The headline in one local paper in Philadelphia on Thursday alluded to the “Ryan Howard Problem” facing manager Ryne Sandberg like it’s as complex as Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
In actuality, if all of the Philadelphia Phillies’ problems were as easy to solve as the Ryan Howard Problem, the team would be back in contention relatively quickly. Sandberg doesn’t need to be Einstein to come up with this formula: Howard needs to be platooned, either with Darin Ruf or John Mayberry Jr.
Howard hit .176 against left-handed pitching in 2012 and followed that up with a remarkably consistent .176 performance against lefties in 2013. Right now, Howard is hitting .218 against lefties. He’s not doing all that well against right-handed pitching this year either, hitting just .220 overall. His recent history over three years of work is that he sees the ball much better against right-handers, adjusting his at-bats so he doesn’t see another left-hander again—except in late-inning situational substitutions—would be a benefit to both him and the Phillies.
Mayberry and Ruf, of course, being right-handed hitters, see the ball better against lefties than Howard does and their mere presence in the lineup a couple of days a week would increase whatever offensive production the Phillies are able to get out of that position. The Phillies have to keep Howard because no other team wants to take on his bloated contract, but that doesn’t mean he has to play every day.
When it comes to problems, the Phillies have plenty of them, but in the case of Ryan Howard, Ryne Sandberg doesn’t need to be Albert Einstein to come up with a solution.