August 19, 2016
I’m re-posting my devotional on Ryan Howard from my devotional book: “On the Field of Life: Baseball Devotionals.”
What’s Right with Ryan Howard?
Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 10: 7 – 12
Key verse: 2 Corinthians 10:10 For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” (ESV)
Phillies fans love to complain. It’s one of the benefits of being a Phillies’ fan – the right to complain about everything and anything.
And as I write this, they’re complaining most loudly about Ryan Howard, the Phillies first baseman (except for injuries) since the middle of 2005. “Look at ‘im! His swing is like a rusty gate! He strikes out WAY too much! Any left-hander in the league can strike him out – just throw him that soft slider with two strikes and he STILL can’t lay off it! Jamie Moyer (former Phillies left-hander now announcing games for them, who is 52 years old) could come out of the broadcasting booth and strike ‘eem out! They should have never signed him to that huge contract.”
It tends to go on in circles – same complaints over and over again. And a look at his current stats seems to back up the complaints: a .221 batting average (awful) with 115 strikeouts in just over half a season. A not-so-good .305 on-base percentage, with his team in last place and sinking. Oh, and leading the team with 58 RBI’s.
The criticisms are right – at least on the surface. Most make some good points: it would be good to cut down on those strikeouts, big guy. But we need to look at the bigger picture before we pass judgment. The truth is: as bad as Ryan Howard has looked over the years – and, yes, at times it can get very ugly – he’s been getting the job done at a very high level.
“What!?” I hear a lot of you screeching, especially you Phillies fans. “You can’t be serious!” No, I am very serious. Look at the statistics. We’ll look at a very simple way of finding out how effective Ryan Howard has been over his career at the thing he does best and that the team needs him for: driving in runs… those RBI’s. And he’s far above his current competition, up with the elites. The simple way to measure effectiveness is to calculate what a hitters rate of RBI’s would be over a 162-game season, the standard for baseball seasons for over 50 years. The Baseball Reference has done this: they have what is called the “162-game average” under their total numbers. Just like the ERA (earned run average) for pitchers, this levels everybody off so we can see their stats for a season where everyone is equalized. And the insights can be astonishing.
Let’s look at the RBI’s per 162 games for some of the top run producers of today: Albert Pujols, 123 (that means, if he played a 162-game season, he has driven in that many runs on the average); Miguel Cabrera, the winner of the last 2 MVP awards in the AL, 124; Alex Rodriguez, 124; Manny Ramirez, 129.
And Ryan Howard, as of this date: 130. (At the end of last season, 2013, it was 132). Pretty amazing for a guy who’s considered “horrible, we wish we could get rid of him.”
“OK”, some of you will concede, “that’s his average. But he did that because he had great RBI years early in his career.” And, yes of course, but so did all the other guys. And in 2013, his 162-game average was 87 – down from 128 in 2012. His average for this year, at the moment, is 100.
Let’s look at history. To be honest, Juan Gonzalez had an average of 135, and Albert Belle matches him at 130. But those guys had two advantages: a) they played in the American League, with the designated hitter, which has tended to increase overall run production, and b) they played in a hitter’s era, when there were more runs scored per game. Right now, pitchers have tended to dominate; they have been for at least 5 seasons or so.
What about the past? Well, Hank Aaron was at 113, Mike Schmidt was 107. They also played in pitcher’s eras (especially Aaron). Who were the best? No surprise: Lou Gehrig leads all time with 149. Hank Greenberg, an extremely underrated player, was at 148. Babe Ruth was at 144, Jimmie Foxx at 134, Cap Anson at 133, and Ted Williams at 130. All impressive Hall of Famers, who, except for Ted Williams, played in an era – most of the 1930’s – when there was another time when a lot of runs were scored.
Considering the numbers, you’d have to say Ryan Howard matches up very well. The guy looks terrible, maybe strikes out three times, but drives in two runs in his fourth at bat. That’s the way the game is played – you can’t always tell the value of a player simply by appearances.
In our Scripture reading today, the Apostle Paul is also dealing with a situation of looks being deceiving. He’s dealing with a group of false teachers that had invaded the church in Corinth (as if they didn’t have enough problems without them!) Since Paul was not there, they accused him of being a false apostle and a false teacher, whereas they were the true apostles and teachers. Paul starts his defense by, basically saying, “Look at the numbers.” He actually says “Look at what is before your eyes.” – Look at the obvious, face the facts, consider the evidence… THEY knew who Paul was; they didn’t need these false apostles and teachers adding to what they knew. He didn’t want to claim authority, but, as an apostle of Jesus, Paul had a claim to legitimate authority that the false teachers lacked. They accused Paul of being a bully, in a sense, because his letters were written boldly, as if he had the authority to do so (which he did), but in person, he was unimpressive. The criticism of his ability to speak well in public was, in a Greek culture, especially devastating. This was a serious charge in a culture that valued the art of public speaking to a very high degree. They were trying to portray Paul as a weak person, lacking the skills to be an effective leader. They were also promoting themselves as they put Paul down. And above all, Paul lacked integrity because of the apparently huge disconnect between his weighty letters and his “contemptible” speech.
But appearances can be deceiving. Going back to what Paul said at the beginning of his defense: Don’t look at outward appearances; look at the results in people’s lives. It was Paul who had an effective ministry, who was used by God, properly asserting his apostolic authority, to build up and not tear down the church in Corinth. “Look at the numbers” – look at the reality, not the outward appearance. Paul was the genuine article; the false teachers were the deceitful ones.
So, be careful in “judging a book by its cover” – cover art can conceal a worthless product. But look at the content – and look at the results. Not just the numbers of people, but the number of genuine believers who are part of a church ministry.
Yes, Ryan Howard can look very bad; his batting average can look horrible; his strikeout rate out of control – it’s not that those are good things or that they can’t be improved on. But if you look at the numbers – averaging 130 RBI’s a year for 10 years – quite impressive. Maybe we should give him the respect his production output over the years deserves. And encourage him – despite appearances, he’s still driving in runs at a higher rate than most. And if it looks ugly… it’s OK if he keeps doing what he has always done.
Thought: Don’t look on the outer appearance; look at the genuine results, to see who God is using.