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:

The data:

Year vs. LHP vs. RHP
2006 .386 .461
2007 .352 .427
2008 .319 .398
2009 .290 .450
2010 .359 .373
2011 .283 .385
2012 .261 .327
2013 .238 .371

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.

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21 comments

  1. Tom

    February 10, 2014 09:32 AM

    Wouldn’t an easy solution be to platoon Mayberry with Howard and just call up Ruf when someone hits the DL

  2. rick

    February 10, 2014 10:33 AM

    All makes sense to me!

  3. Bob

    February 10, 2014 11:14 AM

    If they cut Mayberry, who is their emergency CF? If you move Byrd to CF in case of emergency, the Phils would be weakening both their CF and RF defense. Hernandez was terrifying last year in CF. Gilles is organizational depth at this point. Possibly Gwynn, but he looks more likely to start the season on the farm if he even accepts that assignment. Granted, Mayberry is a butcher in CF, but they have no one else to come off the bench for spot CF starts. Weakening two positions by moving Byrd to CF on occasion is a recipe for disaster with either Abreu or Ruf in RF. They can’t again afford to be defensively weak in all three OF spots.

  4. Mo

    February 10, 2014 11:15 AM

    Unfortunately, rajr is looking out for his hide rather than the betterment of the team. Won’t happen.

  5. jdt

    February 10, 2014 11:30 AM

    I know he looks the part, but Mayberry has never been a very good fielding outfielder. He used to be average in the corners and barely adequate in center, but last year he was barely adequate in the corners and dreadful in center. And it isn’t going to get better now that he’s into his thirties.

    Byrd in center and just about anybody else on the corner would be comparable — and probably better — than Mayberry in center. There is also little doubt in my mind that Hernandez or even Galvis would be better than Mayberry in center if they played the position throughout spring training.

    There is *no* defensive reason Mayberry — who also isn’t very good at first base — should be on the Phillies. Unless they think he can OPS close to .900 against lefties he needs to be cut.

    • Bob

      February 10, 2014 12:23 PM

      Mayberry’s UZR/150 for LF and RF is above average for last two years accord fangraphs with his low of .5. His CF defense is awful, though. Abreu hasn’t played in RF or LF since 2012 where he registered a -12 to -16 UZR/150. Ruf had a UZR/150 of -12 to -34 last year in OF. Hernandez had a -25 in CF. As far as I know, Galvis has never played CF or RF at the major league level, so you’d have to move Brown to Rf and put Galvis in LF. This isn’t close to being comparable. By moving Byrd to CF, you are significantly weakening the defense in RF unless you play Mayberry there.

      • jdt

        February 10, 2014 01:04 PM

        BR reference (and my eyes) haven’t been as kind to Mayberry in the corners lately. He also has a well below average arm for a corner outfielder. Neither Mayberry nor Byrd is a viable long-term solution for CF. So if Revere goes on the DL they’ll have to call up Gwynn or find somebody else. But if it’s just for a few games Byrd would be fine and there is no reason to keep Mayberry around just for that scenario. SSS size metrics and my eyes also suggest Galvis, who will almost certainly be on the roster, would be a much better corner outfielder than Mayberry. Mayberry needs crush lefties or he’s a sub-replacement level player. And unless he shows a lot in spring training there is no longer any reason to think he will. Last year he and Galvis were basically offensive equals, Galvis 668 OPS Mayberry 677.

  6. Bubba0101

    February 10, 2014 12:26 PM

    I think its fair to give Howard a month to see what he can do with all the at bats. Im afraid if hes platooned from the start he will never even get going against righties. If he only goes against righties then he may never hit the groove that he needs. And lets face it, the phillies arent doing anything special this year so that production they would get from a platoon wont put us over the top if we miss it for a month. That way Ruf would get regular at bats too. I cant believe we have Howards albatross deal holding us down for another 3 years. What a disgrace.

    • jonny 5

      February 10, 2014 01:13 PM

      The last 7 years aren’t fair enough? Let me help you to face your fears Bubba. Howard will never get going against LHP.

      • Bubba0101

        February 10, 2014 04:02 PM

        Meh. I guess but this whole conversation is academic unless we see a significant change of thought by the leadership. If Howard gets a platoon then Id expect to see Galvis at short a bunch instead of JRol and Utley playing 1B with Cesar getting some decent time at 2B. We absolutely will not do anything if the lineup has Jrol leading off and Howard in the clean up like Charlie did without batting an eye every night.

    • ian

      February 10, 2014 01:30 PM

      Howard will only face lefties 1/4 of the time. He should be getting close to that many days off any way to rest. But whenever he goes on a tear, he should start everyday. Plus having Howard come off the bench late in the game will be nice.

