Will Howard get a pitch he can hit?

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
6:05
PM ET
I read somewhere that the favorite in Las Vegas for World Series MVP is Ryan Howard, which is strange for two reasons. One, the Yankees are big favorites to win the Series. And two, the Yankees have a lot of left-handed pitchers and -- as Dave Allen notes with some enthusiasm -- Howard can't hit left-handed pitchers:
    One interesting match-up in the upcoming World Series is all of the great left handed Phillies hitters against a Yankees’ rotation that features two solid left handed pitchers, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The Phillies will face a lefty starter in at least half of the World Series games no matter if the Yankees go with a three or four man rotation or how many games the series goes.

    The biggest issue for the Phillies is Ryan Howard, who is a very bad hitter against LHPs.

    --snip--

    f you project Howard as roughly a .450 wOBA hitter versus RHBs and roughly a .300 wOBA hitter against LHPs that works out to a 0.13 run difference per at-bat. That is over half a run every four at-bats, an enormous difference and significant cause for concern for the Phillies in the games they face Sabathia and Pettitte.

I snipped all the nifty graphs, which tell the story in a different way if you're not fond of "words" and whatnot. The bottom line is that Ryan Howard is pretty lousy against left-handed pitching. He always has been, and was even worse this year than usual. In a computer game, you wouldn't start him against left-handed pitchers, but the Phillies don't have much of a choice because a) they don't have a right-handed-hitting first baseman, and b) for gosh sakes, he's Ryan Howard, RBI King.

So Chuck Manuel's going to just keep writing Howard's name into the cleanup slot and hope for the best. But Joe Girardi can do a lot more than hope, and in fact I think Girardi's attempts to neutralize Howard -- and Howard's subsequent failures -- might become the biggest story of the World Series. Except for the games started by A.J. Burnett, I'll be shocked if we see Howard bat even once against a non-Rivera right-handed pitcher in the entire Series, when the score is at all close.

Howard is going to see a lot of Sabathia and Pettitte, and then he's going to see a lot of Damaso Marte or Phil Coke. Oh, and Story No. 1-A might be Girardi's attempts to neutralize Jayson Werth, who will bat right after Howard but probably won't get the pleasure of facing Marte or Coke. Instead, Werth will get Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes or Dave Robertson or Brian Bruney. Then, if the inning's still alive, whichever lefty didn't get Howard will be summoned to retire Raul Ibanez ... after which we'll see yet another righty to face the three (weak) right-handed hitters: Ben Francisco, Pedro Feliz, and Carlos Ruiz.

With his large and generally effective bullpen, Girardi can play these games for three or four innings every night. Of course players aren't robots and we're in for a few surprises. Just don't be surprised if Ryan Howard strikes out a dozen times in the next five or six games.

Update: MGL makes the case, reasonably enough, that Howard's not really that bad against left-handed pitchers. Point taken. I still say he's not likely to enjoy this World Series much.

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