Expect Ryan Howard to be riding the pine against lefties in 2016

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Yesterday Phillies manager Pete Mackanin spoke to the media for the first time in 2016, and he made a point of saying that your reputation and your salary will have little bearing on how much playing time you get this coming season. Rather, if you hit, you will play. It’s that simple.

That goes specifically for Ryan Howard who, in a move most felt was long overdue, was finally benched against lefties when Mackanin took over as manager last season. Here’s Mackanin discussing the permanence of that move in Jim Salisbury’s report at CSNPhilly.com:

“I’m going to make that decision in the spring,” he said. “But at this point, I’m going to have a discussion with Ryan and tell him, ‘If you want to face lefties, you have to hit them better. If you don’t hit them better, I’m going to platoon.’ That’s basically what we’re looking at. It’s gotten to that point . . . It’s hard for me to justify not playing a guy who led the majors in OPS against lefties and that’s Darin Ruf. It’s hard for me not to play that guy if he’s sitting there and we’re trying to win games. And it could be helpful to Ryan because he’s getting older and (it would) keep him fresh.”

It’s hard to argue with that. It was only 114 plate appearances, but last year Ruf absolutely raked against lefties, hitting .371/.447/.660. For his career (288 plate appearances) he’s hit .300/.390/.556. Howard, meanwhile, had a .418 OPS against lefties in 107 plate appearances in 2015. For his career he’s hit .219/.296/.419 against them. It’s just not working and has never really worked particularly well.

The difference now: there is really no one around with an investment in Ryan Howard. Sure, the Phillies still owe him $25 million for 2016 and a $10 million buyout after the season ends, but the man who gave that deal to him and the managers who counted on his performance as a cornerstone of their job security are no longer in the organization. Everyone in a position of authority is able to move on. That moving on involves looking for a new first baseman and power hitter around whom to build a team and, in the meantime, getting as much performance from first base as possible, regardless of who the performer happens to be.

It seems like a no-brainer, then, to do a Howard/Ruf platoon, full-time.