The parallels between Ryan Howard and David Ortiz are striking.
Both are hulking, power-hitting left-handed hitters. Both are in their mid-to-late 30s (Howard is 33, Ortiz is 37). Both deal with shifts employed by opposing managers that have severely altered their statistics. And both have dealt with debilitating injuries to their Achilles that forced both players to miss a significant amount of time.
And now, as Howard hits the disabled list for 6-8 weeks to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, obviously the result of compensating for his injured Achilles, he and the team hit a key decision point. Do they rush Howard back when his knee is declared “healthy,” or do they just shut him down for the season and allow him to get totally and completely healthy for 2014?
The Phils should look at how the Red Sox handled Ortiz and take some notes.
Last year in spring training, Ortiz hurt the Achilles tendon in his right foot, yet played through the pain until finally going on the disabled list on July 17th. He tried to come back later in August, but played in just one game, against the Royals, on August 24th. After hitting a double in that game, Ortiz knew he had to shut it down for the season.
“I was worried about my Achilles snapping,” said Ortiz. “Yeah, I wasn’t ready. I thought I was. I was doing some running and stuff. I know that I wasn’t 100 percent, but I thought I was going to be able to survive for the rest of the season. And things got worse, especially after I hit that double.
“I [was] in a lot of pain, and I actually put my career to the side trying to come back and tried to help this ballclub that was struggling badly. The doctor told me that I could snap my Achilles running down to second base, and you guys know the rest of it.” – quotes from MLB.com’s Ian Browne
Now, Ortiz’ Achilles injury was not as serious as Howard’s. Ryan’s Achilles snapped, Ortiz’ didn’t. Still, Ortiz was worried he was going to do major damage to it and decided to shut things down. He missed the rest of the 2012 season. This year, Ortiz missed the first couple weeks of the season and made his debut on April 20th. Since coming back, the man has been on fire, hitting .313/.399/.595 for an OPS of .994 with 17 HRs and 19 doubles in 70 games.
Ortiz took the time necessary to be completely healthy for 2013. And the results have been evident.
Now, it’s also fair to note that Ortiz is simply a much better hitter than Howard. Ryan is not able to put up the kinds of numbers that Big Papi does, even though Ortiz is four years older than Howard. Ortiz doesn’t have nearly the platoon splits that Howard does, and Ortiz is much better at using the opposite field than Howard.
Still, it’s reasonable to assume that a fully healthy Howard would be better than the .784 OPS and meager 11 HRs that he put together in 317 PAs this year.
The Phillies still owe Howard at least $85 million over the next three years. All parties would be best served by allowing him to take the rest of the year off to fully recover, rehabilitate and regain the strength in his left leg that could allow him to be the 30-35 homer guy the Phils desperately need him to be.
Howard would also do well to listen to Ortiz describe some changes he’s made in his approach at the plate in the last couple years. Speaking on Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast yesterday, Ortiz talked about the shift that teams began employing on him and how he went about beating it.
“After the 2010 season, I started trying to work more in batting practice to stay inside of the ball and drive the ball to the opposite field more than usual,” Ortiz said. “I know for a fact I can hit the ball to the opposite field, but my mentality of hitting, it wasn’t at all thinking about hitting the ball to the opposite field. It was just hitting the ball hard.
“I became a power hitter pulling the ball because that’s a power hitter’s nature… If you can hit the ball opposite field without a problem, you work on it, and once [outside pitches] come, you can react to it.”
“I know that I don’t have the power that I used to have. So I want to be more of a hitter than a power hitter, I would say. Batting practice, before to me, was nothing but hit the ball out. Now I’m more of hitting line drives, stay through the ball more, those kinds of things.”
When asked if it helped him against left-handed pitchers, he said…
“Of course… Everybody has three, four lefties in their rotation, and you usually see one every night. So you gotta work on that because, lefties, they come from every angle… Working on hitting to the opposite field helps to stay with it, with your hands, try not to leak too much, because once you open up, those pitches on the outer third of the plate give you hard time. I try to be a little smarter about hitting.”
One would assume that Howard works on hitting the ball to the opposite field, and his troubles against left-handers are well chronicled. But one also wonders if he’s taken the approach that Ortiz has, which is to focus primarily on hitting the ball to the opposite field, both as a way to avoid the shift and do better against lefties.
At the end of the day, a power hitting summit between Ortiz and Howard would do the former All-Star a world of good, both on the mechanics of hitting and on how to take care of a bum leg.
***QUICK NOTE*** Apparently, they HAVE talked.
@FelskeFiles Howard and Ortiz had a a long, long talk when the teams met this season. They know they have similarities.
— Dennis Deitch (@DennisDeitch) July 9, 2013
So, there’s that. One wonders if anything sunk in.
Because let’s face it. The Phillies are stuck with Ryan Howard until the end of that contract.
It would be nice of they could recoup just a little bit of that $125 million that seems like it’s going to go to waste.