Monday, August 01, 2011

Seeking Rationality on Raul Ibanez

Last week, Bill over at The Platoon Advantage had a fun article on players whose fan base cannot remain rational. And it was so true. Many players are lightening rods of either blind love or blind hate and rational thinking does not apply. Raul Ibanez isn't the player Bill picked for the Philadelphia Phillies. Ryan Howard was. And it's hard to argue with that pick. Howard is a player that draws either rave reviews or antipathy depending on who you ask. Ibanez, though, is just as prone to cause affection or antipathy, but not only from Phillies' fans. He's also a moth to the flame for analysts on television and from keyboards. What's to make of all the debate?

Ibanez is saddled with the affliction of being called a clutch player by many broadcasters. That misnomer causes a lot of the angst among those with keyboards and rightly so. His clutch stats as listed by FanGraphs are no better than the average Joe in baseball. The angst is also directed to the cold hard facts that at the age of 39, Ibanez isn't a very good baseball player anymore. His strikeout rate is the second highest of his career. His walk rate is the lowest of his career. His on base percentage is under .300 and his defense isn't...well...defensible. Ibanez has a .671 OPS against lefties and the facts remain that gives Ibanez a big fat zero for WAR this season while FanGraphs has him with a negative value.

And yet, there he is in every Phillies' game. When the Phillies received Hunter Pence in a trade from the Astros, it was widely assumed that Pence would be installed in left to take Ibanez's place and that Mayberry or Dominic Brown would play right. But manager, Charlie Manuel, seems to see Ibanez as his security blanket and leans on him heavily in spite of evidence that he shouldn't. Dominic Brown will never get a full shot as long as the Phillies are contenders. That's just the way it is with successful teams. They simply do not let young players work things out on a major league level. Either they pay off big and get to stay, or they are discarded faster than a kid's writing assignment full of red marks from the teacher.

And yet, Manuel's decision-making seems to be rewarded. Ibanez almost by himself saved the Phillies' game against the Pirates in the last game of their series on Sunday. Ibanez hit a two-run homer to tie the game and a double to win it. The double was the tenth time an Ibanez hit put the Phillies ahead this season. The double was also against a left-handed pitcher.

Ibanez and his season reminds this writer a lot of Paul O'Neill's last season with the Yankees in 2001. O'Neill was certainly at an age that season where he couldn't produce like he had in the past. Again, the cold, hard facts were that O'Neill that season was a player that did not add value to the Yankees according to his rWAR and fWAR. And yet O'Neill had sixteen hits that put the Yankees ahead that season and his team came within a well-placed hit by Luis Gonzalez from winning the 2001 World Series.

The Phillies are assured a post season spot in 2011. In a vastly successful season by the team, it must be left to others to decide if Raul Ibanez was a help or a hindrance in that success. For this writer, trying to figure that out leads to a headache.

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