Dear Philadelphia, We Need to Talk

Ryan Howard cannot hit left-handed pitching. Don’t close your browser yet, I have a reason for mentioning this for the umpteenth time.

Philly.com is running this poll today on pages containing its myriad Phillies content:

This is Ryan Howard‘s weighted on-base average against left-handed pitching compared to the league average for non-pitchers dating back to 2006:

As Craig Calcaterra (@CraigCalcaterra) pointed out on Twitter earlier, Howard’s ability to hit lefties isn’t a matter of opinion; it is a bona fide fact that Howard has not been able to hit lefties anywhere near the league average in three out of the last four seasons. Even his BB/K ratio dropped from 0.3 in 2009 to 0.28, 0.22, and 0.11 in 2010-12, respectively. Opposing managers stack fielders on the right side. Lefties know to throw him slop low and away:

I understand disagreement with and the need for debate surrounding Domonic Brown‘s future, or Darin Ruf‘s potential as a Major Leaguer, but there is simply no debate on this subject. I know it’s dumb to use a Philly.com poll as a jumping-off point for anything, but that more than half of 400-plus respondents (at the time I captured the screenshot) think Howard can still “hit” left-handers boggles the mind, and being aware of sampling error does little to ease the mind. Although perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they collectively defined “hit” as “stand in the batter’s box and attempt to swing”.

Calcaterra also beat me to the punch in responding to the poll, so check out his take at Hardball Talk.

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26 comments

  1. Richard

    February 15, 2013 09:07 AM

    Sorry, Bill, I don’t think it’s that cut-and-dried, at least not until we see Howard play this season, healthy for the first time since 2010 (when he hit lefties quite well; in a season that was right after the world had supposedly learned how to pitch to Howard after the 2009 World Series–was it a fluke? or did he make adjustments that he was unable to maintain through the injuries of the last two years?).

    It’s certainly a fact that Howard hit lefties very poorly indeed the last two seasons. No argument! It will be argued that we have enough information about Howard in order to make a sound judgement. I maintain that we do not, that last season in particular is meaningless in that regard (on all fronts). My suggestion is to withhold judgement till we see what he does this year.

    That said, the existence of the poll is stupid.

  2. NickFromGermantown

    February 15, 2013 09:14 AM

    Equally as troubling is when people say that all the Phillies need is for Howard to go 40 / 140. And there are A LOT of people saying that. First of all, HRs are a fine stat, but not when used also exclusively and RBIs are obviously flawed. More importantly, who honestly thinks we can expect this out of him? It’s as though his ankle didn’t explode back in 2011, he’s in good shape, and fixed all of the problems that his approach has. I wish we could live like its 2006, but that was a long time ago and we can’t ignore that 2013 is a much different situation. Ryan Howard can be an effective contributor to the team still, but reasonable expectations must be set.

  3. Richard

    February 15, 2013 09:18 AM

    Question: what is a range of wOBA against lefties that Howard would have to maintain in order for it to be determined that he “can hit” lefties? I mean – most hitters have platoon splits, and lefty sluggers are notorious for same – what is the wOBA against lefties of his peers?

    Second question: do we give Chase Utley an injury mulligan, regarding his performance against lefties the last two seasons? That is, do we allow his injuries to form part of the explanation as to why his performance against lefties has declined dramatically? Or do we think he can’t “hit” lefties either? (Granting that there are big differences between him and Howard in their relative K and BB rates against lefties.)

  4. Bill Baer

    February 15, 2013 09:19 AM

    @ Richard

    I’m looking at the data for the years sandwiching 2010, don’t see anything that would make me any more confident about his ability to hit lefties in 2013. It just looks like he had a fluky year in 2010 hitting lefties’ fastballs.

    2009 vs. LH fastballs

    .228/.305/.386
    27.3% K, 7.8% BB
    .299 BABIP
    .158 ISO

    2010 vs. LH fastballs

    .312/.385/.569
    21.3% K, 7.4% BB
    .355 BABIP
    .257 ISO

    2011 vs. LH fastballs

    .224/.298/.395
    23.8% K, 6.0% BB
    .264 BABIP
    .171 ISO

    Let me know if you want to see any additional information.

  5. whatmighthavebeen

    February 15, 2013 09:27 AM

    i think we’d all be pretty pumped up with a 40/140. the flaw in the rbi stat relates to individual accomplishment. here, it would show that both ryan and the top of the order were “functioning” in some positive fashion. won’t hold my breath on either account.

  6. Richard

    February 15, 2013 09:28 AM

    That is one possible explanation. Maybe 2010 was a fluke, in the way that you say.

