Ryan Howard Not Returning This Year

I'll be back . . . just not this year. - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

No one has said for certain, but Ryan Howard is not returning this year.

The Phillies placed Ryan Howard on the disabled list on July 6.  At the time, there was a possibility that he would return this year to play for the team.  And, with Howard resuming baseball activity this week, it looked like that possibility might come to fruition.

But interim manager Ryne Sandberg has made it quite clear that's not happening.  Talking about Howard yesterday, Sandberg said that having Howard back this year would be "counterproductive."  He noted that Howard could have the remainder of this entire calendar year plus the beginning of next to get healthy and in shape.  It would be much more useful for the team for him to come into 2014 in great health than for him to try to push himself at the end of this wasted year, Sandberg said (without using the term "wasted").

In other words, Sandberg's position is: "Why bother?"

A healthy Howard is certainly a big part of what the Phillies need next year.  But, they also need a Howard that can hit for power, get on base, and not disappear against lefties.  Whether a healthy in-shape Howard can do that next year is something that's very much up in the air.  Sandberg threw out meaningless platitudes in saying that he was sure Howard would be better next year: "He's older, but I would think he has something to prove, and I think he wants to have fun and I think he wants to enjoy his career."

Whatever.  The facts of the matter show that Howard at this point in his career struggles to stay on the field and when he is on the field he is not the hitter he once was.  From his MVP season in 2006 to this year, his wRC+ has declined from 162 to 111.  That's not an entirely linear drop, but it's pretty close.  There's no reason to believe he'll be anywhere near the hitter he once was, even the late 2000s hitter he was (wRC+s in the 120 to 140 range).

How have the Phillies fared without Howard?  They were 42-46 with him but have been 15-24 without him.  They've clearly been worse, but the key is that Howard doesn't pitch.  The hitting has actually been better.  The team scored 3.9 runs per game with him; they've scored 4.1 without him.  But the team has given up more runs per game without him.  They were giving up 4.5 runs with him compared to 4.7 without him.  It would be hard to attribute any of this to Howard.

Of course, a better hitting Howard could help with a pitching-deficient team, but the difference-making years of his career seem further and further in the rear-view mirror.  Getting him healthy for next year by not rushing a return this year is a smart move though.

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