Should the Phillies Platoon Raul Ibanez?

The three-year deal given to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season was puzzling at the time given the length of contract weighted against the veteran’s age (He’s about to turn 38 at the mid-point of the contract). Ibanez, though, laid those concerns to rest with an outstanding ’09 season in which he posted a 3.9 WAR and slugged 34 homers.

This season has been a different story. He’s currently hitting .253/.356/.404 in 177 plate appearances. Ibanez’ wOBA has slipped from .379 last season to .325 in ’10. He’s currently being paid $11.5 million and will receive the same amount in 2011. He also has a full no-trade clause in his contract.

The good news for Phillies fans is that the veteran is currently hitting much better in May than he did in April; his wOBA has increased from .308 to .341. However, Ibanez has a .640 OPS against left-handed pitching. His OPS, in comparison, is .805 against righties. Like many left-handed hitters, Ibanez has hit right-handers much better over the course of his career.

At this point, it might make sense for the club to consider platooning the former Mariner. With turning 38 soon, Ibanez’ body would probably benefit from the added rest. Unfortunately, neither back-up outfielder – Ben Francisco nor Ross Gload – has been overly effective this season. Francisco is currently hitting .219/.265/.281, while Gload is batting .241/.241/.448 in an almost strictly pinch-hitting role.

The best solution can found down in triple-A in the form of former No. 1 draft pick John Mayberry Jr. who, at the age of 26, has never been given a fair shot to stick on a MLB roster. The 6’6” 235 lbs outfielder is currently hitting .288/.354/.494 in 160 at-bats. Against left-handers, though, he’s hitting .333/.383/.500. The Stanford alum also has a track record of success against left-handed pitching, as seen by his career line of .283/.355/.495. Mayberry could also potentially spell Ryan Howard from time-to-time, as the big first baseman has also been struggling against southpaws (.696 vs .880 OPS).

At the cost of just Francisco or Gload, it’s really not a big risk for the organization to give Mayberry a chance. Adding his prowess against left-handers could help the club when facing some of the tougher left-handers in the league. With the Phillies club in first place in the National League East, the instinct may be to leave things well enough alone. However, it’s a long season and the club’s hold on first place is anything but secure. This move has the potential to make the team stronger with little downside.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

17 Responses to “Should the Phillies Platoon Raul Ibanez?”

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  1. The A Team says:

    I agree that calling up Mayberry at the expense of Gload is probably worthwhile. However, I’m curious about your splits comments. For his career, Raul has featured a normal platoon split, but in 2009 he had a reverse split, hitting lefties better than righties and in 2008 he was basically equal against both hands. 2007 and prior the split resembled what he’s done this year.

    So which small sample do we weigh less? The 46 PA against lefties this year or the 387 over the last two years (keeping in mind his overall career numbers are similar to the 46 PA sample)? From the numbers, it’s hard to tell if his skill set changed or if he was just locked in for two years and it went away.

    My point is, I’m not sure it’s fair to conclude that Ibanez needs a platoon caddy. It’s a reasonable possibility, but we need a bunch of scouting reports to make an informed decision on it.

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  2. bowie says:

    Agree with A Team.

    Also, Ibanez is actually hitting more line drives so far against L and R than he did last year, and he’s whiffing less against both too. I’ve watched a fair number of Phillies games and those facts match up with my observations, as I’ve noticed quite a few hard outs.
    I think Ibanez has been a bit unlucky as a hitter so far. I would keep playing him against lefties for now if I were Manuel.

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  3. really says:

    Unfortunately, neither back-up outfielder – Ben Francisco nor Ross Gload – has been overly effective this season. Francisco is currently hitting .219/.265/.281, while Gload is batting .241/.241/.448 in an almost strictly pinch-hitting role.

    Ben Francisco 106 OPS+ over 1024 plate appearances prior to this year are more significant than whatever his performance has been over 35 plate appearances this year.

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    • The A Team says:

      Gload is definitely the guy I would target as a cut.

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    • pounded clown says:

      Yeah, when I see Francisco at the dish I always think we just called up someone; I always forget what he looks like, that’s how often the guy gets to play. He does have a nerf trebuchet for an arm however – not like Ibanez’s throws are anything to write home about but at least he doesn’t look like he’s lobbing a grenade.

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  4. This article makes me feel nostalgic. We M’s fans had been talking about this for years… along with Raul’s shitty defense… before he was let go as a free agent.

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  5. Dave says:

    You guys have to do an article on the statistical improbability of the Phillies not scoring any runs in the last 3+ games.

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    • The A Team says:

      This question got me thinking so I posed it to Tom Tango. Here’s his response:

      “Chance of a scoreless inning for an AVERAGE team = .70.

      Chance of 27 scoreless innings = .70^27, or 15,000 to 1.

      If the chance of a scorless inning for the Phillies is say .67, then it’s
      50,000 to 1.”

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      • MetsFan says:

        You’re assuming independence. I’d repose the question as:
        What’s the chance of an average team scoring in an inning given that they didn’t score in the last inning, or in Bayesian terms
        P(scoring | didn’t score last inning)

        Maybe it’s the same, maybe less, but that’s the relevant probability.

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      • pounded clown says:

        Like MetsFan said

        This a conditional probability. You need Bayesian analysis.

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  6. seriously says:

    Its two months into the season. Ibanez has been a very very streaky hitter his entire career. Every year since 2002 Raul has had a streak of 50-60 games where he completely goes off. And there is really no pattern to it, lastyear it was the first 55 games but in years past it has been in the middle and at the end. Yes, I realize that there is no statistical backing for this, but 7 years of consistency is a hell of a lot better sample size than 50 ABs of this season.

    Conclusion: Worrying about Raul at this point in the season is not fair and pretty ignorant. Especially when is K rate is aligned with his career average and hes actually walking and hitting line drives BETTER than his career averages.

    If I were you I would put a little more time into the research part of things before your next post, because to me it looks like we should be patiently waiting an outburst instead of prematurely calling for his head

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  7. AB says:

    I don’t think there is any chance Ibanez will be platooned just due to the politics of the situation (his contract, his excellent reputation, Charlie’s respect for him, etc). Also this article really gives Francisco short shrift, he is a very good 4th OF who has produced offensively at a solid level in extended ABs each of the two years (1.5 of which occurred in a very tough offensive home park), and can play all 3 positions

    One thing I would agree with is Mayberry deserves a roster spot, but I think it’s Greg Dobbs who should be on the chopping block. He has been truly horrible since 2008 and a strong candidate for non tender after the season anyway. Cutting him would theoretically limit the defensive flexibility of the bench since his primary position is 3B, but he’s a poor 3B himself anyway and Castro can play some 3B in emergency as well. Mayberry should be up as a PH/ 5th OF

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    • The A Team says:

      Yea the main problem here is that with Rollins already aching we need to hang onto guys who can nominally play 3b/2b.

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  8. The A Team says:

    Did I just say we? whoops.

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  9. NickFromGermantown says:

    Yes, please. And don’t be so quick to close the door on Francisco. He hasn’t had that much playing time ever since the Lee trade last year. Before that and even through 2009, he was an above average player. Without getting those ABs, it’s hard to maintain form. Get him some ABs in any way possible.

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