Once Again: The Phillies Should Platoon Ryan Howard
It seems like we say this every year, but it’s worth repeating frequently until the Phillies actually do it: Ryan Howard should be relegated to facing right-handed pitching only going forward. $75 million through 2016 (plus a $10 million buyout for 2017) is a lot of money to spend on a platoon player, but he is essentially a sunk cost now. Their priority should be extracting as much value out of Howard as they can before his time is up.
Here’s a look at how Howard has performed against pitchers by handedness since his first full season in 2006:
|Year||vs. LHP||vs. RHP|
Howard used to be decent against lefties, but in recent years, they have been able to exploit his inability to lay off pitches low and away, out of the strike zone. Even if Howard has a modest rebound in production against southpaws, he will still be siphoning away any surplus value he provides elsewhere.
Darin Ruf is in a bit of a weird spot in that there isn’t an obvious spot for him on the roster except for at first base. All three of their starting outfield jobs are taken by Domonic Brown, Ben Revere, and Marlon Byrd. John Mayberry is out of options while Ruf is not, which is one reason why the Phillies could keep Mayberry around and have Ruf start the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. It’s especially tough considering PECOTA expects Ruf to be more valuable than All-Star Domonic Brown in 2014. He out-hit all of his teammates last year, going by wOBA, except for Chase Utley.
The obvious move here is to platoon Ruf with Howard at first base. The move has two immediate defensive benefits: it keeps Ruf out of the outfield where his defense is abysmal, and it provides a modest defensive upgrade in the games Ruf starts in place of Howard. The offensive benefits are obvious: Howard’s sub-.300 wOBA against lefties will be replaced, ostensibly, by Ruf’s expected production in the .350 range. (This assumes that his reverse split last season was a small sample aberration.)
In keeping Ruf on the 25-man roster, the Phillies would likely have to cut Mayberry. Matt Gelb notes in this column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “The Phillies can release Mayberry with 16 days left in spring training and pay him just one-sixth ($265,000) of his $1.59 million salary.”
Among the many reasons why the Phillies have struggled in recent years, they have failed A) to recognize the flaws of their players; and B) to limit the amount of time in which these flaws can cause damage. With a new manager and a burgeoning analytics department, if ever the Phillies were going to experiment with a platoon, it would be now.