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Five Reasons Ryan Howard Can Bounce Back in 2015

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The odds are long and substantial. But I put my mind to it and came up with five reasons Ryan Howard could have a much better season next year.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In case you are wondering, yes, I'm hoping a team pondering a trade for Ryan Howard reads this.

As spring training draws ever-closer, The Big Piece is still a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. Is this terribly surprising? No, it is not. At least, not to most of us.

In his column, Rosenthal essentially says it's silly that no team has stepped up to show a real interest in trading for Ryan Howard.

Obviously, this is not a feeling shared by most in the baseball community.

Which isn't surprising. Ryan Howard is coming off a season in which he hit .223/.310/.380 with a .306 wOBA, a wRC+ of 93 and a -0.3 fWAR. He did hit 23 home runs and knocked in 95 runs, stats which make a lot of the back-of-the-baseball-card guys very happy.

But among qualified Major League first basemen last year, his slugging percentage of .380 was 20th, below the likes of James Loney, Eric Hosmer, Garrett Jones and Chris Davis. Likewise, his isolated power of .156 was 18th, even though he was 13th in home runs among first basemen.

He also is due to make $60 million over the next two seasons. That's kind of a thing.

So it's easy to see why some teams, even those with a need for left-handed power, might be wary of investing in Howard, even if the Phils do pick up $50 million of his $60 million salary.

And as we look ahead to 2015, Steamer projects Howard to hit .224/.305/.398 with 14 home runs in just 386 PAs. Those are Travis Lee-esque type numbers there, friends.

That said, I searched within my inner optimist to find five reasons why Ryan Howard can once again become a productive power hitter for an American League team. It was hard.

NO DEFENSE

Were he to move to an American League team, Howard would not have to play first base anymore. That would be a boon on two different levels.

First, he wouldn't cost his team runs with horrible defense. Second, it would presumably help keep his legs, knees, and feet fresher during the course of the season. Also, as a DH, he could focus solely on hitting and not have to worry about the defensive side of the game.

PERSONAL ISSUES BEHIND HIM

A few weeks ago, we learned that Howard was mired in a messy family battle over his fortune, involving his parents and his twin brother. One can only imagine the impact that had on him last season, and it would be easy to believe that it affected his play on the field.

The hope is that without that kind of off-field distraction, Howard would be able to devote more of his attention and focus to his job, rather than on the family drama that surrounded him last year.

FULL OFF-SEASON TRAINING REGIMEN

Last year was the first time since 2011 that Howard played more than 80 games, In fact, he played 153 games and accumulated 648 plate appearances and did not spend one day on the disabled list. There have been no reports of Howard suffering from any lingering issues with his Achilles or legs (other than the general soreness that will undoubtedly accompany him for the rest of his playing career) this off-season either.

That means an off-season devoted to the sole purpose of getting ready for baseball, which I'm not sure he had the previous three off-seasons. That will hopefully allow him to be better prepared, from a baseball standpoint, for 2015.

BETTER AGAINST LEFT-HANDERS

In a weird reversal of his career splits, Howard hit better against lefties in 2014 than he did against righties. His wOBA against left-handers was .339, with a .230/.323/.447 slash line against southpaws. Against righties, his wOBA was .279 with a slash of .221/.305/.353.

That's a dramatic reversal of what he's done throughout his career, when he hit .225/.303/.430 with a .318 wOBA against left-handers and .286/.380/.574 with a .395 wOBA against right-handers.

It's possible Howard would be able to improve his numbers against right-handed pitchers next season, while hopefully holding the line against lefties.

STILL DECENT HOME RUN NUMBERS

Howard's 23 homers in 648 PAs was not very good, but home runs across baseball are down. He was still good enough to be tied for 12th in the National League in longballs, with Carlos Gomez, Neil Walker, and Marcell Ozuna. He had more home runs than Buster Posey, Anthony Rendon, Hunter Pence, Matt Holliday, Ryan Braun, David Wright and Yasiel Puig.

Homers are rare, and every once in a while, Ryan can hit one for you.

Given the factors above, is it impossible that Howard could become a 30-HR hitter for an American League club? One that doesn't require him to play defense? One that would allow him to focus more on hitting? Without the personal issues that plagued him last year?

Is it possible?

Yes it's possible.

Is it likely?

Um....