The Odd Timeline of Raul Ibanez in Philly

Early in the 2008-2009 off-season it sounded like Raul Ibanez desired a deal that didn’t exist. After five very good years in Seattle Ibanez wanted a multi-year deal, something that teams didn’t seem to be offering non-stars that winter. For a 37-year-old with poor defensive skills, even a two-year offer seemed unlikely. Yet in December newly minted Phillies GM Ruben Amaro signed Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract that would keep him in Philadelphia through his age-39 season.

That didn’t sound like a great deal at the time, and the move faced predictable criticism. Defense dominated the conversation, but there were plenty of concerns about Ibanez’s bat. There was no denying his production in Seattle, but it’s tough to project how a player will hit as he reaches his upper 30s. Some players retain most of their skills and continue producing. Others either see a gradual decline or fall off a cliff. The Phillies risked the latter, but Amaro bet on the former. Two and a half months into the season he was looking pretty smart.

Ibanez came out swinging for his new team. In 90 April PA he produced a .485 wOBA, and then followed that with a .427 wOBA in 123 May PA. That production continued into June, as he hit in 12 straight games that month before going 0 for 8 on the 16th and 17th. Those would be the last games he’d play for a few weeks, as he hit the DL with a groin strain. It hurt the Phillies, of course, but it didn’t seem too serious. Ibanez would be back within a month.

As happens any time an older player goes on an prolonged run, steroid speculation surfaces. For Ibanez that came in the form of a now-infamous article on Midwest Sports Fans, in which Jerrod Morris ran some numbers and determined that — well, he didn’t determine anything, really, except that we couldn’t rule out PEDs, something that can be said for just about any player in the game today if you want to stretch the point far enough. It caused a stir that ran right up to Ibanez’s injury.

Upon his return Ibanez hit more like he had earlier in his career and less like the flukey run he experienced in April and May. He produced horribly in August, a .244 wOBA, but he surrounded that with a .375 wOBA in July and a .367 wOBA in September. It added up to the best offensive season of his career, a 379 wOBA. He also came closer than ever before to a World Series victory. There might have been downturns, but Ibanez’s first year in Philly can’t be classified as anything but a success.

In 2010, though, things started off on the downslope with a .295 wOBA in April. That got Phillies fans and analysts talking, of course, but Ibanez did his part to quell the criticism with a .340 wOBA in May. It wasn’t like any month, save August, in his 2009 campaign, but it was still above average. But then came June, which Ibanez started off with a 1 for 17 skid. His 0 for 4 day on June 6 represented a low point, after which his OPS dropped to .699.

That very evening, after the 0 for 4, Corey Seidman of Phillies Nation spilled something he must have been thinking for a while: it was time for the Phillies and Ibanez to part ways. This went beyond mere fan emotion. He went on to cite the myriad struggles Ibanez faced during the year, including a slugging percentage lower than David Eckstein and defense that rivaled the worst corner outfielders in the league. I had a few issues with the premise — for example, Seidman claims that Ibanez had “two great months, one horrible month, and three average months,” even though, as we saw above, .375, .362, and .367 wOBAs are considerably above average — but the point was sound. Considering his defense, age, and recent trends, Ibanez might have been done.

I’m not sure what happened between the games on June 6 and June 7, but whatever it was changed Ibanez’s season. He went just 1 for 3 in the following game, but on June 8 broke out with a 4 for 5 performance. Since June 7 Ibanez has hit .314/.388/.500 in 219 PA. His early season slump comprised 210 PA. Of the 61 hits he has accumulated in this span, 20 have gone for extra bases, including eight home runs. In July he produced a .406 wOBA, and in his first 28 August PA he’s at it again, going 9 for 23 with a double and a homer.

The months of April and June were marked by terrible BABIP marks, .259 and .247. That might have included some luck, though considering the reactions of Phillies fans it didn’t sound like he was striking the ball well. This seemed particularly true in June, when he had a paltry 10 percent line drive rate. In recent months he’s seen his BABIP climb, to .386 on a 21.6 percent line drive rate in July, and a .500 BABIP so far this month. While he won’t keep up those marks for the rest of the season, it has provided him with something of a statistical correction. His .343 wOBA doesn’t look pretty, but it’s far better than where he sat a few months ago.

