The Strangest Ryan Howard Development Yet

11 years into Ryan Howard‘s tenure as a major league ballplayer in Philadelphia, we sometimes think we’ve heard it all with him — the highs and the lows. Home run streaks, home run droughts; dominance and struggles against certain pitchers; success and failure against teams or in specific ballparks.

But with nearly 1,300 career games played and nearly 5,500 plate appearances taken, we have stumbled onto something new with the Phillies first baseman: he has a very noticeable reverse platoon split.

Year vs. LHP vs. RHP L/R Ratio
2005 .184 .430 0.43
2006 .386 .461 0.84
2007 .352 .427 0.82
2008 .319 .398 0.80
2009 .290 .450 0.64
2010 .359 .373 0.96
2011 .283 .385 0.74
2012 .261 .327 0.80
2013 .238 .371 0.64
2014 .328 .297 1.10

Howard has been the poster child for platoon splits for as long as he’s been a major league regular. After bashing 58 home runs with a 1.084 OPS in 2006 en route to a National League MVP award, teams began utilizing increasingly more left-handed relievers against him and, particularly in the last five years or so, opted to shift their infielders over to the right side, including putting their second baseman in shallow right field. As a result, Howard’s numbers gradually began to decline and there wasn’t much anyone could do about it.

2014 is another story. Howard’s numbers are about average against same-handed pitching, but are very much substandard against right-handers as you can see in the table to the right, which displays weighted on-base average by handedness.

This season, Howard has hit six of his 16 home runs (37.5%) against southpaws in 107 of 427 plate appearances (25%). He has a .221 ISO against them, which left alone, would be close to his power output prior to his Achilles injury.

Against right-handed pitching, Howard has a .297 weighted on-base average and a .137 ISO. This comes at a time when Howard is seeing the most fastballs, percentage-wise, since his Rookie of the Year season in 2005. There are two points that make further analysis kind of a waste: A) it’s a small sample size (107 PA); B) as a result, one should regress Howard’s 2014 splits towards the league average. Once you regress Howard’s splits, his reverse platoon split goes away, and the whole thing isn’t as interesting.

That said, we can still speculate on cause-and-effect. In terms of pitch usage, both sides are approaching him about the same, with 50-55 percent fastballs and the rest are breaking balls and change-ups. Left-handers have been more willing to pitch Howard over the middle of the plate, but not by much; both sides continue to pepper the outer third of the plate with everything. Howard has hit more fly balls, 44 to 37 percent, against lefties and obviously hits more balls on the ground against right-handers.

Only two of Howard’s ten home runs against right-handers have landed to the right of center, meaning that eight have gone to the opposite field. Eight of those ten home runs have also come on fastballs. Against lefties, all six have gone to left-center or dead center, and four of those six have come on fastballs. It would seem this is a product of slower bat speed. Five years ago, Howard would be pulling those pitches from right-handers, but he’s now late and taking them out to left and left-center. Howard is also late against lefties but the pitches stay in the zone longer (think about a lefty coming from three-quarters throwing a fastball compared to a right-hander throwing tailing fastballs), which is why he’s able to cluster his home runs around center field. Furthermore, Howard has pulled 51 percent of balls in play against lefties overall compared to 42 percent against right-handers.

Howard has made some adjustments, recently lowering his hands though the results haven’t paid off as of yet. Recognizing the reasons behind his struggles against right-handers this season could help Howard make further adjustments, beginning the slow climb towards posting respectable numbers again.

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10 comments

  1. George Callanan

    July 29, 2014 07:33 AM

    Howard does not stand as open at the plate like he did in his glory days. This enabled him to see the ball with both eyes. Now that he is more in a closed stance his left eye is not as effective. Age hurts bat speed but his stance needs to be more open. He needs to study film of when he hit 58 HRS. Also the batting coach Joyner helped the left handed hitters like Brown and Howard. Does management not even pay attention to this?

    • Andrew R.

      July 29, 2014 08:42 AM

      The whole league should open their stance so they too can see with both eyes. Imagine how good Ted Williams and Stan Musial would be if they opened up their stance and used “both eyes.” Why hasn’t anybody else thought of this? It’s genius! I know necks don’t swivel, therefore one should turn their whole bodies to maximum vision by using….both eyes!

      • George Callanan

        July 29, 2014 06:56 PM

        Is Howard’ s stance the same as a few years ago? No. Did you look at film to see if his stance has changed? No. Where you watching baseball when Williams played? No. Is every players stance different ? Yes. I don’t care if its baseball or even golf, if you change your mechanics just a little you are not going to play as well. Wally Joyner helped the left handed batters, he is gone and they aren’t doing as well. I noticed his stance wasn’t the same that’s all.

  2. DrPete

    July 29, 2014 07:51 AM

    Interestingly, Howard is one of *3* Phils with positive UZR. Not sure whether that says more about sample size and UZR or the state of the Phils defense.

  3. MMM

    July 29, 2014 08:34 AM

    In a dismal season with very little positive to look forward to, I would like to see Ryan Howard somehow manage to overcome his 7 RBI deficit for the NL league lead and win the RBI title with an OPS under .700. You might say it is a flawed individual statistic and one in which Ryan Howard has always been assessed for better or worse. That in his most pathetic offensive season which was not shortened by injury, bat speed gone, horrible defense, horrible contract, nobody wants him, reverse platoon phenomenon, team in last place, Ruben Amaro GM, that he could STILL manage to win an RBI title. I think it would be amusing and to me something to cheer about if he sticks around. Although to overcome those 7 RBI, he’s probably going to have to do things that bump his SLG and that might jeopardize the OPS.

  4. Kevin

    July 29, 2014 12:33 PM

    Howard’s real power is to left center field. It makes sense that a ball going away from him, being pitched by a lefty would be more likely to be hit over left center field fence. Howard isn’t a pull hitter and when he does pull one he seems to roll over on it and either hit into the shift or a single to RF.

  5. Bob

    July 29, 2014 01:19 PM

    I think Howard’s problem is that he still too far off the plate. I think the outside fastball is a ball that he just cant reach. He is so worried about the inside fastball, that he is compensating on strugglign with balls over the plate.

    I truly believe standing 8-10 inches closer to the plate will help him with pitches on the outside of the plate and recognizing the break ball away.

    • tom b

      July 29, 2014 02:04 PM

      pretty sure if he did that,he would just get busted inside. with his lack of bat speed he is overmatched on inside pitches

      • amarosucks

        July 29, 2014 04:39 PM

        doesn’t matter what he does, he’s a lost cause. cut him already so we aren’t forced to watch him flail on a daily basis

      • MMM

        July 30, 2014 03:28 AM

        Who’s forcing you?

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