Howard or Pujols? Contract - plus Cox's comments - reignite comparison

Posted: May 02, 2010

Contracts, especially ones like the mega-extension the Phillies just gave to first baseman Ryan Howard, are fascinating things.

They can be discussed and dissected in so many different ways that by the time you're done, you feel as if your brain matter has been picked over by a hyena skilled at devouring the leftovers from a lion kill.

Six days after the five-year, $125-million extension that Howard signed Monday in San Francisco, there are still things that can be addressed and that's without going into the issue that the Phillies' first baseman is worth only $14 million less than the city's two major newspapers and their companion Web site.

Let's start with the infamous words of Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox, who essentially mocked the Howard contract last week by telling the Belleville News Democrat that St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols deserved twice as much "because he's twice as good as anybody else."

Pujols, who will be at Citizens Bank Park Monday night with the Cardinals, is the best player in baseball, but he's not even close to being twice as good as Howard. Pujols hits for a higher average, strikes out less, and walks more than Howard. He's also a better defensive first baseman.

Howard, however, is just as good, if not better, in the game of baseball's most important department: producing runs.

Pujols, who is two months younger than Howard, has better career numbers because his career started four years before Howard's rookie season. But let's look at the first five seasons for each player.

Howard hit .279 with 460 runs scored, 220 home runs, 362 extra-base hits, and 635 RBIs during that span. Pujols batted .332 with 629 runs scored, 201 home runs, 445 extra-base hits and 621 RBIs.

Advantage goes to Pujols there, but Howard played only a half season his rookie year, so he had the disadvantage of 306 fewer at-bats during those first five seasons and he still had 19 more home runs and 14 more RBIs.

A more fair assessment is to look at the last four seasons (2006-09) for each player when the difference in games played has been only 16 (625 for Howard and 609 for Pujols). During that span, Howard batted .278 with 408 runs scored, 198 home runs, 321 extra-base hits and 572 RBIs. Pujols, in the same period, has hit .335 with 442 runs scored, 165 home runs, 328 extra-base hits and 491 RBIs.

Those figures give Howard a 47-run advantage when you combine runs scored and RBIs. He has also hit 33 more home runs.

The argument here isn't that Howard is a better player than Pujols. He's not. Howard is a slightly better power hitter and run producer. Howard, at 30, also has a chance to continue to get better as a hitter, a point that both manager Charlie Manuel and hitting instructor Milt Thompson made during spring training. Given how much Howard has improved his defense and conditioning the last two seasons, there is reason to believe Manuel and Thompson.

It has been suggested that there might not have been much of a market for Howard if the Phillies had waited and let their slugging first baseman test the free-agent waters after next season.

We'll never know, but waiting would have been a huge risk for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president David Montgomery to take. Seven years ago, the Cleveland Indians wanted to keep a slugging first baseman named Jim Thome and only one other team showed any real interest. The Phillies' interest was so great, however, that the Indians couldn't afford to match the offer that brought Thome to Philadelphia.

The moral of the story is that it takes only one other team to drive up the market price. The Yankees, with Mark Teixeira signed through 2016, and the Mets, with rookie Ike Davis, might not have been in the market for a first baseman, but the Los Angeles Dodgers certainly would have been.

Ryan Howard or James Loney?

Howard isn't twice as good as the Dodgers first baseman, but he's considerably better.

While we're on the subject of contracts and the Dodgers, Los Angeles might just be the team that makes it almost impossible for the Phillies to keep rightfielder Jayson Werth beyond 2010. At the end of this season, Los Angeles will be free of the two-year, $45-million contract it paid to Manny Ramirez, and the Dodgers would be a much-improved team with Werth in left field.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Read The Inquirer's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, by Bob Brookover and Matt Gelb, at www.philly.com/phillies.

Blog response of the week

Subject: Ryan Howard's contract extension

Posted: 4:32 p.m.

Monday

4thand10

Of course Howard is not worth it. No ballplayer is "worth" what they get. Only Obama is worth $25 million per year. The hedge fund guys are not worth $4 billion either. My auto mechanic is worth the $30,000 he makes.

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