Ryan Sandberg on not playing Darin Ruf in the second game with the Angels in Anaheim last night:
"I can see what [Ruf] can do on the defensive side of things. I think he's fine in left field. I think he's very good at first base, but with the situations he's been in the past couple years here and not being able to have a string of at-bats against all the pitchers, it's hard to really get a gauge still."So then what would have been lost by playing Ruf against a tough right-hander like Weaver?"That's the tricky part of making up the lineups and also trying to win a game," Sandberg said.
Ruf was coming off of good games Monday and Tuesday. Clearly it was time to sit him. Why? Because Ryan Howard has to play. Now, I think Sandberg privately would love to not have to do this, but Howard is owed $60 million beyond this season, and so Sandberg's hands are tied. Howard is not helpful to winning games though, basically making Sandberg's statement false. Howard is not a Major League caliber hitter at this point. He has never been great defensively.
Howard has a .675 OPS and .219 average on the season, so don't let the 18 homers and 73 RBI's fool you, he's been bad. He's been even worse as he goes along though. In July, he hit .165 and OPS'ed at a .542 clip, while hitting 2 homers. In August so far, he's hitting .191 and OPS'ing at a .604 clip, with 2 more homers. Sure, he has some RBIs, but that's not going to make up for an overall stat line that includes a .301 OBP. He's been awful.
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.
What that means is that Howard would be replaced easily by a AAA replacement player for his overall stat line and defense. So, whatever you think of Darin Ruf, and I know he has his detractors, he could do this easily. Ruf is sitting though, and Howard is playing, basically because one has a big contract and the other doesn't. Not because Howard helps us win more. He doesn't.