A week or so ago, my roommate asked me if I'd rather have Ryan Howard or Mark Teixeira at first base. On the surface, the question may seem like an odd one asked by one Phillies fan to another, especially since Howard has already won Rookie of the Year, MVP and a World Series ring.
But the question is a little more complex, as we both discussed. Especially when you take a look at all things considered. Teixeira, after all, is the far superior defensive player and has two Gold Gloves to prove it. And like Howard, he's no slouch at the plate either … in fact, the guy may very well win the AL MVP this year.
Statistically, the two 29-year-old first basemen have eerily similar numbers. In now his seventh season in the bigs, the first-year Yankee has accumulated a .289 batting average, .378 on-base percentage, .543 slugging percentage and .921 OPS. He's hit 234 home runs and driven in 769 runs. This year, he's having a beastly season: .288 average, .385 OBP, .556 slugging, .941 OPS, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 136 hits, 34 doubles in 120 games.
Meanwhile, Howard's career numbers, now in his sixth season (fifth full season) are .277 batting average, .374 on-base percentage, .583 slugging, .958 OPS with 211 home runs and 603 RBIs. This year, he sits at .268 ba, .348 OBP, .554 slugging, .902 OPS with 34 homers, 104 RBIs, 27 doubles, 126 hits, and even three triples (and five steals!) in 121 games.
The numbers show two very evenly matched players. So back to the question: Who would I rather have? Howard strikes out at a much greater rate than Teixeira, and Mark is unquestionably the better fielder, so that may lead one to lean toward the Yankee first baseman. But my choice is and always will be Ryan Howard. And not just because I'm biased toward the Phils (which I am).
No, my pick is Ryan Howard for one simple reason: The man takes it upon himself more than perhaps any other slugger in baseball to put his team on his back down the stretch, almost single-handedly carrying the offense when the playoffs come near. In his career, Howard has hit more home runs in August and September than in any other months and by the time September is through, ditto for RBIs. His batting average is .281 for his career in August and an astounding .317 in September, which is his truly hot month. HIs career numbers in September: .317 ba, .435 OBP, .716 slugging, 1.151 OPS, 44 home runs and 111 RBIs.
Right now, he's smoking hot, propelling the Phillies to 22 games over .500. He beat the Mets yesterday with two home runs and five RBIs. He's doing the heavy lifting right as the Phillies approach the final month of the regular season, just like he always does.
Last year, Howard got off to a horrific start, finishing April batting below .200 and not doing much better in May. He was being beaten up. It was supposedly a down year. Until September rolled along. He went so crazy that he wound up challenging Albert Pujols for the MVP award, as insane as that sounds. In 24 games in the final month, he hit .352 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs. His OBP was .422, his slugging .852 and his OPS a ridiculous 1.274.
He brought the Phils to playoffs on his broad shoulders and helped lead them to a championship. And he's in the process of trying to do that again right now. I know he can do it because has before and he will undoubtedly again.
As good as Teixeira is, and the guy is a hell of a player, he has yet to prove he can do that in his career. Sure, playing for Texas and Atlanta didn't help. But he was also supposed to be the final piece for the Angels, which he wasn't. In New York, he's certainly making good, but I wouldn't trade Howard for him under any circumstance. Not right now.
Teixeira is the superior defender, the more disciplined player. He won't drive you as mad as when Ryan strikes out four times and makes an error. But he also doesn't quite strike as much fear in the hearts and minds of pitchers as Howard does, especially when it's crunch time. Because time again, Howard has shown he comes through when his team needs his most. That's the sign of a truly indispensable player.
Yes, he strikes out too much. In a weird way, that may actually benefit him because it tempts pitchers to pitch to him in tight spots in the hopes they can strike him out, which in turn leads to plenty of home run and RBI chances that perhaps Albert Pujols and to a lesser extent Teixeira don't get. Yes, he has to keep improving on his much improved defense. But man, it's hard to ask for much more out of a player than what Ryan Howard gives you.