The Philadelphia Phillies are going to have a lot of tough decisions to make in the offseason.
What to do about Ryan Howard should not be one of them. Even though Howard, 33, is in the second year of a five-year, $125 million contract, the choice now should be pretty clear: Howard needs to be a platoon hitter next season.
The argument has been broached on sports talk radio in Philadelphia, only to evoke a predictable response: “He’s making too much money to be a platoon player.” Well, while the salary numbers might support that argument, the hard, cold, baseball numbers do not.
If there’s one thing Howard has proven since his MVP season of 2006 (58 home runs, 149 RBIs, .318 average), it’s that he can’t hit left-handed pitching. Howard’s stats against left-handers since his injury on the final game of the NLCS in 2011: .173 in 98 at-bats in 2012 followed by a remarkably consistent .173 in 81 at-bats this season before being shut down.
It’s not like the Phillies don’t have options for getting near the productivity of the old Howard out of the first-base position. If they platoon Howard, they have someone who has outstanding numbers against left-handed pitching already on the roster in Darin Ruf, who has a career .375 average vs. LHP if you count both his limited time in the majors with his minor-league stats.
Plus, since the great majority of pitchers are right-handed, the Phillies are likely to get close to their money’s worth by sitting Howard down when a southpaw starts. On those days, they can use Howard as a late-inning pinch-hitter.
Injuries kept getting in the way of Howard staying on the field over the last three seasons but he currently is working out and has dropped “15 to 20” pounds, according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.
No amount of lost weight or gained muscle, though, is likely to change the way Howard sees the ball against lefties, and that’s the No. 1 reason why the organization should make him a platoon player.