Ryan Howard Versus The Shift

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For the last handful of years, one of the players I enjoyed watching more than most was Adam Dunn. That enjoyment, of course, was derived from his time in the batter's box, for his defense was most atrocious. But when he was in the box, he was always a blast, because odds are he was going to hit the ball clear over the fence, or he was going to strike out trying. And in 13 seasons, nearly half of his at-bats have ended with either outcome.

The recent years have not been kind to the slugger, who has a .201 batting average dating back to the start of 2011, which makes his 80 home runs seem a lot less impressive. After hitting .204 last season with the Chicago White Sox, thanks largely to opposing teams shifting their infield to the right side,  it was pretty clear that he needed to change things if he wanted to be considered a useful hitter.

Dunn proceeded to make an adjustment, and this piece by CSN Chicacgo's Dan Hayes goes into some detail about the why, the what, and ultimately, the reason Dunn is now looking like a totally different hitter.

I bring up Adam Dunn because the Phillies have in their possession a similar hitter. One that, if not for the shift, would put up numbers more befitting a player at that position earning a good amount of money to play baseball for a living. Of course, the player I am referring to is Ryan Howard, who frequently is a victim of the shift, thanks to his tendency to pull the ball to the right side of the field.

It's a pretty diabolical piece of defensive positioning by opposing managers, who have scouted Howard enough to know that, he is more likely to pull the ball than go hit it anywhere else. Take one look at his spray chart from 2011 (his last full, mostly healthy season) for visual evidence of this. When he elevates the ball and is able to hit line drives, he is able to go the other way more, but he absolutely peppers the right side with hard hit grounders and line drives.

In a perfect world, opposing fielders would be barred from moving the shortstop or third baseman to the right side of second base, but this is America, and opposing teams have every right to position their defense as they see fit. As such, Ryan Howard is going to lose a lot of hits thanks to some well-positioned defenders. In the past, there has been chatter about Howard simply laying a bunt down the third base line to take advantage of the wide open left side, but since they've never tried this, we can assume that Howard either can't bunt, or that the Phillies don't want him to give up his power for a bunt single. Whatever the case may be, we can all agree that Howard is going to have to adjust if he wants to return to the form that made him one of the greatest power hitters in the game.

If Ryne Sandberg wants to make his mark on the organization, then Ryan Howard has to be a priority. He's under contract for three more seasons, and at more than $20 million per, they're going to have to do whatever they can to make sure he offers as much value as possible while he is wearing the red pinstripes. Sandberg spoke on Monday about wanting Jimmy Rollins to walk more, so he definitely seems willing to get to work on his team.

If Adam Dunn – a veteran player who is probably as stuck in his ways as anyone – is able to adjust his swing in his age 33 season, then there is no reason that Howard can't follow suit. The only question, then, is whether or not he is willing.

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