The Ryan Howard obsession needs to end.
It came to a head Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, where a fan threw a beer bottle at Howard probably because, you know, Howard is hitting .151 in the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. I am guessing the fan is tired of seeing Howard on the field and he wants him to go away. Many fans have expressed this sentiment recently, especially after Pete Mackanin put Howard on the bench so Tommy Joseph can play. But rather than boo Howard, the fan cowardly chucked a plastic beer bottle as Howard walked into the Phillies’ dugout. I assume the fan scurried up the grandstand steps and out of the ballpark as quickly as possible, high-fiving his buddies or texting them afterward about what he did.
Too bad for the alleged bottle thrower there is video and photos of him, and the matter has been turned over to the Philadelphia Police Department.
Listen up. From what I understand there are no plans to release Howard. None. Now, things might change. Things often change. But right now there are no plans to release Howard. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. So, honestly, get over it.
After all, what would releasing Howard accomplish at this point?
Mackanin already has made Howard a bench player, so he is not taking away playing time from anybody. Howard is not blocking the next great Phillies first baseman. Releasing Howard and calling up Darin Ruf (or somebody else) in a reserve role will not catapult the Phillies to the postseason. The Phillies have too many weaknesses in too many places to play in October. Keeping Howard on the 25-man roster the rest of the season is not stunting the Phillies’ rebuilding plans, either. They’re rebuilding just fine with him in a reserve role. In fact, Howard has provided guidance and leadership to the team’s youngest players. He has said all the right things.
He is not an issue in the clubhouse.
We are talking about four more months, folks. Four months. That’s it. Four more months and Howard’s Phillies career is over. Are four more months really that big of a deal? Some people are really that angry about it?
I know some people are concerned about Howard’s legacy being tainted. I thought about that, too. But then I thought more about it. Sure, it was sad to see Willie Mays falling over in center field in his final season with the Mets. Sure, it was sad to see Charlie Manuel get fired. But Mays’ legacy has not been ruined. He is still regarded as one of the greatest players in baseball history. And every time I’ve seen Manuel step onto the field at Citizens Bank Park he receives a standing ovation. When the Phillies introduce Howard in 2028 at the 20th anniversary of the 2008 World Series championship team, Howard will get his ovation, too. His legacy won’t be ruined. It just won’t be.
Howard deserves better than this. Has he been paid handsomely? Of course. Has he underachieved most of his contract, compared to the first half of his career? Yes. But the fact remains Howard is the greatest first baseman in franchise history. He won the 2006 NL MVP, the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and he hit cleanup as the Phillies won one World Series, two NL pennants and five consecutive NL East titles from 2007-11. He also is one of the most community-minded players the Phillies have had in years, and one of the most standup players I have come across. These things mean something to the Phillies, who are looking at the bigger picture here. The vocal minority should, too.
The Phillies have many issues. Howard finishing the season on the 25-man roster is not one of them.
I think the best answer is they can keep competing in more games than not, which is a drastic improvement from last season when Phillies fans flipped on the TV in the first or second inning only to see them losing by five or six runs. But, yes, it is unrealistic to expect them to maintain their current winning ways.
The Phillies have been outscored by 23 runs in 26 games. Their -0.9 run differential per game average ranks 23rd in baseball. Simply put, no team can expect to win over the course of a 162-game season with a run differential average like that.
It sounds stupid, but you have to outscore the other team to win.
In fact, only four teams in baseball history have made the postseason having been outscored in the regular season:
- 2007 Diamondbacks (-20)
- 1997 Giants (-9)
- 1987 Twins (-20)
- 1984 Royals (-13)
And the four of them were outscored by fewer than 23 runs over the course of a six-month schedule.
This post isn’t meant to bum you out, but to temper expectations. But here is the good news: the Phillies are playing a heck of a lot better than anybody expected. And that’s a good thing because if they continue to play like this the rest of the season it means the rebuild is on a faster pace than the front office probably thought. And that could mean a dip into the free agent market at some point. So while the Phillies’ offense hasn’t shown the ability to keep up with its pitching, the team has shown it has some legitimate pieces for its core (i.e. Vince Velasquez, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera, etc.).
A few more things about the Phillies’ April:
- The Phillies averaged 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings (245 strikeouts in 216 1/3 innings), which is a MLB record. In fact, the Phillies became only the second team in baseball history to average more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings in a month (excluding March and October). The Tigers averaged 10.27 strikeouts per nine innings in Sept. 2013.
