In his column for Today’s Knuckleball, Jon Heyman quotes Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard once again deriding the infield shift, saying it takes away “30, 40, 50 hits a year” from left-handed pull hitters. Getting rid of the shift, Howard says, is “definitely something that would help me out.”
Howard is not wrong. He’s as heavily-shifted as anyone in baseball, and it certainly does take away a few singles. However, when Howard came into the league, he was known for going to the opposite field. That changed around 2009-10 and teams adapted to it. Howard never adapted to other teams adapting; he simply took the loss of hits. He could have dropped down the occasional bunt down the third base line to keep the defense honest, or he could’ve gone back to a more opposite-field approach.
Heyman also notes that Howard, who will all but certainly become a free agent after the season, doesn’t intend to retire. He will likely have to settle for a one-year deal with an American League team. Despite overall lackluster stats for the 2016 season, Howard has swung a hot bat as of late and is overall hitting for power at a rate we haven’t seen since 2008.