Through the slumps, Ibanez continued to walk. This year he has walked in 12.4 percent of his PA, easily a career high rate. In April he walked in 16.5 percent of PA, and in May he walked in 12.4 percent. Despite his turnaround starting in early June, it was still a poor month overall, and he walked in just 8.5 percent of his PA. But that shot back up to 12.4 percent in July and is 14.3 percent in August. Last year, in the three months following his injury, Ibanez walked in 12.7, 10.2, and 12.9 percent of his PA, big improvements over his early-season numbers.

In his reaction to the release Ibanez article, Bill Baer hit on an important point:

The 2010 season has been a real struggle for Raul Ibanez and the Philadelphia Phillies, but it is not unique. The Atlanta Braves are wondering if they are ever going to get anything out of Nate McLouth; the New York Yankees have been waiting for Curtis Granderson to find his power; the Houston Astros are trying to find out who took away Carlos Lee‘s offense. Over the next four months those three hitters will, most likely, improve offensively not because someone found a mechanical flaw or they fixed their timing (although that could certainly happen), but because they are simply regressing to their mean. I can flip a coin ten times and get eight tails. If I continue to flip a coin 100 more times, I should expect that coin to come up tails not 80% of the time, but 50% — its true probability. The same holds true for Raul and many other struggling baseball players.

Patience, of course, can be over-extended, and there was a solid case in early June for not granting Ibanez any more time. The Phillies could have called up Domonic Brown then and moved Ibanez to the bench or to the waiver wire. But they saw something, I guess, that gave them a bit of pause. That little pause was the difference between realizing superior production over the past two or so months and having to find yet another player to fill a spot in the outfield.

It has not been a smooth year and two thirds for Raul Ibanez in Philadelphia. He’s faced criticism from all angles, some of it justified, some of it not. Chances are the final year and a third of his contract will play out in a similarly up-and-down manner. His age, poor defense, and, recently, streaky tendencies will not make life easy. But we now know that Ibanez can be a productive player for the Phillies. That might not add up to the $11.5 million he’ll make next year, but it should be good enough as to avoid the mid-season DFA.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


29 Responses to “The Odd Timeline of Raul Ibanez in Philly”

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  1. Conshy Matt says:

    nice turnaround for raul. i, for one, agreed w/ baer and incorrectly assumed that raul was cooked. it’s nice to be surprised. he’s really been a force in the phils lineup, especially w/ utley, howard, and victorino out.

    w/out running the numbers, i’m guessing he’s just about produced at the level of his contract, if he’s not exceeding it.

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  2. Temo says:

    Hopefully the trend continues and now that you’ve posted a big piece on Ibanez’s resurgence, he’ll start tanking again.

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  3. Sophist says:

    Ibanez had a low BAbip all year and a BAbip on LD around .600 (well over 100 points below career norms) all year, and his LD% has been right around 18-19% overall for most of the season. Given this, and his 2007 season, and the way HR/FB can change dramatically in a short period of time, patience was the best policy with Ibanez.

    Abandoning on a veteran bat is a sports radio error.

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    • Jason B says:

      “Abandoning on a veteran bat (sic) is a sports radio error.”

      Sometimes. And at other times the heady, and correct, move.

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      • Sophist says:

        Sure, but context, peripherals, and team medical/scouting reports trump the fan’s observation that “his bat is slow” and his BA/OBP/SLG. That’s all I was saying. Just trying to summarize one fan’s frustration with the fanbase re Ibanez with a pithy line.

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      • B N says:

        In this case though, it didn’t seem to make any sense to release him. His expected outcomes were still as good or better than your standard replacement players. In the worst case, you could use him extremely effectively as a pinch hitter or 4rth OF.

        The whole line of discourse on releasing him was a dumb one. For some reason, people seem to think that dropping an overpaid player somehow “gets the money back.” This isn’t football, contracts are guaranteed. While a 4rth OF being paid 11 million is a poor value, it’s still better to have that then to drop him for nothing (unless he’s actually likely to provide negative value). The Seidman article seemed to forget that we could drop say… anybody except Dobbs. Ross Gload vs Ibanez? I’d definitely cut Gload before Ibanez, and you should too. Gload isn’t particularly good offensively OR defensively.

        Regardless of his shortcomings, Ibanez was a very productive player on the balance of last season. And also productive the season before and the season before that. Year to year, there was no obvious decline. Looking at his wOBA graph- his wOBA dip from late 2009-early 2010 is very similar to the dip he had in mid-2008. I may be the minority, but I have been of the opinion since the Phillies signed Ibanez that he would probably justify at least 80% of his contract. The fact that he had a bad start to the season (0.295, 0.340, 0.298 wOBA) hardly seemed like a sufficient indicator that he would be worth cutting. Reducing playing time possibly, but definitely not cutting.

