Friday, July 11

Dunn vs. Howard: Hitters or Hackers?

As Baseball races towards the break, something caught my attention in the recent baseball coverage. Ryan Howard is getting a lot of praise, and lately it is deserved so, for his hot hitting and more importantly his home runs. Yesterday he clobbered two in en route to a Phillies 4-1 victory over St. Louis. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder if Howard was somehow receiving a more favorable view from media and fans a like that another hitter who went deep yesterday as well. I decided to take a look by the numbers at how Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn stack up.

First, we will look at strictly statistical data. Howard is in his 5th season, currently leads the NL with 27 homers, and is batting .234. Dunn is in his 8th season and has amassed 24 home runs, only 53 RBIs to Howard’s 83, and is batting .226. So far this season, there is no question Howard is having the better year statistically, but then again, he plays on a better team. Still, this year it is true that Howard has the edge.

In Dunn’s career, he has amassed 262 home runs, with an average of one every 13.88 at bats. Howard has 156 and one every 11.62 at bats. Howard’s strikeouts per at bats equal roughly 2.93, where Dunn sits at 3.06. So Howard statistically has a greater propensity for walking back to the dugout with bat in hand than Dunn, but Ryan is more often to blast one over the wall. The ballpark situation is a wash in my eyes, The Great American Ballpark is just as much of a launching pad than Citizen’s Bank Park and they both play in the national league in the same parks.

Despite the slightly better K per at bat, and better walk numbers, Ryan Howard holds the advantage is virtually every category, seemingly dispelling my theory. Howard also won the NL Rookie of the year in 2005, and holds a NL home run and RBI title. The big sticking point is the MVP Award he won in 2006, when he not only hit the 58 home runs, but he drove in 148 while hitting .313. Howard has also been featured on television commercials for Dick’s sporting goods and in a boys and girls club promotion for MLB. The biggest press Dunn got this year was when Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Riccardi said “We’ve done our homework on guys like Adam Dunn and there’s a reason we don’t want Adam Dunn.” [sidenote: The Jays have no players in double figures in home runs, Vernon Wells leads with 9.]

The reason it caught my eye this season, I think, is the .234 average. Howard hit .268 last year, and that was after a torrid finish to the season. The main strength of both players is obviously the long ball, but it seems Howard gets the praise as the far superior player, while Dunn is looked at as strictly a hacker. The main motivation behind this is obviously the 2006 MVP campaign by Howard. He definitely deserves the praise, but if his average continues to slip and strikeouts (which he leads all major leaguers over the last 162 games) increase, he will fall into that category. Howard was at a paltry .215 entering July, and was even hearing boos from (clutches heart) Philly fans during the season. Dunn has seemed to reach Dave Kingman status in the majors and in my mind there is certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is just a reminder of how slim that line is between a hacking home run hitter and offensive titan is. Dunn is listed at 6-7, 275 and is not exactly a physical specimen and some have questioned his commitment at times, but only once in his past six seasons did he not play in at least 150 games. Howard is listed at 6-4, 256. If Howard continues to struggle at the plate yet lead the home run count will play into the debate over whether he is an offensive force, or another long ball technician.

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