It was easy for pundits and fans to accentuate the negative when Marlon Byrd signed on for a second tour of duty with the Phillies in November.
Byrd, 36, is actually older than Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, who are each 35 and 34-year old Ryan Howard.
Byrd was hit with a 50-game PEDS suspension. He signed a two-year $16 million contract.
A common question from the frustrated fan base has been why did the Phillies sign an old, relatively expensive player, who has taken performance enhancing drugs?.
“There are two big reasons,” a NL scout said. “Byrd is great at hitting left-handed pitchers and it’s not a lengthy deal.”
Exactly. It was wise for the Phillies not to commit to a long-term deal with an expensive left-handed bat, such as Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo. The damage Byrd has done to southpaws is impossible to ignore.
In 2013, he hit a staggering .344 with a .959 OPS against lefties. Only the Red Sox catalyst Dustin Pedroia had a higher batting average against left-handed pitching in the MLB.
Byrd will follow up the best season of his career, in which he hit 24 homers with 88 RBIs and 35 doubles, while hitting .291. Will Byrd replicate those numbers? Probably not. But the odds are that he’ll be much better than Darin Ruf in the lineup and in right field. Ruf struggled mightily against southpaws, only hitting an anemic .197 against them and the doughy Nebraskan is unpolished in the outfield, while the sculpted Byrd is a strong corner outfielder, who believes he can actually top the finest season of his career.
“I’ll be better than last year,” Byrd said. “I worked very hard on my new mechanics.”
It’s not as if last season was an aberration. Byrd was an All-Star in 2010 and has been consistent at the plate for years. Byrd brushes off questions about his team being too long of tooth. “To me, it’s about if you can play the game and keep yourself healthy,” Byrd said. “We have guys on this team that won it all and you look at baseball and there have been guys our age that have had great success…we can play. We have a lot in the tank.”
And then there is the issue of PEDs. Shortly after signing with the Phillies, Byrd went on vacation and took a hiatus from interviews, which often touched on his use of But he’s back facing the PEDs questions once again. “I was stupid,” Byrd said. “I took something. I didn’t do my due diligence. I rebounded from it and had a good season last year. I’ve moved on.”
It wasn’t a difficult decision for Byrd to return to Philadelphia. “It was easy to move back here,” Byrd said. “I continued following the Phillies after I left and I stayed in touch with my friends here. I was so excited when they made the playoffs and they were making their run (in 2008). I came to games and was waving my towel like a fan. I absolutely loved it and I’m glad to be back.”