- Odubel Herrera reached base safely 48 times in April, which is the most by a Phillies player since Placido Polanco (51) in April 2011. Herrera’s .462 on-base percentage is the highest since Aaron Rowand‘s .462 OBP in April 2007. Herrera’s OBP rannks third in MLB.
- Freddy Galvis has four-game winning RBIs this season. Only the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo (five) and the Mets’ Neil Walker (five) has more.
- Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff ranks among the top 20 pitchers in baseball in strikeouts.
- Jeanmar Gomez is 8-for-8 in save opportunities. Only the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen (nine) has saved more games.
- Ryan Howard‘s average exit velocity is 94.7 mph, which is tied for eighth in MLB.
- The Phillies are 28th in on-base percentage (.292), 25th in slugging percentage (.370) and 28th in OPS (.662).
- They are tied for 26th averaging 3.33 runs per game.
- The Phillies have made 12 outs on the bases, which are the fourth-most in baseball.
- They have stolen just 10 of 19 bases. Their 53 stolen base percentage is the fourth-lowest in baseball.
Phillies fans are still talking about Vince Velasquez‘s historic shutout yesterday. It got me thinking: where does Velasquez’s start rank among the Phillies’ starts I’ve personally seen since I started covering the Phillies in 2003?
Because I have a bad memory, I used Baseball Reference’s play index to find the top 25 regular season starts and top 10 postseason starts based on Game Score. Game Score is not perfect, but I figure it found most of the best starts over the past 14 seasons. I highlighted in bold the names of the pitchers of the 10 most memorable starts I’ve seen. So you will notice that Roy Halladay‘s perfect game and Kevin Millwood‘s no-hitter are not highlighted.
Yes, I missed Halladay’s perfect game. Yes, I also missed Millwood’s no-hitter. It actually was the first game I missed on my first year on the Phillies’ beat in 2003.
These are my personal top 10. There might have been better pitching performances, but these are the starts I’ve seen and these are the ones that stuck with me the most.
|1||Cole Hamels||2015-07-25||PHI||CHC||W 5-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||2||13||0||0||129||83||98|
|2||Roy Halladay||2010-05-29||PHI||FLA||W 1-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||0||11||0||0||115||72||98|
|3||Vincent Velasquez||2016-04-14||PHI||SDP||W 3-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||0||16||0||0||113||83||97|
|4||Kevin Millwood||2003-04-27||PHI||SFG||W 1-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||3||10||0||0||108||72||94|
|5||Cliff Lee||2011-04-14||PHI||WSN||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||12||0||0||99||74||92|
|6||Cliff Lee||2009-08-19||PHI||ARI||W 8-1||CG, W||9.0||2||1||0||0||11||0||1||106||81||92|
|7||Jon Lieber||2007-06-09||PHI||KCR||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||0||11||0||0||106||78||92|
|8||Cole Hamels||2009-09-01||PHI||SFG||W 1-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||1||9||0||0||118||80||91|
|9||Roy Halladay||2010-09-27||PHI||WSN||W 8-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||0||6||0||0||97||65||89|
|10||Jamie Moyer||2010-05-07||PHI||ATL||W 7-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||0||5||0||0||105||71||88|
|11||Kevin Millwood||2003-08-01||PHI||SDP||W 6-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||8||0||0||106||63||88|
|12||Joe Blanton||2012-05-03||PHI||ATL||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||0||6||0||0||88||67||87|
|13||J.A. Happ||2009-08-05||PHI||COL||W 7-0||SHO, W||9.0||4||0||0||2||10||0||0||127||84||87|
