Building A Better Ryan Howard

Maybe it's the added incentive from winning a World Series, or maybe, it's early preparation for his next big contract. Whatever the reason, Ryan Howard has a renewed approach to the season.

Ryan Howard doesn't have much to prove to anybody, with the possible exception that he can hit in April. So, why was he in Tampa , Florida working out long and hard well before any of his teammates were even packing for Clearwater?

New third base coach and fielding instructor Sam Perlozzo was also in Tampa and it was no coincidence. The two have become workout buddies, with Perlozzo putting Howard through some drills, primarily to improve his defense.

One area of Howard's game that doesn't garner him much credit is his defense. Howard's career fielding percentage of .990 is slightly below the .993 average for first basemen who have been in the league over the same time that he has. While the difference is slight, that doesn't mean that Howard doesn't have much to improve on when it comes to glove work. After all, he did post 19 errors last season, the most by a Phillies first baseman since Nick Etten also posted 19 errors for the 1942 Phillies.

While Howard will occasionally make a play that most don't believe him capable of making, the new mega-millionaire wants to turn around that thinking. He wants to become a first baseman that is known for being able to make the tough plays, while throwing in the occasional spectacular play just for good measure.

Perlozzo and Howard have worked a number of times since Howard arrived in Florida last month and Perlozzo has reported improvement in what he's seeing from Howard. One of the areas the two have worked on is getting Howard to make more consistent throws to second base, most of which Perlozzo believes is a footwork issue. One area that Perlozzo will have to continue working with Howard on through the season is to keep him focused when he's on the field. Howard has admitted in the past that he tends to let a bad at bat bother him and that he tends to concentrate on what he did wrong in that at bat while he's playing defense. Perlozzo plans on working with Howard throughout the year to focus his concentration.

Howard's range numbers are actually above the major league average for first basemen, but being able to complete plays consistently once he gets to a ball have been an issue at times for the Phillies former MVP and Rookie of the Year.

It's possible that the deal given to Mark Teixeira this past winter is part of Howard's reasoning for zeroing in on his defense. Howard's numbers compare very favorably to Teixeira, except when you focus on defense. Teixeira's career-high in errors was ten, which came back in 2004, while Howard has never had fewer than 12 in a full season and has average 15 errors per season over the past three years.



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