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July 5, 2013

Manufactured Runs

Ruben Amaro and the Ryan Howard Reality

by Colin Wyers


Some baseball teams are disappointing by strange twists of fate. Some are disappointing by design. Not because they’re designed to perform poorly (although that happens, too), but because they’re given expectations contrary to reality, and when reality diverges from expectations, they continue to cling to the expectations.

The 2013 Phillies are a team modestly below .500. Given a preseason forecast of a basically .500 team, this shouldn’t be a terrible shock—baseball is a game filled with randomness, after all. But to view the Phillies as a real disappointment requires you to compare them to their run of excellence from 2007 through 2011, rather than the team they are now. General manager Ruben Amaro’s expectations, then, seem weirdly out of date, in more ways than one. When asked about the player who will most likely define Amaro’s career as a GM, he responded succinctly:

"If Ryan Howard is now relegated to being a platoon player, he's a very expensive platoon player and he needs to be better," Amaro said. "I think he knows it. I know he's struggling, I know he's not happy with his performance—neither are we. I think he's going to be better, but right now, he's just not doing the job."

It’s always wise to be cautious with how one interprets statements from front office personnel. Their job is not to be brutally honest with the media, but to win baseball games. And sometimes that means you put your relationship with a player ahead of being totally forthright with the media.

So let’s concede that Amaro’s private views may not be entirely these. We have no way of knowing for sure. The views expressed here are troubling, though, not just for what they say about how Amaro still views Howard, but for what they say about how Amaro views Amaro.

The issue here really isn’t platoon splits; as Steven Goldman points out, Howard has always had large platoon splits. The issue really isn’t his declining production overall—that’s what most if not all hitters do as they age. And it’s not even the boat anchor of a contract Howard was signed to two years in advance of any actual need to sign him to a new contract. (Although that’s a hell of a list of things to not be the issue.) Ryan Howard is what he is, and his contract is what it is.

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Related Content:  Ryan Howard,  Phillies,  Ruben Amaro

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