        To me, the whole line of thought seemed like a big overreaction and now I get to feel all justified and warm inside. Horray.

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  4. rewFer says:

    The law of averages obviously comes into play, however it would also be telling to analyze whether or not any of the players mentioned have had extended down turns from which they have recovered previously, ie are they ‘streaky’ players, or have they been consistent and this is the first decline. Any aberration to their typical ‘style’ of accumulating numbers is far more telling than the numbers themselves.

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  5. BN says:

    Ibanez being well Ibanez, long extended slumps mixed with ridiculous hot streaks over the course of a season.

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  6. Bay Slugga says:

    I think the main reason for the Phillies not releasing Raul in June was the 15 million left on his contract. If Raul starts out 2011 the same way he started 2010, the decision might be easier.

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    • NEPP says:

      I doubt they’d cut him next year if he struggles the first couple months. First, they have this year as evidence that it could just be another slump. Second, he’s a sunk cost at that point so they might as well use him as at least a 4th OF/PH in the mold of Matt Stairs in 2008/2009 or Mike Sweeney now.

      There’s nothing to gain from dumping him as its not as if they’ll have a bunch of other OFs knocking at the door next year and they’ll have a very tight payroll as it is.

      Based on his splits, he’d still be a very good option as a platoon LF at worst and I could see them going with a Ibanez/Francisco platoon in LF next year…or maybe using Francisco as a loose platoon in LF and subbing out Dom Brown in RF occasionally too.

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  7. Mike says:

    Probably anecdotal, but in an interview earlier in the season (VERY early, before the struggles had REALLY set in), Ibanez was asked how his off-season surgery had affected him. He laid out what apparently has been his routine for the last 5+yrs, an 8-week preparatory program he does prior to ST. The recovery from surgery completely negated that, as he was told to do next to nothing almost right up to ST.

    Who knows if it was unpreparedness due to the injury, age, or just Ibanez being his streaky self…but he’s squaring up balls he had no chance against earlier in the season. He literally couldn’t catch a high-80’s fastball, whereas now he’s getting around on mid-90’s stuff.

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:

      Yeah, I caught that article in the Inquirer in my travels. It was tough to work in, but Ibanez did say that he KNEW that thinking too much about his mechanics was why he hit so poorly in ST.

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  8. Larry says:

    I could be wrong, but watching Phillies games recently it seems like he changed timing. Before he would usually just stay mostly still with slight bat movement, but now hes bouncing all over the place, allowing him to be already in motion instead of taking time to start his swing.

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  9. NEPP says:

    He had no prep last winter…and it took him some time to get into game form. He’s always been super streaky so its no surprise that he’s having a great 2nd half.

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    • drk12 says:

      interesting comment. i remember two years ago, in the forum section of the article from this site announcing the deal, a common refrain from Ms fans was that all of raul’s production comes in two or three months and you never know which months they’ll be.

      i wonder how really dissimilar he is in that regard to other ball players.

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  10. DonCoburleone says:

    This is exactly why articles proclaiming someone’s “fall off a cliff” need to be few and far between. I was trying to find an article that was written here back in June, it was on Adam Dunn and his “lost” power. Dunn had 10HR’s on June 6 and somebody wrote an article saying it was time to sell Adam Dunn cuz his power had disappeared and the peripheral’s showed no signs of a rebound…. uhhhh yeah. I remember asking at the time, who’s to say that Dunn doesn’t hit 15 bombs between now and the All Star break? Well, I think he hit 13, and needless to say Dunn has alot of home runs left in that giant Donkey frame!!

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  11. really says:

    The primary takehome lesson is that Corey Seidman is really stupid.

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    • Evan says:

      Sad but true. Its ok to have a homer tilt, but its ridiculous to be a writer and have absolutely no objectivity.

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      • If either of you bothered to read my article, I’m about 99.7% sure that you would agree with the logic used and judgments made.

        Or you can just spread insults without actually knowing what your talking about. Enjoy doing so.

        Just because an extremely improbable outcome in which nobody EXCEPT the true Phillies homers foresaw took place doesn’t make the evidence and logic used at the time “wrong.”

        The “Release Raul” article wasn’t agreed with in many, many circles for no reason.

        But, as I’ve stated numerous times on Twitter, I’ve never been glad to be more wrong.

