After a year and a half of struggling for the Phillies, hope seemed lost for Ryan Howard. Instead, the longtime Phillies slugger has prospered in a new role off the bench.
This a sentence I never thought I’d write coming into this season; Ryan Howard has actually been playing well. Since the All-Star Break, only Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Ruiz have created more WAR for the Phillies than Howard. Howard leads the team in wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) in the second half at .473.
Starting off the year, Ryan Howard looked downright awful. He had a below-average April with a 74 wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), then really hit rock-bottom in May. Howard batted just .101 that month, striking out more than 37.3% of the time. Soon after May ended, Howard lost his spot in the first-base platoon with Tommy Joseph taking over the everyday role.
While Howard was no doubt disappointed to be stuck on the bench, the slugger has actually been better in his career as a pinch-hitter. Howard has a career .994 OPS coming off the bench with six home runs and 19 RBI in 82 plate appearances.
Since his benching, Howard has been a much more effective hitter at the plate. Prior, Howard carried just a .150/.213/.346 hitting split. After, those numbers improved to .268/.304/.567. He’s hit eight home runs in 102 plate appearances (one per 12.75 appearances) versus nine in 169 plate appearances (one per about 19).
After the All-Star Break, Howard has really found his second wind at the plate. Howard has a 1.147 OPS with an ISO (Isolated Power) of .388 since the All-Star Game. If you adjust his 49 at-bats from the second half to a 162-game season, Howard would have 45 home runs and 117 RBIs on the year. While a small sample size, it shows you Howard’s recent level of hitting.
Friday night, Howard powered the Phillies to a 10-6 victory over the Rockies with a deep grand slam to right-center. Howard now has 14 grand slams in his career and 374 home runs overall.
With all this success at the plate, Howard has obviously been more valuable to the Phillies. Prior to his benching, Howard detracted from the Phillies’ chance of winning, subtracting from the Phillies win probability by 0.27. Afterwards, Howard has added to the Phillies’ win probability by 0.26, nearly cancelling out his start to the year.
Other teams who could be looking for help down the stretch could find Howard a worthy pick-up. Rumors went around that an AL team could attempt to trade for Howard at the August 1 deadline, but little else came in terms of trade buzz.
Some waiver-wire rumors target catcher Carlos Ruiz, and Howard could also end up on the move. He needs to clear waivers before the Phillies make any trade involving Howard. Then again, if Chase Utley cleared waivers last year, then so too can Howard.
This recent production from Howard raises the question about whether or not the Phillies will retain Howard after this year. His contract has a $10 million buyout after this season, and up until recently, it seemed a foregone conclusion the Phillies would take the buyout.
While in all likelihood the Phillies will still take Howard’s buyout rather than pay $23 million for a player who is, at best, replacement-level, this hot streak adds a wrinkle to issue.
Even if the Phillies opt out of the last year of Howard’s enormous contract, Howard has iterated multiple times that he wants to continue playing in 2017. Howard could find success again after leaving the Phillies, like former teammate Utley.
Even though Howard’s tenure in Philly is winding down, he’s shown signs of life since being relegated to a backup role. With this production, Howard can create some value for himself, either on the trade of free agent market.