The latter half of the 2000s saw the Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins headed in diverging directions. Between 2005-2009, Philadelphia’s 447 wins and .552 winning percentage ranked 4th and 5th, respectively, among MLB teams. The Phils captured two NL pennants, including a World Series title in 2008. As for the Marlins, they finished 18th and 19th in those categories, winning 403 games, which was not even half of their games (.498 winning percentage).
With news of longtime Marlins killer Ryan Zimmerman announcing his retirement earlier this week, another Ryan with NL East ties, Ryan Howard, comes to mind.
Howard hit 382 home runs over his 13 big league seasons. He produced especially well against Miami pitching, hitting 41 homers and posting a collective .286/.397/.578 slash line in 171 career games. Putting that in the context of Howard’s MLB peak—from 2006-2011, he averaged .274/.370/.559, 44 HR, and 123 RBI (139 OPS+)—we see that the Fish had the misfortune have of facing the best version of him.
After nabbing NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2005, Howard took his talents into another stratosphere in 2006. He won the National League’s MVP award with an extraordinary 1.084 OPS. Howard ought to credit the Marlins pitching staff for that hardware. He humiliated them in a way that no other offensive player has done since.
Over 84 plate appearances, Howard hit .482 with 9 home runs, driving in 21. But even that is selling his performance short.
Looking at slugging percentage, we see that 2006 Howard is the best single-season division rival that Miami pitching has ever faced, slugging 1.074. The next closest hitter, Bobby Abreu in 2001, sits well behind Howard at .817.
Howard was particularly unkind to then-Marlin Scott Olsen. In 14 trips to the plate against Olsen, Howard hit .583/.643/1.250, taking him deep twice on September 8.
Ryan Howard was so feared by the Fish that manager Joe Girardi refused to pitch to him on 11 occasions. The left-handed slugger drew 26 total walks against the ‘06 team. In 2021 alone, 3 hitters who qualified for the batting title—Tim Anderson, Kyle Farmer, and José Iglesias—drew fewer walks than that over the course of their full seasons. Thanks to his keen eye against the Marlins, Howard’s .667 OBP is the highest all-time single-season mark against the club.
Known for his propensity to strike out, something he did 181 times in 2006, Howard only struck out in 8.4-percent of his plate appearances against the Marlins that season. That contributed to an unheard of 2.6 BB/SO ratio in those matchups.
Howard’s overall production fell off abruptly during his final five seasons following a torn Achilles tendon injury (.226/.292./427, 95 OPS+). The Marlins exacted some revenge against him as the Phils continued to slot him into the everyday lineup despite his diminished skills. However, for an extended period, the man dubbed “the Big Piece” elicited equal amounts of fear and high praise. Those who witnessed his 2006 rampage up close may still be scarred to this day.