When Raul Ibanez left Seattle in 2009 for the friendly home of Philadelphia, everyone knew he was going to top his career home run levels. He did that, hitting more than 30 homers for the first time in his career. At 37 years old, it was obvious it couldn’t last forever, but the next two years were a quick fall for Ibanez and now have his stock at an amazing low.
After putting up a career high 131 wRC+ in that Phillies debut, he has quickly declined two years straight to 109 and then to 90 last season. As a full time player previous to 2009 he had never posted a wRC+ that low. The Yankees are buying extremely low, with a base contract of $1 million and incentives that could escalate to $4 million based on plate appearances.
|Raul Ibanez (Icon/SMI)|
His power left him in 2010: He totaled only 16 and 20 homers in the least two years while playing half his games in Citizens Bank Park. The park inflates home runs for lefties by 18 percent, making his decline in that category concerning at the age of 40. Now, it will be surprising to see his power return even in a better park.
In New York he’ll get the best shot to prove he still has some pop. The new Yankee Stadium has increased left-handed hitters’ home runs 43 percent. That sounds like a big jump, but based on that if you moved his 2011 totals to New York he would have totaled 23-24 home runs. The Yankees are looking to get some pop out of their DH spot and hoping that a left-handed batter can take advantage of the short porch, but expecting Ibanez to top 25 home runs would be a bit much.
His power could also take a hit as he moves to the DH spot. Pinch hitting and DH players are known to struggle compared to position players and in his career Ibanez sports just a 90 tOPS+ as a DH and 23 in a very small sample as a pinch hitter. tOPS+ gives a relative value for offensive output for a player versus his normal average. This means Ibanez was 10 percent worse as a DH looking at OPS. His power is the main culprit, with his slugging percentage falling from .478 to .421 as a DH. Those DH at bats are spread out, but based on trends he’ll be slightly less valuable as a hitter.
To top it off, Ibanez’ bat has slowed down and he is rolling over pitches. His groundball rate reached 46.3 percent last year, also a career high. That stat has been on an upward trend for four years now, making this look like a clear sign of his aging.
Another concern will be what happened to Ibanez’ plate discipline last season. His walk rate had been better than 8 percent since 2004, but in 2011 it was an abysmal 5.7 percent. Pitchers appeared to take advantage of Ibanez by throwing the lowest percentage of fastballs he’s ever seen. He didn’t do well with this, swinging at 32 percent of pitchers outside of the zone.
Pitchers figured this out and threw him only 42 percent of pitches in the zone. That is staggering compared to the 50 percent he has seen in his career. Until Ibanez can lay off the junk out of the zone this is only going to get worse in the American League. The one silver lining will be that Ibanez suddenly enters a lineup full of feared hitters. Depending on where he falls in the lineup, he could see a rise in the number of fastballs he sees as well as pitches in the zone.
In 2009 the Phillies’ offense was the fourth best in baseball, but by 2011 they fell to the middle of the pack. Only Ibanez and Ryan Howard topped 20 homers and not one player reached 100 runs scored. You can’t blame all his problems on his teammates, but they sure didn’t help.
Even with a bit of optimism, it’s tough to see Ibanez with anything more than his 2010 and 2011 seasons adjusted for Yankee Stadium. His Oliver projection is not very optimisti,c giving him 17 home runs with a split of .245/.305/.407 and a wOBA .310. (See the rest of his projection by buying the THT Forecasts)
Ibanez won’t see that extra $3 million if he produces a line like that. He’ll need to show some ability to take pitches and some power. If he doesn’t, it’s likely he will see more time on the bench or be designated for assignment. It’s a safe bet for the Yankees and a swan song on the big stage for Ibanez.