Ryan Howard, long-time fixture at first base for the Phillies, is facing an interesting challenge for playing time this year. The team has issued many minor league contracts and non-roster invitations to players to come to the Phillies spring training facility this year.
Perhaps none is more interesting than the one given to Sheet of Plywood over the weekend. In a Vince Papale moment, Matt Klentak reported that he was buying materials for a deck and found an incredibly athletic sheet of 4 x 8 foot marine-grade plywood at an area Lowes. A brief discussion ensued, and Klentak was convinced to bring this relative unknown to Clearwater to compete for playing time at first base for the Phillies.
While this veneer-to-riches story is unlikely, it will undoubtedly transfix Phillies fans all spring, and perhaps well into the season. I have no idea how it might shake out, but I have always fallen back on the old "chart of 'pros' and 'cons'" when trying to make a tough decision. Here is what I came up with:
|Decision Factor||Ryan Howard||Sheet of Plywood||Advantage?|
|Fielding Range||Can dig out balls. Immobile.||Utterly immobile, but tall and wide. Will tend to block balls. Can be rotated 90 degrees depending on batter tendencies. Could potentially "catch" balls if equipped with a net and a "cut out" area of maybe 3 feet by 6 feet.||Plywood|
|Throwing||Uh, yeah.||Will not throw the ball into left trying to turn a 3-6-3 double play.||Plywood|
|Batting - pitch selection||Enormous K rate. Swings apparently at random.||Does not swing at sliders down and away. Does not swing at all, in fact. Will take pitches and reach frequently on HBP. Large strike zone, however.||Push|
|Batting - power||Retains some power.||Zero power.||Howard|
|Baserunning||Almost immobile.||Actually immobile.||Howard|
|Injury Risk||Moderate - aging, but generally reliable.||So what? Buy a new one for $20.00 at Lowes.||Plywood.|
|Leadership and Presence||GET ME TO THE PLATE, BOYS||Looks like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Look what that did for the proto-humans in Act 1. Could be painted black to enhance this feature.||Plywood|
|Cost||$25,000,000.00 per year.||Major league minimum. Can be replaced when it reaches arbitration years.||Plywood|
|Fan Friendliness||Excellent ambassador for Phillies and good citizen.||Wooden. Refuses to sign autographs. Gives little kids splinters.||Howard|
The bottom line here is that Plywood appears to have a slight edge over Howard going into Spring Training. Given the more SABR-minded approach of the team this year, it remains to be seen whether the Phillies will move into the future by giving Sheet of Plywood more playing time or whether Howard will be allowed to ride off into the sunset as a Phillie.
As with all player decisions, it need not be "either/or" - the Phillies could utilize a platoon system to rest Howard on days he faces tough lefties while continuing to give him starts against right-handed pitching, or DHing him on days when the Phillies play interleague games and defense is not as much of a factor.