There has been a lot of conversation about the Philadelphia Phillies platooning Ryan Howard at first base due to his history of not being able to hit efficiently against left-handed pitchers. The proposed strategy would be to play Howard against right-handed pitchers and replace him with Darin Ruf when facing left-handed pitchers. In his career Howard has hit 234 home runs against right-handed pitchers while only hitting 77 against left-handed pitchers. Howard brings exceptional power to the lineup and is a threat to hit a home run whenever he is in the batter’s box. But the statistics show his weakness, and over his career Howard has a batting average against righties of .295 as opposed to .224 against lefties.
These statistics make it pretty clear that the Phillies should platoon Howard with Ruf, but it is not that simple. In a small sample size Ruf has not had success against left-handers in MLB either. In 73 games in 2013, Ruf hit three out of his 14 home runs and only five out of 30 RBIs against lefties. He also batted an abysmal .188 against left-handed pitchers as opposed to .269 versus right-handed pitchers. Ruf has had success in the minor leagues against lefties batting .356 and slugging .659 over his minor league career. The biggest concern with this is that pitching in the minor leagues is completely different from the major leagues.
A full on platoon may hurt Howard’s impact in the lineup. Although Howard needs rest in order to minimize this risk of him getting injured again, it is also imperative that he plays and is able to get into a rhythm. Sometimes a player is able to use his weaknesses to build his strengths. Howard’s biggest strength is his ability to hit the ball out of the park. Let’s say Howard plays a game against a left-handed pitcher and goes 0-for-4. The next day he then faces a right-handed pitcher and is able to hit a home run due to the pitcher making a mistake because he underestimates Howard due to his ineffectiveness the day before against the left-hander. I believe a full platoon could hurt Howard, the Phillies and even cause scrutiny of Ruf if he is unable to perform against lefties.