with the glove than Howard until 2009, but has been trending down since his epic 2007 season. In 2009 they are practically even defensively – and Howard actually graded out as better. Let’s double check this with Dewan Plus/Minus.
Well AP is trending down defensively from his peak in 2007, however, he remains an above-average defensive first baseman. Howard is an average defensive first baseman by this metric. Even with the downward trend AP was graded as an A- by the Dewan defensive system, preventing 10 runs in 2009, which ranked him the best defensive 1B in the majors.
Because of his downward defensive trend, I can’t call this a slam-dunk for Pujols, but it is pretty apparent AP is a better glove man than Howard is. With 4 years of playing the position full time, Howard doesn’t show much change in his prowess, whereas AP has turned himself into one of the game’s best defensive first baseman.
This article by Olney was probably based on a conversation two dudes had in the coffee mess about how nice it would be to get Pujols for Howard. Someone probably thought it was serious and told Olney. I can’t see this developing into an actual discussion between these teams. Based on what Pujols brings to the Cardinals, they’d be better off playing him for the last 2 years of his contract and letting him walk away than trading him for Ryan Howard.