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      • And I’m not quite sure what the “objectivity” remark is even in reference to. I was the “Phillies homer” LOOKING at the evidence, analyzing it, seeing that Ibanez had been on a year-long steady decline in which he failed to catch up to all fastballs and inside pitches, continued his poor defense, and was (at the time) roadblocking Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown.

        I love and feed off constructive criticism, but I have an extremely tough time interacting with uninformed people who spew negative rhetoric for the sake of doing so.

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      • Schwam says:

        Objectivity? Did you even read the post or Cory’s for that matter? You wouldn’t know objectivity if it threw a brick in your face.

        Anyways, It’s nice to see Raul finally come through after some early season struggles. I’d just like to mention I stopped looking at Raul Ibanez’s stats in an attempt to justify his contract, I simply look at it as how I would expect a 38 year old to play pro baseball. If you wanted to base all of this on Raul’s career stats you can see that through almost every season he has played there are normally two months in a year where he is completely lost.

        2006 May/July
        2007 April/July
        2008 May/September
        2009 June(injured)/August
        2010 April/June

        I’m just hoping this trend continues and the worst is behind us.

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  12. Zach says:

    Ibanez was also forced into a pseudo-platoon with Ben Francisco right about when his numbers began to pick back up. That’s since been abandoned with Francisco platooning with Dom Brown after Vic went down, and his numbers have stayed up despite facing LHP. So I don’t know how/if that helped him out, but the timing is pretty fortuitous and he does still have pretty awful numbers against lefties.

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  13. CaR says:

    Probably the biggest bargain in baseball ever since Dave Cameron declared that ‘old-player skills’ will lead to a certain decline. I think that was about 7 years ago. And here I thought the certainty of his demise guaranteed by Cameron as part of pushing some other bit of over-reaching knowledge wasn’t to be questioned. Quite a burden to be a slugging left fielder when the Sabes come around, I don’t think that one of them escape predictions of doom, and declarations of how easy their production levels are to duplicate.

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    • Brett says:

      Ibanez a bargain? Unless the value of a win is over 10 million then no.

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      • Carligula says:

        If you read the rest of the comment (i.e. judging him on the last seven years), he has indeed been a slight bargain – he’s been paid about $42.1M and been “worth” about $66.5M. Of course that’s nowhere near the “biggest” bargain, even among post-arbitration players.

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  14. CaR says:

    There’s a bunch of players that have put up that production, for that money, over 7 years? Who would they be? $25M savings post arby on production? I doubt that the list is long. No matter, point stands, most Mariner previews written by Dave over at least a 5 year period predicted a cliff-fall first because he wasn’t really a good hitter, then he was a poor hitter for his position, then we needed to learn about old-player skills, and finally, his defense HAD to cost at least 40 runs a year. I have an idea that part of the recent push to accept the phony run and win values associated with UZR was in part to try to save some face about screwing the pooch for so long.

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    • Carligula says:

      Here’s what I’ve got so far:
      Placido Polanco, $83.1 value for $27.0 salary = $56.1M savings (over only 6 years since FA!)
      Randy Winn, $74.2 value for $37.2 salary = $37.0M savings
      Scott Rolen, $107.7 value for $74.0 salary = $33.7M savings
      Mike Cameron, $79.2 value for $48.3 salary = $30.9M savings

      I don’t know if this means your point still stands, because it’s so wrapped in conspiracy theories that I can’t find it, but mine certainly does.

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  15. JM says:

    Corey Seidman, you’re looking mighty defensive here. Tone it down a notch.

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  16. Sophist says:

    “Just because an extremely improbable outcome in which nobody EXCEPT the true Phillies homers foresaw took place doesn’t make the evidence and logic used at the time “wrong.””

    Corey, your point re Ibanez was well-argued and didn’t strike me as homerism at all. That said, this is an overstatement. But back in June Bill Baer made a perfectly reasonable counterargument (http://crashburnalley.com/2010/06/07/should-the-phillies-break-up-with-raul/).

    Over the following weeks the statistical underpinnings of Baer’s argument went unchanged (Ibanez even now has a career low BAbip on LD, though his overall BAbip is reverting to career norms; and HR/FB can change quickly with a short hot streak; Raul’s 2007 stood as a clear example of the kind of streakiness to which he’s capable).

    It wasn’t extremely improbable. It’s hard to say whether it was even more probable than not. But there was a statistical argument to be made that Ibanez would turn it around and it didn’t take a homer to notice it or make that argument.

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