About a year ago I was writing that between 2007 and 2008, Ryan Howard’s batting average dropped from .268 to .251 despite the fact that he got hits in a very similar number of plate appearances in both seasons.

He improved his rate of getting hits in 2009 over ’08 and ’07, posting a .279 average. His strikeouts were down as well — for the second straight season the percentage of plate appearances in which he fanned went down. That’s where the good news ends, though, as for the third straight year his home run rate fell and for the second straight year his walks fell.

Here’s the percentage of plate appearances in which Howard has homered, walked, struck out or got a hit over the past four years:

Year % HR % BB % K % H
2006 8.2 15.3 25.7 25.9
2007 7.3 16.5 30.7 21.9
2008 6.9 11.6 28.4 21.9
2009 6.4 10.7 26.5 24.5

Again, the good news is more hits and fewer strikeouts. The bad news is that the walks are way down since 2007 and the home runs are falling to. In defense of the declining walk rate it’s important to notice how dramatically intentional walks have fallen off for Howard in the past two years. In 2006 and 2007 he was walked intentionally 72 times. In 2008 and 2009 he was walked intentionally just 25 times. Also, even if his home run and walk rates are down since 2006, it’s important to remember 1) that he was absurdly good in 2006 (he hit 313/425/659 with 58 homers and was MVP of the league) and 2) in 2009 he was fifth in the league in runs created, third in homers and first in RBI. So he’s still rather productive.

Roy Halladay threw three scoreless innings last night as the Phils topped the Braves 7-4. Madson allowed four runs in the fourth inning, only two of which were earned (Dobbs made an error at third in the frame). Drew Carpenter threw three scoreless innings in the game. Baez allowed a hit and a walk in a scoreless inning and Escalona threw a perfect sixth. Werth hit a two-run homer and Mayberry and Francisco each drove in a pair of runs.

Victorino saw his first spring action and went 1-for-3 with a single.

This article suggests Moyer is the heavy favorite to be the fifth starter. In the article, Rich Dubee suggests that the fifth starter likely won’t be decided by which player pitches best in spring training. I think chances are good it will be decided by which player has a name that rhymes best with Ramey Hoyer.