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Will Ryan Howard Win His Arbitration Case? PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 26 January 2009 16:40

Ryan Howard

Ryan Howard is going after another record
in salary arbitration. But, do his numbers
warrant his asking figure of $18 million?

There’s little denying that Ryan Howard has been a league-leader since being called up from the minors. NL Rookie-of-the Year in 2005, NL MVP and All-Star in 2006, 5th in NL MVP voting in 2007, and 2nd in NL MVP voting last year, he’s racked up a collection of awards.

To back up the awards, Howard has accumulated more home runs and RBIs than any player the past three seasons. Howard has been prodigious with the power-bat, as well, posting 150 career homers in fewer ABs than any player in history.

He’s garnered the largest contract for a first time salary arbitration eligible player in history when a panel of arbitrators selected his figure over the Phillies in a hearing last year, thus being awarded his $10 million asking figure. In the arbitration game, there is no selection by the panel in-between the figures. It's a selection between club and player figures, and nothing else.

The Phillies and Howard have talked a long-term deal, but according to several sources, including Scott Lauber of the Wilmington News Journal, he’s seeking near “A-Rod” money, something in the neighborhood of $200 million. The deal would be difficult on its own, but nearly a non-starter with the way the economy has played out of the last 12 months.

So, this year, as was the case last, Howard is in salary arbitration with all eyes focused on case. After players and clubs exchanged salary figures last Tuesday, Howard and the Phillies, once again, see the largest gap between offering ($14 million by the Phillies) and asking ($18 million by Howard and agent Casey Close). To place the figures in perspective, of the 46 players that exchanged figures with their respective clubs, the offering and asking figures for Howard are more than twice as high as the nearest player cases (for asking, it was Prince Fielder at $8 million, while offering figure is Garrett Atkins at $6.65 million).

So, the question becomes, how will Howard fare, should he go all the way to salary arbitration hearing with the Phillies?

For 45 min. yesterday, Lauber and I discussed Howard’s case (see Lauber’s article Howard appraisal could land anywhere), and with it, several key areas became the focus:

The Mid-Point – The start of any salary arbitration case is the mid-point; the figure between club offer and player asking figures. For Howard, that figure is $16 million. The Phillies and Howard will be focusing in on this mid-point figure making their cases that Howard’s stats are above or below that point. The Phillies have once again enlisted arbitration expert Tal Smith, and Howard will have Casey Close and his team backing their position.

How Albert Pujols Factors In – The player that is most likely to come up in discussion will be Albert Pujols. Both he and Howard play 1B. And, while much has been made about Howard garnering the largest sum for a first time salary arbitration player due to his limited major league service time, he and Pujols are very close in age with Howard being only 2 months older. The difference being that Howard spent several seasons in the minors while Pujols did not. Coming into the 2009 season, Pujols has 8 years of ML service time. Going back to the mid-point, Pujols will make $16 million this season as part of his 7-year, $100 million deal reached in 2004 – exactly the mid-point figure in the Howard case. The question then becomes, is Howard worth more than Pujols? Do his numbers support being more or less valuable than Pujols, who won the NL MVP this year?

Howard Vs. Howard – When talking about Howard’s case this year, using his record setting award last year comes into play. Howard and Casey Close will need to show that Howard’s numbers this year are good enough compared to last season to warrant the sizeable increase in salary they are asking for.

Projecting Howard in 2009 – In factoring in his salary, does Howard deserve his hefty requesting figure for 2009? Will he continue his pace, or rather, improve upon it? Using Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecasting system, Howard would see marginal declines and increases across several key stats.

Pulling in the Pujols comparisons, along with Howard’s stats, gives us the following:

Pujols vs. Howard - 2008 (totals plus MLB rank)
Player
HRs
RBIs
SOs
OPS
Runs
BB
SLG
Ryan Howard
48 (1st)
146 (1st)
199 (2nd)
.881 (28th)
105 (14th)
81 (T-23rd)
.543 (13th)
Albert Pujols
37 (4th)
116 (4th)
54 (T-242)
1.114 (1st)
100 (T-27th)
104 (3rd)
.653 (1st)

 

Howard vs. Howard - 2007-2008 (totals plus MLB rank)
Year
HRs
RBIs
SOs
OPS
Runs
BB
SLG
2008
48 (1st)
146 (1st)
199 (2nd)
.881 (28th)
105 (14th)
81 (T-23rd)
.543 (13th)
2007
47 (3rd)
136 (4th)
199 (1st)
.976 (10th)
94 (T-39th)
107 (4th)
.584 (8th)

 

Howard's PECOTA Projections
Year
HRs
RBIs
SOs
OBP
Runs
BB
SLG
VORP
WARP
2008
44
118
175
.382
101
91
.563
42.8
5.2
2009
43
113
161
.383
99
92
.545
35.0
4.8

 

Does Howard Win His Arbitration Case?

When looking at the mid-point between Howard and the Phillies’ figures, taking into account his comparative numbers with Albert Pujols, and his projected stats for next season, will Howard win his case? As reported by Lauber, fellow players think so, and the Phillies front office is offering him praise.

"He keeps moving the bar from where good hitters have been in the past," Phillies second baseman Chase Utley said. "And the better you play, the more money you make."

"You continually learn from the process, but it's difficult in Ryan's case because he's really in uncharted waters," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "He's had the kind of success that's kind of beyond anybody who's been in his position."

As I noted in the article, this year, more than others, the outcome has broad-reaching implications.

"The stakes are so much higher," [I] said. "Teams are in a bunker mentality. They have no idea what revenues are going to be like. When Manny [Ramirez] isn't getting a third year, it's a problem. After winning the World Series, the Phillies are kind of in the catbird seat. But is Howard worth more than what Pujols is making, given the state of the economy? It may boil down to whether they can make a case that Howard has more upside [than Pujols]."

Last year, I thought the Phillies had a slam dunk. They had never lost in salary arbitration, had Tal Smith working for them, and the asking figure for a first time arbitration eligible player was higher than anything before. This year, I’m leaning toward Howard… barely. In reality, it’s a coin-flip. Compelling cases can be made on both sides, and with that, it will most likely boil down to who presents their case the best.

But, here’s the real deal. As those that watch salary arbitration will tell you, the players almost always come out ahead, even if they lose. If Howard loses his case, does he really lose? If the Phillies triumph at hearing, Howard will earn $14 million, or 40 percent more than he did last season. Name a job where “losing” to your employer gets you that kind of raise.

FOR MORE SIGNING DETAILS SEE:

Salary Arbitration Filings Tracker

Salary Arbitration Figures Tracker

Arbitration Scorecard

Free Agent Tracker


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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