Is Ryan Howard actually valuable again?

I know you’ve probably heard this before, but the Philadelphia Phillies are not a good baseball team. Sure, they are only seven games out of the first place Washington Nationals, but when one of your best hitters is Freddy Galvis, you know you’re in trouble. However, there is a player on the Phillies who has seemed to emerge from a three-year long slump, someone who is somehow providing value again, as shocking as it is.

That player is Ryan Howard.

Howard has really fallen from the player he once was, as well as from Phillies’ fans hearts. From 2012 to 2014, Howard accumulated -0.8 WAR. Or if you’d prefer, he was the 215th most valuable player in Major League Baseball. Did I mention that that’s out of 223 qualified hitters? Suffice it to say, Howard as become so useless with a such a large contract, that the Phillies have been unable to trade him.

But that may be beginning to change. Howard’s batting average is still subpar and his on-base percentage is close to a perfect bowling score, but the stats that better exemplify offensive output say he’s been much better. He already has nine home runs, his wOBA sits at an impressive .355 after it being .306 last season, and as a result, has been a 24% better offensive player than the rest of the league. He’s still striking out with as much regularity as he ever as, and has actually walked quite a bit less than his career numbers, but somehow, he’s performing like the Ryan Howard of old.

One reason for his rediscovered success is he’s seeing fastballs at the highest rate since 2005. And we all know how power hitters love their fastballs. Howard has 90 home runs since 2007 off fourseam fastballs alone. I don’t know why pitchers are throwing him the heater so often, but it’s clearly working to Howard’s advantage.

If I was a betting man, I’d put my money on Howard returning to uselessness. He’s 35 years old with his best days behind him. That’s why a Major League Baseball team would be at least half insane to try and trade for him, especially when you take a look at his salary. Howard is being paid $25 million this season and next, with a $23 million club option ($10 million buyout). That means the Phillies will be hard-pressed in finding a trade partner. At this point, they would be smart in paying at least half of Howard’s remaining contract. If they want to rebuild, which is a move they’ve been too reluctant to make, they need to do without Howard and his massive contract.

It’s going to be nearly impossible to trade him, but if he keeps performing like this, at least a handful of teams will take notice. Count out any National League teams among that group, though. Howard’s defense is poor to put it nicely. He has a -27.6 UZR over his career. It’s safe to say he’s better suited as a designated hitter than a first baseman.

Odds are Howard will retire as a Philadelphia Phillie, but for me as a baseball fan, it’s nice to see him hitting the ball well again. Even if it won’t last.

About Justin Schultz

Justin is a writer for The Outside Corner and is the founder of The First Out At Third. He has written for SB Nation, Bleacher Report and FanSided. He lives in Whitewater, Wisconsin.