Ryan Howard has clearly made enormous improvements defensively in 2009. His reward so far is that he is making fewer plays overall — his range factor is the worst it’s ever been in his career. Here’s a look at his numbers defensively at first base over his career as well as the pace he’s on for 2009:

Year INN PO PO/Inn A A/inn E
2004 60.7 59 0.973 6 0.099 0
2005 706.3 707 1.001 40 0.057 5
2006 1412.0 1373 0.972 91 0.064 14
2007 1241.0 1191 0.960 103 0.083 12
2008 1402.3 1408 1.004 101 0.072 19
2009 pace 1446.8 1341 0.927 123 0.085 0

Howard hasn’t made an error yet in 2009, a remarkable feat coming off a season where he brutally made 19 to lead all of baseball at the position. With the exception of the 60 2/3 innings he played at first in 2004, he is also recording assists at the highest level of his career.

Oddly, however, as was mentioned above his range factor is the worst it has ever been for his career. That’s because he is making putouts at the lowest level of his career — if you look at his putouts per inning, none of the other years have been very close.

That surely means his fellow infielders are making fewer plays. And, for at least two of them, they are. Utley and Rollins both have been making defensive plays at rates that are lower than both their rates from 2008 and from over their careers. Here are the range factors for Utley, Rollins and Feliz for this year, last year and over their career:

range_factor.jpg

Both Utley and Rollins have been making defensive plays this season below both their rates for last year and for their careers. Feliz’s range factor at third base for ’09 is better than it was last year and better than it has been at the position over his career.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Utley and Rollins have been worse defensive players in 2009 than they have over their careers. There are other explanations, one of which could be that the Phillies pitchers could simply be throwing more fly balls this year. If you’ve been watching the balls fly out of Citizens Bank Park (or anyplace else the Phillies are pitching in ’09), that certainly seems like a possibility. More strikeouts for Phils’ hurlers would also mean less plays to make for the defense.