Releasing Ryan Howard may Make Most Sense for Philadelphia Phillies


For the first time since 2006, his National League MVP winning season, Ryan Howard batted seventh in the Philadelphia Phillies lineup last night. Howard went one for three, also drawing his first walk of the season. Still, one mildly productive night in the series opener against the Washington Nationals has done little to dispel thinking that Howard is done.

Prior to the Nationals series, the Phillies were swept by the New York Mets. The concern with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard struggling in the early going was at an all-time high. Prior to his perfect day in game two against the Mets, Chase Utley was hitting .091, which was the worst start of his career. However, things turned around as Utley took Matt Harvey deep in the first inning, giving Philadelphia fans hope that his bat finally made the trip from Clearwater. Utley would proceed to hit another home run, this time off Mets’ left-hander Sean Gilmartin. Utley would finish the night perfect with three hits and reaching base four times. On the other hand, Ryan Howard was overmatched by Harvey, striking out in his first two at-bats. This seems to be a trend for Howard, who was “in great shape” heading into the spring. While the Phillies are not going to win the National League East, or make the playoffs, it may be time to part ways with Ryan Howard.

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Coming into the 2015 season, Ryan Howard was due to make $25 million for his services. The Phillies need some sort of production from a player making that type of money. Right now, they aren’t getting that necessary production. The start of Ryan Howard’s 2015 campaign is off to a dismal start, slashing .167/.194/.267 in 32 plate appearances. Yes, it is definitely a small sample size and he could pull an Utley, get three hits tonight and his numbers would fly up. Even if that is the case, there are some serious concerns for Howard.

Plate discipline is a glaring hole for Ryan Howard this year and he has only drawn one walk, and had none coming into last night. Some of the concerns stem from the way pitchers are attacking Howard. So far this year, 67.8 percent of pitches thrown to Ryan Howard have been classified as “hard,” according to That percentage is the highest that Howard has ever seen in his career. The problem with all the fastballs is that they are working. Howard is striking out in 31.3-percent of his at-bats this year. In a 600 at-bat season, Howard is on pace to strike out 187.8 times, which is just short of his career high. Just a day ago, Howard was on pace to strike out 214.2 times, which would be the highest of his career. This is what small sample sizes do.

It is hard to rationalize having a player making Howard-type money and missing on a ton of fastballs, but that is the case. This year, Howard has seen 91 pitches. Of those pitches, 48 have been fastballs and 26 have been sinkers. While Howard does have two doubles against the sinker, which is generally thrown at a lower velocity, he has six strikeouts via fastballs.

The ability to catch up to plus fastballs is a must for Howard, but he has not displayed the ability to do so this season. In 2015, the average fastball thrown to Ryan Howard has been 92.1 miles per hour. That is the second highest average fastball velocity Howard has consistently seen. Last year, the average fastball was 92.2 miles per hour to Howard. While he slugged .487 against fastballs in 2014, he is another year older and changed his swing which may be hurting him at the plate. So far this season, the ability to catch up to fastballs seems to be diminishing for Howard.

In 2014, Howard did not have much of an issue with fastballs, actually. He hit .281 against four seam fastballs and .260 against sinkers. That is not bad at all. The problem was his sub-.200 average against every other pitch that was thrown at him. If you can only hit fastballs, and pitchers know that, you will probably not see many fastballs. The only scenario where you should see a high volume of fastballs is when the pitcher is behind in the count.

The recurring issue with Ryan Howard is off-speed pitches. This year, he does not have a hit against an off-speed pitch, which is a huge concern. As stated above, Howard had a sub-.200 average against all non-fastball and sinkers last year. There may not be a need to even throw Howard a fastball at that rate (kind of sarcastic).

Of course, until Howard shows that he can still hit a fastball, he may see more overpowering fastballs late in counts, mixed with breaking balls.

Last year in terms of overall value, Howard was -0.3-WAR, which was the worst total of his career. So far this year, he has met that mark, being worth -0.3-WAR to the Phillies in his seven games. Now will he have games that boost that number? No doubt, but I bet he is a negative value player by the end of the year. His lackluster defense combined with his declining offensive skill set should result in a negative value player.

Through last year, the Phillies paid $65 million since his five-year/$125 million contract started in 2012. In that time, Howard has been worth -0.8-WAR. Think about that for a second. The Phillies have paid $65 million to Howard and he did not produce a full win above replacement at his position. That is all-time bad in terms of contractual value.

Apr 9, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6) looks on before a game against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The follow up issue is that Howard is likely to be a negative value player again this year, and I would bet he is the following, too. The Phillies owe Howard a minimum of $60 million dollars in the next two years, which includes a buy-out of $10 million following the 2017 season. That is a lot of money for very minimal on-field value.

Now with $60 million to go for Ryan Howard, what on earth do the Phillies do with him? The first solution is to just use him as a platoon player. But if you are not good — and the Phillies aren’t — is it even worth keeping a $25 million platoon player? I’m not so sure.

At this point, Ryan Howard does not have a hit off a left-handed pitcher. Sure, it is early, but his left handed woes are real. Last year Howard hit .230 off left-handed pitchers, which somehow was higher than his average against right-handed pitchers. Regardless of that, Howard struck out in 37-percent of his plate appearances against left-handed pitchers in 2014. That is terrible.

(For his career, Howard has a .224 average against left-handed pitchers with a 34.8-percent strikeout rate. Howard also holds a .730 OPS for his career against lefties, which is far from spectacular.)

At this point, it is hard to buy into Ryan Howard as an everyday player. His bat speed appears to be gone and the ability to draw a walk has gone out the window.

If Ryan Howard hits over 20 home runs this year, he could hold some platoon value for another team, but not the Phillies. It may serve Philadelphia better to prep Maikel Franco for first base since Cody Asche is scorching hot over at third-base, Franco’s natural position. Even if that isn’t the plan, Franco could get a chance at third, sliding Asche to second and Utley to first, if Howard was out of the picture. If that doesn’t happen immediately and Franco works at first in the minors, Darin Ruf would fill in at first. Ruf isn’t much of an upgrade at first, and certainly isn’t a solution down the road, but he may be more serviceable than Ryan Howard at this point.

The other aspect to think of here is letting Ryan Howard go before things get really ugly. Fans are already calling for Howard to be released, and personally, I think it should have happened before the season started. There just is not much value for Howard in Philadelphia. If he gets released, he could platoon as a DH in the American League for less than $5 million a season. That is basically his value at this point. His -10 defensive runs saved won’t cut it in the field, so maybe a serviceable platoon role is where Howard should be at this point. Philadelphia may want to let Howard go and have another shot with another club this year. Holding onto Howard and keeping him in a bad lineup on a bad contract just is not ideal for anyone involved.

In the end, the Phillies should be prepared to move on from Ryan Howard if he continues at his current production rate. Even though they will be paying him to play elsewhere, the Phillies seem as though they would be better off on the field (and maybe off) without Ryan Howard on the roster. The fans don’t want Howard here, Ruben Amaro said the organization really doesn’t in the offseason and his production has been brutal to say the least. Howard is 35 years old and could have value somewhere in the American League, but that will require the Phillies letting him go. Releasing Howard activates a plan for the future which the Phillies could attack internally,  or in either the draft or international market. The Phillies will not contend, so it is time to prepare for the future. Parting ways with Ryan Howard would force those pieces to get into motion rather than sitting at the stalemate in which they are currently at.

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