Monday, September 05, 2016

Ryan Howard's End

The Phillies are kind of awful this year, which is OK. They were supposed to be awful, and to be fair they've been quite a bit less awful than they were supposed to be. They've had some exciting moments, to with some Fred Merkle-level awful baserunning. They've had some nice moments from some young players, and they've said goodbye to pretty much everyone left over from the glory years.

Indeed, the only player left from the 2008 championship team is first baseman Ryan Howard, and that's largely because his Godzilla-sized contract extension made him both untradeable and unreleasable. Philly fans had just sort of resigned themselves to one more year of watching Howard, a shell of his former self, keep on bailing out against breaking balls from lefties and grounding weakly into the shift. This offseason, the Phillies would pay his $10M buyout and that would be that. I mean, they'd play him, but that was because there were no other options (and no, Darin Ruf does not count as an option).

And honestly, he's been kind of awful this year, which is sad. By all accounts he's a nice guy and he's an important part of the franchise's history, and you hate seeing the guys you thrilled to limp into the sunset. But at the same time, he's got a WARP of -1.2, which is, as they say, bad.


A funny thing happened on the way to goodbye. Over the last month, he's turned into 2005-vintage Ryan Howard again. Maybe it's because he's being protected from lefties by surprisingly cromulent call-up Tommy Joseph*, maybe it's just the magic of the last hurrah, but in August he slugged .706.

That, in case you were wondering, is pretty good.

Now the Phillies have told Howard, in their typically hamfisted fashion, that he's going to be sitting more over the last month as they try to figure out if Joseph - currently slashing .248/.292/.492, with 17 homers, is actually a real deal type player. On one hand, it's a shame - it would be great to see one more month of old school Ryan Howard. On the other, well, future's gotta future, and Joseph might be a part of it. But in the meantime, the Phillies have somehow gotten close to 40 home runs out of first base - more than anyone else in baseball, near as I can tell - and they've put a little bit of magic nostalgia glow on a season otherwise marked by farewells and young pitchers going down in serried ranks like Hector's warriors lined up for battle against Achilles. 

In the grand scheme of the season, let alone the playoff race, it's a nothing of a story. But for those of us who were there at the beginning of the Ryan Howard era, it's still one worth listening to.

*Joseph is kind of a cool story in and of himself. Multiply concussed out of prospect status as a catcher, he looked to be an organizational guy at best. Then suddenly he started hitting, and got called up, and while nobody's going to mistake him for Joey Votto with that OBP, he's on the positive side of the WAR ledger. So good on him.
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