On Tuesday, Ryan Howard hit a home run and then drove in the winning run in the Phillies' 15-inning, 2-1 victory over the Astros. After the game, he told the local media, "I think you guys forget what I've done. You guys look at what's going on right now. People forget what I've done."
Howard started that game against Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel, just his second start in the past seven games against a left-handed starter. In his little soliloquy, Howard alluded to how Ryne Sandberg played the game so understands the ups and downs a player goes through.
Look, I almost feel a little guilty bashing Howard at this point. It's not his fault the Phillies signed him to that ill-advised $125 million contract extension back in 2010. (Mitch Goldich had a piece on Baseball Prospectus pointing out Ruben Amaro's penchant for signing pitchers to long-term deals, but it's still Howard's contract that has been the most costly.) And since we complain that players rarely say anything interesting or controversial, it's refreshing to see a player speak what's on his mind.
But ... with all due respect, Howard isn't going through ups and downs. He's going through downs and has been for several years. He's hitting .220/.301/.377 in 2014. The average major league non-pitcher is hitting .256/.320/.396. Howard hasn't performed as well as an average hitter and first basemen are expected to produce well above an average hitter. Throw in his bad defense and lack of speed, and he's been worth -0.7 WAR. That's nothing new. Since signing that contract in 2010 he's been worth 1.2 WAR total. He was overrated in 2010 and 2011 when he finished 10th in the MVP voting both years due to some impressive RBI numbers but he's been terrible ever since injuring his Achilles in the 2011 postseason. There's a reason the Phillies have reportedly discussed eating the $60 million owed Howard the next two seasons and releasing him after the season.
A couple weeks ago, Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, now part-time broadcaster for the club, said something interesting about Howard, telling Randy Miller of NJ.com,
"I think he's very much a current-generation guy. They are so over-trained and over-drilled on their mechanics that it becomes very hard for them to change.
"If I was 0-for-12 or 0-for-15, my entire existence was about trying to figure out a way to get back on track. I couldn't sleep at night until I figured out something to go into the next game with. I had to find something either laying in bed thinking about it or getting up the next morning and hitting off the batting tee in my garage. Try something.
"I couldn't wait to get to the ballpark to talk to someone and say, 'How does this look? I'm trying this tonight. I don't care if I give up 10 at-bats in the next couple of games, I'm going to try something new.' That is not necessarily in any of the current-day players' programs, and it's hard for somebody like me to understand that a player is not that way."
Now, that doesn't mean Schmidt's approach would work for Howard. A different approach may not make up Howard's biggest problem -- declining bat speed. Consider that in 2009, Howard saw fastballs 41 percent of that time; this season, that figure is 53 percent. Pitchers are telling us what the numbers show.
Nobody likes to be criticized, but I don't think anybody is forgetting the important contributions Howard made to all those great Phillies teams. But the reality is that you can't live in the past. It's time for the Phillies to cut their losses and start over in more ways than one.