|14||Cory Lidle||2004-08-29||PHI||MIL||W 10-0||SHO, W||9.0||4||0||0||1||9||0||0||124||84||87|
|15||Cliff Lee||2013-04-04||PHI||ATL||W 2-0||GS-8, W||8.0||2||0||0||0||8||0||0||106||78||86|
|16||Cliff Lee||2011-06-28||PHI||BOS||W 5-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||2||5||0||0||112||71||86|
|17||Cole Hamels||2010-07-22||PHI||STL||W 2-0||GS-8||8.0||1||0||0||1||7||0||0||97||68||86|
|18||Roy Halladay||2010-05-01||PHI||NYM||W 10-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||6||0||0||118||88||86|
|19||Cole Hamels||2007-04-21||PHI||CIN||W 4-1||CG, W||9.0||5||1||1||2||15||1||0||115||82||86|
|20||Jon Lieber||2006-05-13||PHI||CIN||W 2-0||GS-9, W||8.2||2||0||0||0||6||0||0||110||83||86|
|21||Cliff Lee||2013-09-27||PHI||ATL||L 0-1||CG(8), L||8.0||3||1||1||0||13||1||0||111||80||85|
|22||Kyle Kendrick||2013-04-26||PHI||NYM||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||3||0||0||1||5||0||0||107||73||85|
|23||Cliff Lee||2012-04-18||PHI||SFG||L 0-1||GS-10||10.0||7||0||0||0||7||0||0||102||81||85|
|24||Cliff Lee||2011-09-15 (2)||PHI||FLA||W 2-1||GS-9||9.0||5||1||1||0||12||1||0||117||88||85|
|25||Cliff Lee||2011-06-16||PHI||FLA||W 3-0||SHO, W||9.0||2||0||0||2||4||0||0||117||74||85|
|1||Roy Halladay||2010-10-06||NLDS||1||PHI||CIN||W 4-0||SHO, W||9.0||0||0||0||1||8||0||94|
|2||Cole Hamels||2010-10-10||NLDS||3||PHI||CIN||W 2-0||SHO, W||9.0||5||0||0||0||9||0||86|
|3||Cliff Lee||2009-10-18||NLCS||3||PHI||LAD||W 11-0||GS-8, W||8.0||3||0||0||0||10||0||86|
|4||Cole Hamels||2008-10-01||NLDS||1||PHI||MIL||W 3-1||GS-8, W||8.0||2||0||0||1||9||0||86|
|5||Cliff Lee||2009-10-28||WS||1||PHI||NYY||W 6-1||CG, W||9.0||6||1||0||0||10||0||83|
|6||Roy Oswalt||2010-10-17||NLCS||2||PHI||SFG||W 6-1||GS-8, W||8.0||3||1||1||3||9||1||78|
|7||Pedro Martinez||2009-10-16||NLCS||2||PHI||LAD||L 1-2||GS-7||7.0||2||0||0||0||3||0||76|
|8||Cliff Lee||2009-10-07||NLDS||1||PHI||COL||W 5-1||CG, W||9.0||6||1||1||0||5||0||76|
|9||Roy Halladay||2011-10-07||NLDS||5||PHI||STL||L 0-1||GS-8, L||8.0||6||1||1||1||7||0||72|
|10||Roy Halladay||2011-10-01||NLDS||1||PHI||STL||W 11-6||GS-8, W||8.0||3||3||3||1||8||1||71|
- Hamels’ no-hitter in 2015. Total drama. Last start in a Phillies’ uniform. At Wrigley. Herrera’s circus catch to end it. Couldn’t have been scripted any better.
- Velasquez. Never saw a starter pumping 97 mph fastballs in the ninth inning like that.
- Lee in April 2011. He had trouble getting to the ballpark that day because of DC traffic. Showed up later to the ballpark than hoped, but he kept his cool and dominated.
- Halladay in Sept. 2010. Phillies clinch the NL East with a dominant performance from Halladay, who had never been to the postseason before. It seemed perfect.
- Lee in April 2012. Lee pitched 10 scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park. I remember thinking to myself, “Holy cow, how far can this guy go?”
- Hamels in April 2007. Phillies were 4-11 and held a team meeting before the game in Cincinnati. Hamels went out, dominated and changed the tone of the season.
- Halladay in Game 1 2010 NLDS. No-hitter, obviously. One of the best games I’ve ever seen. Will never forget Chooch making that final playing, falling over and throwing up the first-base line.
- Hamels in Game 3 2010 NLDS. Might have had better stuff than Halladay in Game 1. Hamels was that good.
- Hamels in Game 1 2008 NLDS. Hamels set the tone for the entire 2008 postseason. It was on.
- Lee in Game 1 of 2009 World Series. Will never forget that performance or that nonchalant catch he made on the mound.
But at least he had a bat in his hands. At least he was headed to the batting cage to hit.
“I’m sore,” Franco said. “But I’ll be fine.”