    But it seems a bit strong to say it’s “simply a fact” that Howard can’t hit lefties, and then ridicule anyone who suggests otherwise.

    On the other hand, I have little doubt that many respondents to the poll are basing their “yes” votes on wishful thinking and OMG homeruns and RBI, etc…

  7. Nick

    February 15, 2013 09:29 AM

    I think the Phillies should platoon Howard and Mayberry at First Base this season. As you pointed out above, Howard is atrocious versus lefties, well below average. Mayberry is an average hitter versus lefties. If you combine Howard’s (2011) numbers vs. righties and Mayberry’s (2012) numbers vs. lefties, you create a pretty productive hitter at first base. Somewhere in the ball park of .265/.350/.500 with 35+ HRs and 115+ RBIs.

  8. Bill Baer

    February 15, 2013 09:31 AM

    @ Richard

    There’s always the chance Howard could get lucky again, but the data that reflects talent shows clearly that he cannot hit lefties. I think concluding anything otherwise is worthy of ridicule.

  9. Scott G

    February 15, 2013 09:51 AM

    This seems like a direct rebuttal to a section of a post I made on my site the other day.

    I think the correct answer would be none of those. I’m not going to draw any conclusions from 106 PAs. Regardless, the answer is no, he cannot hit them, and Manuel should consider platooning/planning days off for Howard against LHP to keep him healthy/rested. If he won’t do that, he should at least seriously consider PH for him against tough lefties late in games.

  10. amarosucks

    February 15, 2013 10:32 AM

    Howard’s contract extension was the beginning of the end for this team.

    Thanks Rube

  11. Mike A

    February 15, 2013 12:13 PM

    Fittingly, Ryan Howard was the last out in consecutive seasons (NLCS against SF and first-round against St Louis), and both of those outs were embarrassments.

    He’s a below-average fielder, has a big, loping swing that is often a couple feet away from where the ball was thrown, can’t hit lefties and, at 33, is at least 5 years beyond his prime.

    None of us will ever understand why Amaro committed so much to him for so long, but that’s irrelevant now.

    Howard has no trade value.

    Regardless, the Phils have made an ENORMOUS investment in him, and if Charlie doesn’t play him every chance he gets, Ruben will probably beat him with a rubber hose.

    At this juncture, we should probably stop analyzing how ineffective he is, why he’s ineffective, or whether or not he’ll ever BE effective again. Instead, we should count the seconds until his contract expires and the Phils have a chance to put someone at 1st base and in the clean-up spot in the order who CAN be effective.

    At this point, I’d rather have Buckner … at his current age!

  12. Phillie697

    February 15, 2013 12:22 PM

    @Richard,

    Even IF you are correct on your theory, please explain to me on what planet do you expect Howard to return to his 2010 health level to be able to “maintain” whatever mythical adjustment he was able to make against left-handed pitchers, especially now that not only is he not all that healthy, he’s going to lose more power, i.e. more maddening grounders into the army of fielders stack against one side of the infield like having 3 goalies simultaneously in hockey.

  13. John

    February 15, 2013 02:37 PM

    Is the blue line league average for all hitters vs. LHP, or LH batters vs. LHP? If it’s both for hitters, then what did the avg. LHB do vs LHP? (I’m hoping the answer will be less troubling than what shows on the graph). As an eternal optimist, I think we should see some improvement if he really is “in the best shape of his life” this year.

  14. awh

    February 15, 2013 02:43 PM

    “There’s always the chance Howard could get lucky again,…”

    @ Bill, quick question, at what point could one conclude that it’s not “luck”. For instance, suppose Howard has 2 seasons in a row like 2010 against LHP in 2013 and 2014?

    I’m not challenging the conclusion, which seems pretty cut and dried, but am asking at what point the data will demonstrate that it’s not “luck”?

  15. Chris

    February 15, 2013 03:14 PM

    He certainly can’t hit lefties now, but what do you think the chances are he adjusts his approach and starts to just flick that low and away slop for fouls or singles to left(and lay off the stuff out of the zone)? That would definitely help, and I don’t know if its out of the question. The league has adjusted to him, but I wouldn’t be so sure he can’t adjust “back.”

  16. Tinman

    February 15, 2013 05:42 PM

    Is the next article going to be that Chase Utley hit .187 against lefties in 2011 and .215 in 2012? Another part time hitter in the works? The Best and Worst Thing about Baseball is Stats. Just like the average winning percentage in the history of Baseball is 50%.

