The question isn't whether the Phillies should sit Ryan Howard against lefties. It's whether he can hit righties http://t.co/KW6bx6k5ZK— David Murphy (@ByDavidMurphy) May 28, 2014
In his piece, Murphy noted that while Howard has had his typical struggles against left-handers this year (.212/.283/.346, .629 OPS in 60 PAs), he's also struggled against right-handers as well (.244/.324/.449, .773 OPS in 142 PAs). In his career, Howard had typically mashed right-handers (.293/.388/.599, .987 OPS in 3506 PAs), and that -.214 drop-off in OPS is large and noticeable.
However, perhaps something larger is at work here. Take a look at the chart below. These are his numbers vs. RHPs only...
As you can see, Howard is striking out less against righties this year, walking a little less, but hitting more fly balls against them. Based on his career HR/FB ratio, roughly 3 out of every 10 fly balls Howard has hit against righties in his career has left the yard.
This year, only 15.8% of them are.
This trend continues if you factor in his numbers against all pitchers, including LHPs...
In other words, Howard is hitting more fly balls this year than he typically does, and he isn't striking out a whole lot more than he ever has, either. The problem is, he's lost about half of his HR/FB production, including against right-handers.
And aside from an aberration in 2012, his FB/HR rate has been dropping steadily as he's gotten older...
It's likely his age and all the lower body injuries he has suffered over the last few years have sapped him of his power, to the point where far fewer of the fly balls that historically would make it out of the park are doing so now.
That is not to say the big man can't still square one up, because as everyone saw on Tuesday, he can.
But there is a reason we're seeing this less and less nowadays. Everyone knows Howard has historically used his feet and legs to generate much of his power. Some days, it's there. Many days, it's not.
More than lefty vs. righty, Howard's real struggles are against himself and his weakened lower body. He's not doing much differently now than he was back in the days when he was cranking out 40+ homers a year. The difference is he simply can't hit the ball as far anymore, and he can't pile up the cheap home runs the way he used to.
Obviously, the Phils would be better served by sitting Howard against most left-handed pitchers. That remains true. But if you're expecting him to do more damage against right-handers in the near future, you shouldn't hold your breath.