Platoon Splits and Lineup Optimization
Ryan Howard’s Struggles Continue
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
The Phillies enter Thursday night with a subpar record of 19-22 following their most recent loss to the slugging Indians of Cleveland.
After finishing the 2012 season at exactly .500, Phillies fans wanted to see some improvement from a team that still sports a number of talented players, some young and some veterans. I think no word better describes the 2013 Phillies season to this point better than unsatisfying.
One common knock on the Phillies has been Ryan Howard’s abysmal performance. Howard has been awful, but he plays everyday, against righties and lefties, making him the sorest of sore spots in an already anemic lineup. At this point in the season most statistics face lots of noise, meaning that we have too small of a sample size to gain a lot of definitive knowledge from many stats. Three metrics shown to have more of a definitive nature early in the year include BB%, K%, and contact%. What that implies is that a hitter with a 25% strikeout percentage at this point in the season has truly been a hitter who strikes out 1 out of every 4 plate appearances, that number isn’t due to randomness, it is more closely tied to true performance.
Knowing that useful bit of information, let’s take a look at Howard’s K%,BB%, and contact%.
A quick glance at these numbers shows some glaring issues for the “Big Piece”. Ryan has a 6.0% walk percentage, which shows inherent hitting issues. When Howard has produced, he’s done so while putting up at least a 10% walk percentage, but in the seasons he has struggled, including 2013, he hasn’t broken double digits in free passes. A hitter than shows the patience to take a walk finds himself facing different pitching strategies than those who do not, and it causes a hitters’ struggles to snowball.
Howard strikes out a lot, it’s such a certainty it borders on a law of science, like gravity or adhesion and cohesion of water molecules. 29% is probably too high even for Howard, but he put up very good offensive years in 2007 and 2005, seasons in which struck out more often than in 2013. His contact% both on pitches in the strike zone (Z) and out of the strike zone (O) are well below the 2013 MLB league average.
This depicts a hitter that has very little confidence at the plate, combined with mechanical issues. Hitters with proper or superior mechanics generally make very good contact on pitches in the zone because those pitches are usually better ones to hit. Ever seen Albert Pujols hit? He makes incredible contact on pitches in the zone, both good hitter’s pitches and pitcher’s pitches. Currently, Ryan Howard is making dreadful contact on all pitches he sees, and whether the issue exists more so in his head or with his swing, he must make some changes in order to boost his offensive output, and in turn help the Phillies win more games.
On the topic of Ryan Howard, we consistently discuss his inability to hit left-handed pitching. This trend has continued this season, yet Charlie Manuel continues to put Howard in the lineup versus starting southpaws. Pondering this idea led me to wonder how the Phillies have faired in their platoon splits thus far in 2013. More importantly, for a team with some inherent offensive deficiencies, is Charlie Manuel getting everything he can out of the platoon advantage in the hopes that pushes the Phillies from an average offense to a slightly above-average one?
Here are the Phillies current offensive stats against left-handed pitching:
|2013 vs. LHP|
Just to be fair, here are the Phillies 2013 statistics against right-handed pitchers:
|2013 vs. RHP|
Looking at these numbers it becomes obvious that no Phillies player hits lefties and righties well. Utley has been the best at doing so for the Phillies in recent history, but so far he’s struggled against left-handed pitchers. Some interesting stats include Domonic Brown’s good numbers against lefties but subpar numbers against righties, probably showing that he may prove the Phillies most balanced hitter moving forward. Lefties will almost always hit righties than southpaws better over long periods of time, and so Brown’s offensive output vs. RHP should increase moving forward.
Given that it is only May 16th, and we have much more season left to watch and players have to play, let’s take a look at the Phillies’ career platoon statistics.
|Career vs. RHP|
|Career vs. LHP|
Basically, these numbers show that Chase Utley has been an incredibly good hitter in his career against right-handed pitching, but almost just as good against lefties. I haven’t noticed any major differences in Utley’s hitting mechanics or approach at all this season in comparison to his previous years, making me think that by August he should improve his numbers when facing lefties. Howard has never hit well against LHP, but the fact that he has hit well below his career numbers against RHP this season is cause for some serious concern. If Howard has 5 plate appearances in a given game, 3 vs. RHP and 2 vs. LHP, he needs to get two hits off the righties to be worth putting in the lineup on a daily basis.
Lastly, check out the outfielders’ numbers. Delmon Young and John Mayberry Jr., both right-handed hitters, mash lefty
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
pitching, but become less than reasonable against righties. Just watch the next time either hitter faces a righty who throws sliders on the outer half of the strike zone. Both Mayberry and Young flail against these pitches, and only attain any hitting success when they see almost all fastballs versus right-handed pitching. Lastly, while Laynce Nix, a lefty has deplorable numbers against left-handed pitching (he tends to let his front shoulder fly open making him susceptible to all pitches not down and inside), but much better numbers (especially power-hitting numbers) against right-handed pitchers.
This all leads me to believe that if the Phillies are to improve their chances of scoring some more runs for their starting pitchers, Charlie Manuel has to help by putting his players in the best positions to succeed. That strategy must begin with the platoon advantage. Against righties Howard, despite his struggles, should still start, mostly due to the potential he has to mash against righties. In addition, Nix, not Young should start in right field. Against lefties, the Phillies should sit Revere, sit Nix, and sit Ryan Howard. Utley should replace Howard at first base, and Frandsen or possibly the hot-hitting Freddy Galvis should take Utley’s spot at 2nd base. Mayberry and Young should never not start against lefties due to some fantastic career numbers against southpaws.
We hear numerous reasons behind how Manuel and his coaching staff make up the lineup on a day-to-day basis, but some aspects should incur more weight than others, and the platoon advantage should not be pushed aside. The Phillies have issues throughout their roster, and I’ve previously and hopefully predicted some needed sales come the trade deadline, but until then, this team hovers around .500, meaning they must exploit any advantage possible in order to finish 2013 with a winning record.