A few years ago, the team chose Spencer Howard over Sixto Sanchez to keep in a deal to get done for J.T. Realmuto. If it is possible for a team to let down a player in the midst of his development, Spencer Howard is it.
(w/ Phillies): 28 1⁄3 IP, 1.02 WHIP, 24.4 K%, 13.4 BB%, 0.6 HR/9, 1.48 WHIP, 5.72 ERA (4.02 FIP), 0.4 fWAR
The first time Howard had to face the opposition, he was outstanding. Once he had to exert himself beyond the third inning, he became a totally different pitcher. So, if his new team is going to consider changing his role from starter to something else, now is the time.
Imagine you have as your top prospect a pitcher that many feel can help lead a rotation when he fully matures as a pitcher. You’d like for him to get some innings in the majors to help a team whose back end rotation was suspect at best. Now, looking at this timeline for Howard in 2021, one doesn’t need to stretch to see where the issues are.
April 26: he’s a starter.
May 21: he’s a starter...”maybe”.
June 15: he’s a bulk guy. To build him up.
June 29: he’s a starter. Maybe.
July 21: he’s an opener.
July 24: he’s a starter. Kind of.
July 30: traded to Texas for Kyle Gibson.
You can sense the pattern here: the team had no idea what they were doing with him. When discussing his trade to Texas, Howard was pretty blunt in his assessment of his time in Philadelphia.
“I could have kept doing all the things I was doing in Philly and trying to get better in the wrong way, I guess?” Howard told Levi Weaver of The Athletic during a recent postgame Zoom press conference following a start with the Texas Rangers. “Like trying to polish a turd? Or I could scrap that, put my faith in these guys in this organization, and just really get to work on becoming the best version of myself that I can be. And for me, that’s really the route that I wanted to take. I know it’s not going to be immediate. It’s gonna be a lot of tough games. But I know in the long run it’s going to be for the better.”
The dislike Howard had for his former team is palpable in that quote. They had no idea what they were doing with him, an issues that manifested itself when he struggled all year. Dave Dombrowski also acknowledged that the yo-yoing with his career was an issue.
“I think he’s been in a tough spot in his development situation here in the organization for an extended time,” Dombrowski said. “When you look back, he’s had some injuries, he had the COVID situation, down year last year, he had some issues in spring training delaying him a little bit. Watching his innings this year, moving him back and forth, I mean it was a tough situation for him.”
To his credit, Dombrowski does say that there was an issue, but one has to wonder if he blames himself or if he blames the previous regime for not allowing him to develop in the first place.
Their desire to win this year and to use their top pitching prospect is not the issue here. The problem is that they couldn’t figure out if he was a round peg or a triangle peg to fit into their square hole in the rotation. Part of that was because of Howard’s inability to go longer than three innings before his velocity, and performance, consistently fell off a cliff. Is it the team’s fault he couldn’t go that long? That’s going to be one of the things to watch as Howard progresses with Texas.
As it pertains to the Phillies, Howard has none. Traded for Kyle Gibson, he’s the Rangers’ issue now.
Final grade: D+
While most, if not all, of the blame for Howard’s development can fall squarely on the indecisiveness of the Phillies, Howard himself must shoulder some of the blame. He was perfectly fine in the first time through the batting order, but once he had to go out for a <gasp> fourth inning, he collapsed. It wasn’t like it was once in a while; it was almost every time he started a game. The team can only do so much to prepare a player. Once on the mound, it’s up to the pitcher to perform and that is something Howard simply did not do well.