  7. Bob

    February 10, 2014 01:48 PM

    jdt, which stats are you looking at on BR when you’re making the comparison between Mayberry and others on the roster? rtot/yr? rdrs/yr? No one said anything about a long term solution. We’re just talking about who should be on the bench next year. Even if it’s for a few games, you are playing one OF out of position (Byrd) and replacing his above-avg to good def with someone vastly inferior coupled with Brown’s terrible d. Galvis has never played either RF or CF in the majors and that’s probably for a reason. There’s no way you have of knowing if he can play in CF or RF unless you saw him play in the minors. If he has to play left, then where do we put Brown? RF? So you’d have Dom Brown and Byrd out of position and you’d be using your main sub at 2b/ss out of position as well? I couldn’t take the Phils seriously if they’re playing three OFs all out of position. And, in all seriousness, what makes your eyes so special that you can evaluate Mayberry? Have you ever been a scout? Have you played professionally? Do you attend every game live and where are your seats? I know from tv they don’t show defensive positioning or reads before every pitch as the camera is focused on the pitcher and hitter and not the defensive alignment. Eric does this for a living so I trust his evaluations of players, but unless you have a background in scouting, I don’t understand your qualifications to make that statement.

    • jdt96

      February 10, 2014 02:50 PM

      Mayberry is a sub-replacement level player overall. He’s also not a very good fielder and he can only play the corner outfield, at — at best — an average (and declining) level.If one assumes Ruff can post an OPS of around 800 there is simply no reason Mayberry should be on the roster over him. Galvis would be fine as a late inning replacement on the corners. On a SSS of 79 innings he rated extremely well as a left-fielder (much better than Mayberry did in the outfield) and there is no reason he can’t play right. Yes, he doesn’t have the classic arm for it, which is generally what makes right more difficult than left, but neither does Mayberry. By learning more positions Galvis just might make himself into a useful Major League player. At this point, Mayberry is not a useful MLB player, even on the bench, and it is highly unlikely he will now become one in his 30s. Byrd is fine as a few days fix in center — where he will be much better than Mayberry — even if that means a few days of Ruff or Galvis or Hernandez in right. I just don’t get what the rapidly declining Mayberry brings to the team if he can’t at last on an average level. Maybe keep him over Frasenden, but over Ruff, Galvis or even Hernandez is insane.

      As for my eyes. I watch just about all the games and I guess on TV I do notice Mayberry takes bad routes and misjudges balls more than the average outfielder, whether in center or the corners, and it’s been getting worse the last couple seasons. I’ve also noticed his arm isn’t *that* much better than Revere’s when you take into account strength and accuracy. He does look the part when he lines up a fly ball and gallops to it, however.

      In my non-professional, Little League baseball playing opinion, Galvis would be a better defensive outfielder than him right now. And Hernandez has the tools to become better as well. And I suspect the Phillies will end up agreeing and Mayberry doesn’t break North with the club unless his main competitors for the roster spot falter badly or are injured.

  8. Kevin

    February 10, 2014 03:20 PM

    I think Howard surprises this year. In his last two seasons he has played in 151 games. Hit 29 HR, 99 RBI, batted .244/.307/.445 slugging. Almost a full season if you combine both years.

    Howards career 3x slash is .271/.361/.545, I think he’ll finish somewhere between his 2011 season. 33 HR, 116 RBi, .253/.346/.488 and his 2012/2013 composite season.

    Of course this is contingent on Howard playing in about 140-150 games.

  9. Richard

    February 10, 2014 04:02 PM

    Obviously at this point the need to platoon Howard can’t really be argued. However, a couple of phrases puzzled me in the post.

    First, what does this mean?:
    “Even if Howard has a modest rebound in production against southpaws, he will still be siphoning away any surplus value he provides elsewhere.”

    Second, this is debatable:
    “provides a modest defensive upgrade in the games Ruf starts in place of Howard”

    I know the CW is that Howard is simply terrible defensively, even though most of the metrics have him at roughly average, to slightly below average, most seasons, even last season. But it’s not clear where the idea comes from that Ruf is better. He was rated considerably worse last year. Granted, we’re talking very small samples, but it’s all we have to go on.

    • Mike Lacy

      February 11, 2014 01:55 AM

      In regards to Howard’s defense, up until his injury, I thought he was actually pretty good in terms of fielding throws from infielders. Is that even measurable?

  10. mark66

    February 11, 2014 12:27 AM

    The only way the Phils have a chance to win is to platoon Howard. He flat out CAN NOT hit left handed pitching. If you argue then you prove you know nothing about the game of baseball. He never adjusted plus given the fact he is grossly overpaid the only way to live with the situation is to platoon.

  11. Mike Lacy

    February 11, 2014 01:51 AM

    I believe it was said elsewhere that a straight platoon of Howard may help, but the true test may come in the late game situations when he inevitably faces a LOOGY. Charlie would never pull Howard in that situation. Will Sandberg?

  12. Steve

    February 11, 2014 03:26 AM

    Let’s not forget a healthy Howard did help win 5 straight nl east titles and a long awaited World Series. He’s healthy now and should be ready to prove everyone wrong. The Big Piece is back!!

    • hk

      February 11, 2014 12:15 PM

      Let’s not forget that that Ryan Howard was 3 to 7 years younger than the current version. Here’s hoping, but not expecting, that he can play 130 games and produce something close to the numbers he produced in the past.

  13. Jimmy

    March 01, 2014 12:46 PM

    When R H gets hot he can hit anything. He got into the he can’t hit lefties daze and is acting accordingly. Try this out HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES> HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES>HEY RYAN YOU KILL LEFTIES> HEY RYAN YOU WILL KILL LEFTIES>
    HEY RYAN YOU WILL KILL LEFTIES>

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