clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Have the Phillies finally figured out how to use Ryan Howard?

New, 33 comments

Since June 19, Howard has punished right-handed pitching. Have the Phillies finally figured out what to do with him as his career wanes?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How does a Phillies hitter with a 1.043 OPS sound to you right now?  Like a pipe dream?  Some fictional creature from years past when dominant offensive talent was nothing noteworthy for this franchise?

The title of this post gives it away, but that's exactly what Ryan Howard has been for the past month and a half . . . against right-handed pitchers.  Since June 19, Howard has posted this peak-level-Howard triple slash line: .323/.364/.677.  He's had 10 extra-base hits in 62 at-bats -- 6 home runs and 4 doubles.  Sure, he has 16 strikeouts compared to only 4 walks, but that's not that far off from classic Howard.

What makes this run so great is that it appears the Phillies have finally figured out how to use Ryan Howard.  With right-handed hitter Tommy Joseph on the team, there is no reason to bat Howard against a lefty.  This is something astute fans have been clamoring about for a long time, but the Phillies are now doing it.  Since June 19, Ryan Howard has had only 8 plate appearances against lefties.  The results have been what you'd expect - a pristine .000/.000/.000 line with nothing other than 4 strikeouts.

But that's only 8 plate appearances.  Not too harmful at all.  The rest of Howard's plate appearances since June 19 have come against righties (66 PA), and Howard has been the punishing Howard of the past.

What's particularly interesting about Howard over the past month-and-a-half is that it appears the shift isn't even working on him.  I don't have access to shift splits by pitcher-handedness or even dates for shift on/shift off, but since June 19, Howard has come to the plate 44 times with no one on base.  Presumably, the shift has been on in many (most?) of those situations since the defense has no reason to guard any particular base.

In those 44 plate appearances, Howard has a 1.062 OPS - .326/.341/.721 triple slash line.  He's beating the shift these days too.

One other particularly interesting piece of this run for the Big Piece that points to even more credit for Phillies management.  The Phillies appear to have figured out now only that he should be facing righties exclusively, but they also seem to have figured out which righties to start Howard against.  Against starting pitchers since June 19, Howard has an insane 1.235 OPS (not a misprint!) in 46 plate appearances.

Contrast that with how he's hitting against relief pitchers.  Now, not every relief pitcher is brought in specifically to dominate Ryan Howard, but it's clear that when the other team is more in control of the matchup with him, Howard is still struggling.  Against relievers since June 19 (28 PA), he has a putrid .120/.214/.160 line for a despicable .374 OPS.

Now, this could just be a hot run for Howard - a hot run over a month and a half period.  After all, it's not like he's seen that many plate appearances against lefties all season.  Since his last hit against a lefty on April 14, Howard has had only 16 total plate appearances against them.  From April 14 through the start of his current hot streak on June 19, with the Phillies using him pretty much exclusively against righties, he was still terrible - .138/.193/.323 against righties in 139 plate appearances (and .000/.000/.000 against lefties in 8 plate appearances).

So, this current run could just be a hot streak and Howard will regress to his less than stellar self.

But, I'll choose to take the optimistic view here.  Howard has settled into his role as a part-time starter against righties only.  The Phillies have figured out in particular which right-handed starters Howard thrives against, and they are smartly giving him those starts, and those starts only.  And when he does start, he's punishing those righties to the tune of peak Barry Bonds.

Does any of this change the future for Ryan Howard?  If he can keep it up, certainly.  No, the Phillies in their extended rebuild will not find a roster spot for him next year, no matter how good he is against righties for the rest of this year.  But, they may be able to sell a dominant righty masher (when used wisely) to another team this August and get a lottery-ticket prospect in return.  After all, there has to be a contending team that could use a left-handed power bat and has the brains to continue using Howard this way.

And maybe, just maybe, Howard is playing himself into another year in the big leagues.  It won't be in Phillies red, but if he gets another year of decent performance, I'll be thrilled for the guy.