Franco got hit with a 92 mph fastball just below the elbow in the ninth inning yesterday afternoon against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. He was not in the Phillies’ lineup for today’s game against the Mets, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after receiving treatment Franco might be available to pinch-hit.
“It’s not a big deal,” Mackanin said.
That should be a relief for the Phillies, who badly need Franco’s bat in the lineup. Franco hit .300 (3-for-10) with one double, one home run, two RBIs, two walks and two strikeouts in three games this weeks against the Reds.
Andres Blanco started at third base Friday. He hit fifth.
They correctly noticed in the past week that the script on the front of the Phillies’ jerseys is slightly larger than seasons past.
Uniforms are big business, so the tweak deserved an explanation. It turns out the Phillies’ new alternate home jerseys had something to do with it. The script on that red jersey, which will be worn in six regular season games, is bigger than the Phillies’ traditional pinstripe uniforms.
“The style guide was a little bit off at MLB, so they wanted to get a consistent size of the ‘Phillies’ because that red alternate was a little bit different,” Phillies director of team travel and clubhouse services Frank Coppenbarger said. “It’s got some border around it.”
And now you know.
Ryan Howard noshed on a burrito bowl as he stood in front of his locker and discussed his future on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. He knows this is likely his final season with the Phillies, and he knows he is likely to spend it as a platoon player.
He seems at peace with the situation.
“You understand that this is the game, this is the business,” Howard said before a game against the Reds. “You understand the team has talked about going in a different direction and stuff like that. You understand that.”
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin started Darin Ruf at first base on Wednesday against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan, two days after Mackanin had Ruf pinch-hit for Howard in the eighth inning against left-hander Paul Cingrani. Howard as a platoon player has been a topic of conversation for some time, but the Phillies have waffled in the past.
“Yeah, without question I’m going to continue to do it,” Mackanin said. “Like I told Howie, you know, Darin Ruf did so well against lefties (last season) I think he deserves an opportunity to see if he can make a little bit of money, too. I think if (Howard) keeps his head on straight and settles into it, I think he’s going to hit righties better. I’m looking for a big year from him because of it.”
Howard did not bristle as reporters questioned him about it Wednesday. He coolly discussed his situation.
He would have been far less willing to talk about it last year.
“I just don’t let things bother me anymore,” Howard said. “Last year I let things, I let a lot of things kind of surprise me. And now it’s like, it is what it is. You just continue to stay positive. The situation is what the situation is. You can get down about it, you can get upset about it or what not. Or you can try to make the best of the situation, when the opportunity comes.”
Howard is entering the final season of a five-year, $125 million contract. The Phillies have a club option for 2017, but they are expected to exercise a $10 million buyout instead. They have tried to trade him, but have found no takers.
So in the meantime, they hope Howard and Ruf can be a productive platoon at first base. There is reason to think they should be. Howard hit .256 with 20 home runs, 67 RBIs and an .802 OPS in 396 plate appearance against righties last season, while Ruf hit .371 with eight homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.107 OPS in 114 plate appearances against lefties.
“Could be dangerous,” Howard said of the platoon. “That’s what they’re banking on.”
Conversely, Howard posted a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against lefties, while Ruf posted a .483 OPS in 183 plate appearances against righties.
“Obviously it’s something that’s been talked about for however many years,” Howard said. “So it’s not really a surprise. You know, I guess Pete had his mind made up that this is what he was going to do. But it’s the situation we’re in right now. And I want Ruff to be able to go out there and tear it up. And when I get my opportunities, be able to go out there and tear it up. And just see what happens from there.”
Howard had been one of the best power hitters in baseball from 2005-11. He helped the Phillies win one World Series, two NL pennants and five NL East titles. He won the 2006 NL MVP and the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year Award. He is the greatest first baseman in franchise history
But after injuries and a drop in production since 2011 this is probably it.
“I wouldn’t say this is probably it,” Howard said. “I mean, it’ll probably be it in Philadelphia. There’s always that realization. There is no hiding that. But, like I said, you just try to enjoy it. Just really want to try and enjoy it, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, just, for however long it is that you get to play, take time to be able to reflect at times on what I’ve been able to do, what I’ve been able to accomplish. But, you know, right now I’m just staying in the here and now. It’s Game 2. Be ready today when my name is called and go out there any other time it’s called.”
Pete Mackanin revealed plans for a few of his players hours before Opening Day today at Great American Ball Park.
- Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz were in the starting lineup and they are expected to be in the lineup next Monday against the Padres in the home opener at Citizens Bank Park. Howard and Ruiz are in the final seasons of their contracts and they are not expected to return next season. “I wanted to make sure that Chooch started Opening Day and the same thing with Ryan,” Mackanin said. “We’ll just go from there. I’d like them to start, if possible, on Opening Day at home, and I’ll try to do that for sentimental reasons.”
- Mackanin declined to name a closer. “I’m thinking about it as we speak,” he said, asked who will pitch Monday if the Phillies have a ninth inning lead. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure had a meeting yesterday with the bullpen. They discussed the possibilities for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. “There’s going to be a mix of a lot of different guys,” Mackanin said. “We’ll just see how it plays out. Eventually somebody will be that last pitcher. It’s almost like an audition. It might be any one of five guys that will end up as our closer. And if not we’ll close by committee, even though I don’t want to do that. If that’s what we have to work with that’s what we’re going to do.”
- Cameron Rupp will get the bulk of playing time behind the plate, which is not a surprise. “Chooch is moving up in age,” Mackanin said. “He’s still capable. I think if we keep him healthy and he plays less I think we’re going to get more out of him.”
- Cedric Hunter will start in left field today. He entered Spring Training as a non-roster invitee, but impressed the coaching staff with the quality of his plate appearances. Mackanin said Hunter and Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Goeddel will start the season as a platoon in left field.
- “We’ll give Goeddel a chance, even though he didn’t have that good of a spring,” Mackanin said. “He showed a few things that I think he’s going to be OK. We’ll work it in to start the season and we’ll go from there.”
Follow me on Instagram this season at @toddzoleckimlb
The Phillies are heading north following today’s Grapefruit League game. I’ve written a lot recently about the Phillies’ roster battles in the bullpen and bench — and how they might not name a closer — but if you want my best guess at the Opening Day roster here it is:
- Rotation (five): Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez.
- Bullpen (seven): David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa, Jeanmar Gomez, Brett Oberholtzer, James Russell, Daniel Stumpf and Hector Neris.
- Catchers (two): Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz.
- Infielders (seven): Ryan Howard, Darin Ruf, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco, Andres Blanco and Emmanuel Burris.
- Outfielders (four): Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos, Tyler Goeddel and Cedric Hunter.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Will Venable edged Hunter because of his big league service time, but Hunter is a fantastic story. Read it here.
But reading between the lines it sure seems like Pete Mackanin wants Hunter.
“Cedric Hunter has been a good surprise,” Mackanin said today, asked who has surprised or impressed him in camp. “He’s given us quality at-bats for the whole spring. I know he’s dipped a little bit in the last few days, but he just gives you good at-bats and he plays a solid defense. I like the way he moves around out there. There are a few more days left, but he’s the guy that caught everybody’s eye. I’m happy for him. We’ll see after the next three days whether he’s going to be with us or not.”
Mackanin said yesterday he could see Hunter as his leadoff hitter, if he makes the team. He also said nobody in camp has had better at-bats than Hunter, other than Maikel Franco. That’s high praise.
I have Burriss on my list because he can play both the infield and outfield and Mackanin has said he likes that flexibility in National League games. Otherwise, the only utility infielder is Blanco.
I think the Phillies send Andrew Bailey and Ernesto Frieri to the Minor Leagues because it gives them some depth.
The Phillies are sweating the small stuff this spring because they know they have little room for error. So Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is fining his players 50 cents at a time for those little mistakes on the field.
“If you don’t get a bunt down, everyone pays 50 cents,” Mackanin said before Thursday night’s Grapefruit League game against the Braves at Champion Stadium. “If you don’t hustle, everyone pays 50 cents. If you miss a cutoff man, everyone pays 50 cents.
“It’s a way to be picky about little things, like you made it into second base, but you should’ve slid. You hit a double, but you coasted into second when you should’ve come around hard in case the guy bobbles the ball. Fifty cents. It allows me to be a real (jerk) about things like that. What, are you going to complain about 50 cents?”
So how much is in the pot at this point?
“We’re closing in 1,000 dollars,” Mackanin said.
He said the proceeds likely will go to the Baseball Assistance Team.
“When I announce the fines and this week you have $2.50, a half dozen players get on that guy,” Mackanin said. “Not meanly, but like, ‘Come on, don’t do that anymore.’”