    My key is a lineup that produces and when Howard plays, they win. The Phillies winning rate when Howard plays is 93 (92.8) games per season. it was 104 for 2011 and 93 for 2012. I know the retort will be that the rest of the team ‘carried him’ but consider that he hit .298 with Runners in Scoring Position in 2011 and .329 in 2012. Compare the 2012 numbers for Hunter Pence (.251) and Shane Victorino (.244). Howard had 5 RBIs in the first 2 games against the Cards in 2011 and if Cliff Lee doesn’t blow a 4 run lead, the Phillies beat the Cards and move on. Howard reported to Clearwater looking to be in great shape, so I can be optimistic. As far a platooning him, it just makes no sense.

    Time might be better spent considering that the Bullpen blew a lot of leads and even though I love the potential in Aumont and DeFratus, a healthy Adams has a track record. As I stated in a previous comment, having Adams could have put the Phillies in the playoffs in 2011.

  17. prs130

    February 15, 2013 07:16 PM

    It doesn’t help that Manuel insists on batting his two best lefties back-to-back. Pretty much much ensures that both Howard and Utley will see both the #1 lefty and #2 lefty out of the bullpen. If you split them up, then the opposing manager has to at least consider pulling the LOOGY he used to get Utley out in favor of an RHP.

  18. MG

    February 16, 2013 11:01 AM

    I was pretty surprised how candid Gillick was the other day on DSN when he said Cholly should sit Howard at least 10-15 times this year vs LHP. When he was asked a followup question about whether Cholly will do that, he said ‘Cholly wants to win.’

    I wonder if the FO (Amaro/others) have told Cholly in a stronger manner this offseason that Howard needs to sit on a semi-regular basis and that against a LHP starter presents a good opportunity to give him some rest especially with Ruf/Mayberry on the roster.

  19. Phillie697

    February 16, 2013 11:34 AM

    @Chris,

    The Phillies success has made fans blind of Howard’s troubles. The league has adjusted to him three years running now. If he hasn’t “adjusted” in response by now, what chance do you think there is he will do it now that 3 years older? This didn’t happen yesterday.

  20. Phillie697

    February 16, 2013 11:35 AM

    @Tinman,

    Come back here in July and see if you’ll still willing to make that defense. Unfortunately, I doubt you will.

  21. hk

    February 16, 2013 12:13 PM

    Tinaman,

    “Is the next article going to be that Chase Utley hit .187 against lefties in 2011 and .215 in 2012?”

    To start, please stop using BA and use a stat that is more highly correlated with team run scoring like OPS or wOBA, like Bill did in the article. If you compare Howard and Utley vs. LHP’s in 2011 and 2012, you’ll see the following:

    1. Utley had a higher wOBA, .294 to .275.
    2. Utley’s wOBA was generated while he was hiting in much worse luck. Utley’s BABIP vs. LHP’s the past two seasons was .217 vs. .288 for Howard.

    So, in the last two seasons vs. LHP’s, Utley has hit in much worse luck than Howard, yet still produced more. Factor in that Utley is a much better fielder at his position than Howard is at his and that Utley is a great base runner while Howard’s a poor one and it’s easy to conclude that there’s no reason to platoon Utley whereas there is a reason to platoon Howard.

  22. Jonny5

    February 18, 2013 09:26 AM

    There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Ryan Howard Can in fact hit Lefties. Just not at the rate one would expect from a top of the food chain slugger. Not saying he is a top of the food chain slugger actually. I’m just reacting to his pay grade.

    I would platoon him with Delmon Young. When the opposing team brings out their relief lefty for Howard, he’d be benched if I’m charlie.

  23. Lefty

    February 18, 2013 11:01 AM

    So, are you suggesting a platoon? I’m all for it, but I’d suggest you don’t hold your breath waiting for them to platoon him with that contract.

  24. Jonny5

    February 18, 2013 01:58 PM

    Yup… And, Yup….

  25. Chris

    February 19, 2013 01:17 AM

    @Phillie697
    I’m not blind to his struggles(quite the contrary actually, I usually cringe whenever I see him face left handed relievers), I’m just placing faith in him to be able to adapt. He may not be able to completely fix the problem, but I have to believe he can improve. Battling injuries is difficult in itself, so I’m hoping now that he’s completely healthy he can start focusing 100% on his approach at the plate. Great players (see Halladay, Roy) realize they need to adapt as they get older, and I’m hoping Howard can do so as well.

  26. Phillie697

    February 20, 2013 11:12 AM

    Ryan Howard is not Roy Halladay. Roy Halladay is going to the Hall of Fame. Ryan Howard, at this rate, might not even make the Phillies Wall of Fame. But sure, you can hope, which is admirable since you realize we’re stuck with him for the next 4 years.

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