Ryan Howard stepped to the plate in the ninth inning Tuesday night with the game-winning run on third base and one out.
Howard was facing left-hander Jeremy Affeldt, who had limited him to one hit in 11 career at-bats to that point.
The only players remaining on the Phillies' bench were left-handed hitting Reid Brignac and righty Wil Nieves.
To summarize just how bad the Ryan Howard Situation has gotten, it would have made more sense to pinch-hit a career utility infielder like Brignac or a backup catcher in Nieves than to allow Howard to bat there.
Howard struck out. Any flyball or well-placed grounder wins the game right there. The Phillies' win expectancy in that situation was 82.3 percent. Win expectancy is based on historical data -- meaning that, historically, teams have won in those situations 82.3 percent of the time.
It doesn't factor Howard's futility into the equation.
Howard did go 2 for 6 on Tuesday with two runs scored. But in his two most important at-bats, both of which came after the eighth inning with two men on base and the opportunity to walk the Phillies off, he struck out and tapped out weakly to first base.
At what point does this experiment end? Howard is hitting .224 with a .305 on-base percentage. He has one home run in his last 121 plate appearances. He has three doubles in his last 55 games dating back to May 22.
The Phillies are throwing away games and costing themselves wins by batting Howard fourth nearly every night. It hurts to write that about a player as gregarious, as friendly, as easy to root for as Howard, but it's the truth. There is no longer a logical defense for him.
Howard's backers cite his RBI total, that he's driven in 60 runs. Well, so have 17 other major-leaguers. And Howard has had more plate appearances this season with men on base than any player in baseball.
In 224 of Howard's plate appearances, one or more runners have been on base. He's driven in just 14.8 percent of them. More than 175 players have a better rate of plating their baserunners.
Howard is owed $25 million next season. He's owed $25 million the season after that. In 2017, he's on the books for $23 million but can be bought out for $10 million. So he will be paid at least $60 million over the next three seasons, making him completely untradeable unless the Phillies pick up just about every dollar.
The contract is already a sunk cost. The Phillies will never recoup that money or those opportunities to sign free agents that didn't fit into the payroll because of Howard's $125 million extension.
Playing him everyday, batting him fourth everyday, will not turn this situation around. Howard has hit .236 with 40 home runs in his last 1,026 plate appearances. His OPS over that span is two percent below the league average. That's a pretty indicative sample size.
At this point, Darin Ruf deserves the opportunity. Bat Marlon Byrd cleanup until/unless he's traded. Maybe bring up Maikel Franco and give him a two-month look against major-league pitching. See what they can do with all of the RBI opportunities that have gone to waste.
Because the easy route, the loyal route, the status quo that values feelings over results ... that isn't working.