Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard started spring off with a colorful session with the media in which he said he felt disrespected by its members last year, and said that he feels it’s “probably not” fair to put him in a platoon at first base. CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury has the report:
“Last year was a tough year,” Howard said. “Last year was a tough year. I wasn’t happy with the media. I was always happy with my team. I wasn’t happy with the media last year.”
“The way I felt with everything that I’ve done here in Philadelphia, I just felt I was being portrayed as something worse,” Howard said. “To be honest with you guys, I felt like I was being portrayed as the bad guy. That’s why I didn’t talk to you all last year. I didn’t have a problem at all with my teammates.”
Howard was then asked about a potential platoon situation:
“Do I think it’s fair?” he asked. “Me, personally, probably not. But it is what it is. The situation is the situation. You just go out there and play.”
The veteran first baseman will earn $25 million this season, almost assuredly his last with the Phillies, as they will likely buy him out for $10 million rather than pick up his club option for $23 million next season. Ever since he ruptured his Achilles in making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals, Howard has been a shadow of his former self. Since 2012, he has a triple-slash line of .232/.300/.421 with 71 home runs and 271 RBI over 1,760 plate appearances. For the sake of comparison, he hit .265/.349/.529 with 157 home runs and 511 RBI in four seasons between 2008-11.
Howard has also struggled with lefties, aside from a fluky 2014. He has a career .940 OPS against right-handed pitching, but .715 against lefties. There was a stark contrast last year, as the OPS split was .802/.418. Howard’s bat speed has waned and pitchers long ago discovered his Kryptonite was a low-and-away slider. Darin Ruf, his potential platoon mate at first base, has a career .946 OPS against lefties and .660 against right-handers, so the match seems to make sense.
Howard was defensive about his work against southpaws, though:
“Check the numbers, check the track record. I know I can hit lefties. There’s been talk in the media and all this kind of stuff over the past three years about not hitting lefties and whatever. It’s about just going out there and doing it.
“I think there was one year that I had, what, the most RBIs and home runs against lefties? That was what, two years ago? I think people forget that.
“As far as last year? There’s nothing you can do about it. Last year is last year. This is a fresh year. Just as last year was bad, this year I can go out and hit .300 against lefties. Then what do you say? If I was able to go out and hit .300 against lefties this year. Then what?”
Among the 54 left-handed hitters with at least 500 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers since 2011, Howard’s .619 OPS ranks 48th. A platoon has been a long time coming.