Posted July 08, 2013

Ryan Howard’s injury could pave way for Phillies to start trading

Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Howard, Trade deadline
Ryan Howard, Phillies

Ryan Howard may have a few different teammates by the time he’s back in Philadelphia’s lineup. (AP)

Though they won two out of three from the Braves this weekend to get within three games of .500 at 43-46, the Phillies took a hit on Monday when an MRI on Ryan Howard’s left knee revealed a torn meniscus. Their star first baseman will undergo surgery that could sideline him for six to eight weeks, meaning a late August or early September return. That increases the likelihood that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will consider trading pending free agents Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and Michael Young, not to mention Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon, who are signed to longer-term deals.

The 33-year-old Howard is already amid a rough stretch. Since rupturing his left Achilles tendon while making the final out of the 2011 NL Division Series, he has hit just .244/.307/.445 with 25 homers and a whopping 194 strikeouts in 151 games; due to a slow recovery from surgery, he didn’t debut until July 6 of last year. That dismal performance, worth −0.6 Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com, has come just as the five-year, $125 million extension he signed in April 2010 has kicked in, and while he’s been more effective this year (.266/.319/.465 with 11 homers) than last (.219/.295/.423), his recent performance hasn’t helped the team much.

Adding insult to an injury that has been bothering him since mid-May — at which time an MRI revealed fraying around the meniscus, and he received a cortisone shot to alleviate swelling — Howard recently became a target of Amaro’s criticism. With the slugger in the throes of a 2-for-22 slump, the general manager called him out on a pregame radio show on WIP:

“If Ryan Howard is now relegated to being a platoon player, he’s a very expensive platoon player and he needs to be better… I think he knows it. I know he’s struggling, I know he’s not happy with his performance — neither are we. I think he’s going to be better, but right now, he’s just not doing the job.”

The ridiculous thing about that statement is that Howard’s platoon issues have been with him for virtually all of his career. He owns a lifetime .224/.300/.428 line in 1,654 plate appearances against lefties, compared to a .295/.390/.606 line in 3,364 PA against righties. His problems against same-side pitching were well-documented before Amaro jumped the gun by two years with that exorbitant extension, though Howard has fallen considerably farther since the signing. Only once in the past five seasons has his OPS against southpaws even been above .653, that back in 2010; since returning from injury last year, he’s hit .173/.222/.352 with an 84/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 193 PA against them.

Howard’s injury opens the door for the team to take an extended look at Darin Ruf, a 26-year-old righty who bashed 38 homers at Double-A Reading last year while hitting .317/.408/.620, then added three more homers in a 12-game September stint with the Phillies. Given his advanced age relative to his league, not to mention his lack of speed and questionable defense, Ruf isn’t considered much of a prospect; Baseball America ranked him ninth among the team’s top 10 prospects coming into the year but ranked the organization just 23rd out of 30; in other words, he’s nothing close to a top 100 prospect. Reaching Triple-A for the first time this year, and continuing a rough transition to leftfield, he has hit just .266/.344/.408 with seven homers in 82 games.

This may be Ruf’s best shot to make an impression as a big league first baseman, but that doesn’t mean it’s likely to turn around the season of a team that’s three games below .500 but owns the league’s fourth-worst run differential at −47. Currently the Phillies are 7 1/2 games back in both the NL East and the wild-card race, and the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds estimated their chances at reaching the postseason at just 3.7 percent before Howard’s injury (playing time estimates and projections for the future are factored into the system). Howard’s injury only further opens the door to the likelihood that Amaro will be dealing at the deadline, which is good news for contenders in need of upgrades, but bad news for Philadelphia fans hoping the team could squeeze one last run from its aging core.

10 comments
Indy153
Indy153

The Phillies -44 negative run differential is very misleading (Jay Jaffe of SI.com also mentions this all the time as a reason why the Phillies should be sellers at the trade deadline)-----yes the Phillies are -44 but they have also had 5 games in which they were blown out: 

KC Apr 5 13-4 

Cinn Apr 17 11-2 

Clev Apr 30 14-2

 Miami May 5 14-2 

Atl Jul 6 13-4 


The Phillies were outscored in these 5 games 65-14 or by 51 runs (since their negative run differential is presently at -44 the removal of these 5 games would make them +7). 

While its true that just about every team gets blown out, its also true that just about every team also occasionally blows out other teams. But the Phillies have only had 1 game this year where they blew out the other team (the 16-1 drubbing they put on the Dodgers their last West coast trip). If these blowout results were taken into consideration it would show the Phillies run differential right around the break even point (which is exactly where you would expect a .500 team to be). 

The blowouts also explain the team's lousy ERA (4.16, 13th in the NL) while at the same time their starting pitchers lead all of MLB with 58 quality starts (the Braves and Detroit, 2 highly touted staffs come in 2nd with 57). The quality start stat ought to show the Phillies among the leaders in ERA not bottom dwellers. But again 5 blowouts (2 from Roy Halladay close together early in the season before he went on the DL) has left the staff and team with a big deficit concerning some stats like run differential. I understand why a writer like Jay Jaffe at SI might miss this since its not his hometown team. But  the huge run differential isn't as bad as it appears.


ToddMcDonald
ToddMcDonald

How do we trade Amaro, and who would take him?

misterdeltoid
misterdeltoid

It's amazing that SI could hire sports writers that know nothing about sports.  Some advice:  Read a Philly newspaper, or maybe make a few phone calls to someone who actually knows what is going on with this team, instead of just making stuff up..

misterdeltoid
misterdeltoid

It's much more likely that the Phillies will start to play better without that big hole in the cleanup spot.

Baldeagle
Baldeagle

There's nothing remaining to squeeze! It is time to clean house while we can get something for our aging players, Time to make wise decisions on drafting younger players and start to build the team back to a contender, not a pretender. Also, while cleaning house, give Manuel his retirement papers too. I believe Philadelphia could have won more championships had it not been for the poor decision making of Manuel.

Is there anyone out there who feels that  the quality of  baseball has declined?  Just one more note, the worse sound to me is the PING when an aluminum bat meets the baseball.

chrisclearly
chrisclearly

Ryan Howard has been killing the team in the four spot for a good part of the year. His stats were okay, but he really was not getting the job done. Him going on the dl is the best thing that could happen to the team (other than getting much better relievers) because Manuel refused to take him out of the 4 hole. Now Charlie has no choice. Dom Brown as the cleanup hitter and let's see what Ruff can do.

d3
d3

nope

chris o
chris o

Phillies have been done since their last post season run,dismantle that team while they are "healthy",there is a lesson to be learned here,do not sign players who are not yet closing in on free agency.Phillies,red sox,dodgers and angels are trying too much to imitate the Yankees and they have 0 WS titles to show for their money spending.

Magic Man
Magic Man

@misterdeltoid lol, you made a blanket statement about this writer knowing nothing about sports and gave zero examples of why. When I read the article I noticed the writer included many stats to backup his claims.  you gave nothing you backup your claims.  maybe you should start working your brain instead of your delts.

d3
d3

@chrisclearly 

exactly.  if this bullpen and closer keep it together, this team will make a push.  I will always love howard but he was killing this team.  hopefully things get right and he can come back to produce.