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|
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.