Speaking with Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Phillies General Manager Pat Gillick singled out Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Wes Helms as the root of the team's early inconsistency. [Link]
By now, everyone has chimed in on Ryan Howard’s slow start. From poor mechanics to injury concerns to trying too hard, everyone has an answer. Nevertheless, isn’t it funny how the issue fussed about most this winter - lineup protection - is getting the least attention, even now with Howard hitting .204 and Burrell following right behind with .237?
As all of you recall, Gillick made lineup protection a top free agent priority. Specifically, he targeted Alfonso Soriano to be that guy. Meanwhile, the market for free agent power hitters skyrocketed, and the Phillies didn’t try to top the eight-year deal Soriano eventually received from the Cubs.
Then, something happened. A unacceptable situation (Burrell behind Howard) became acceptable again. Statistical evidence, gathered after the season, proved Howard’s production actually increased with Burrell batting behind him. This season ... not so much.
"We need productivity from the middle of our order," Gillick continued. "What do we have, one home run between Burrell and Helms? Seven total from the three guys? That doesn't cut it."
Beerleaguer: Is Howard being pitched around? It’s hard to say, statistically, but my observation is that is appears to be the case to a certain degree. He’s been intentionally walked about 10 times, and aside from that, he’s seen a lot of balls away, high fastballs, and against left-handers, a lot of down-and-in changeups. Much of this is on Howard; he needs to make some adjustments, particularly against the lefties. However, as long as Burrell is batting behind him and continues to struggle the way he has, pitchers will not be much hurry to show Howard anything to hit.