Ryan Howard is 7-for-his-last-23 and has his batting average up to .214 for the season. A whole lot of things have gone wrong for Howard this season, but on Sunday he drove in three runs with a pair of doubles that he hit on the first pitch of his at-bat. Coming into Sunday’s game, Howard was hitting 214/214/357 for the season in his plate appearances that ended after one pitch.

When you compare his numbers to what he has done over the last two seasons, I think you can make the case that the poor results Howard has had when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch of his at-bat have been among the most significant differences between what he’s done so far in 2008 and what he did in 2007 and 2006.

For the last three years, here’s how many plate appearances he’s had, how many of those plate appearances ended after just one pitch, the percentage of his plate appearances that ended after one pitch, his OPS when he puts the ball in play after one pitch and his OPS overall for the season:


Year

TPA

End 1P

% 1P

OPS 1P PA

Total OPS
2006 704 83 11.8 1.273 1.084
2007 648 57 8.8 1.364 .976
2008 278 30 10.8 .733 .775

First of all, Howard is putting the ball in play on the first pitch of his at-bat in 2008 at about the same rate as he did over the last two years. If you combine 2006 and 2007, he had 140 one pitch plate appearances in 1,352 total plate appearances. That’s about 10.4 percent of the time his plate appearance ended after one pitch compared to 10.8 this season.

In 2006, though, he hit .375 when he put the ball in play on the first pitch of his plate appearance. In 2007, .463. After Sunday’s big day he’s hitting .267 in 2008 when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch of his plate appearance.

Obviously by total OPS he’s down across the board in 2008. But in both 2006 and 2007 his OPS when he put the ball in play on the first pitch of his plate appearance was significantly better than his overall OPS for the season. In 2008, it’s about the same.

And he’s also hitting fewer home runs on the first pitch of his plate appearance. Of course, so far he’s hitting fewer home runs overall, but even as a percentage of the total home runs he’s hit for the season the number he’s hitting on the first pitch of his plate appearance is down in ’08:


Year

1st pitch HR

Total HR

% of HR on 1st pitch
2006 12 58 20.7
2007 6 47 12.8
2008 1 15 6.7

Those numbers are obviously very fragile. For example, if Howard had hit two of his 15 home runs on the season on his first pitch instead of one, that would be 13.3 percent. Still, even if it’s a coincidence that the percentage of his home runs he’s hit on the first pitch has gone down since 2006, it’s an interesting one.

If your plate appearance doesn’t end on the first pitch there’s pretty much only two things that can happen. You can be down 0-1 or up 1-0 in the count. When you compare his OPS in those situations to his total OPS for the year the numbers for 2008 are much more similar to his ’07 and ’06 numbers than what he’s doing on plate appearances that end in one pitch:

After 0-1

Year

TPA

0-1

% 1P

OPS 1P PA

Total OPS
2006 704 308 43.8 .956 1.084
2007 648 284 43.8 .720 .976
2008 278 124 44.6 .653 .775

After 1-0

Year

TPA

0-1

% 1P

OPS 1P PA

Total OPS
2006 704 313 44.5 1.153 1.084
2007 648 307 47.4 1.152 .976
2008 278 124 44.6 .917 .775

By a very small margin, Howard is getting behind 0-1 this season more than he did in the previous two seasons. Overall, however, the numbers when he gets behind 0-1 or ahead 1-0 compared to his OPS for the season are a lot more similar than what’s happening when he puts the ball in play on the first pitch.

Brett Myers (3-7, 5.13) faces righty Ricky Nolasco (5-4, 5.05) tonight in Florida. Nolasco faced the Phillies in Philadelphia on May 31 and held them to two runs on four hits over 6 2/3 innings. He’s made one start since and was blasted by the Braves on Thursday, allowing seven runs in 5 2/3 innings. He’s been very strong against righties this season — they are hitting just .224 against him and have hit just one home run. Lefties are another story. They’re hitting .324 against him and have hit 11 of the 12 bombs he has allowed. The Phillies have lost seven of the last eight games that Myers has started despite the fact that Myers has been very solid in his last four starts. Over his last four outings Myers has allowed 11 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings (3.62 ERA). The Phillies have gone 1-3. Over those 27 1/3 innings Myers hasn’t allowed a home run. Excluding those innings he’s allowed 15 in 53 1/3 innings on the season. Righties are hitting .305 against him for the season. He has made one start against Florida this season and was good, holding the Fish to three runs on six hits over eight innings on May 30 (the Phils won the game 12-3, their only win in his last eight starts).