The Ultimate Headscratcher

When Jayson Stark broke the story that the Phillies and Raul Ibanez were in hot pursuit of each other, I immediately e-mailed him to see if this was a half-hearted rumor or something serious. Of course, his reply implied that Ibanez to the Phillies was much more of a reality than a rumor. And, as many of us saw today, Ibanez officially inked a 3-yr/$30 mil deal to become the everyday left-fielder of the defending World Series champions. Signing Ibanez officially ends the Pat Burrell chapter in Phillies lore.

I presented Stark with my opinions on the deal, with which he agreed, and then asked him why their front office truly felt Ibanez would be the best bet. His answer, at which we both had a hearty web-chuckle, was that Ruben Amaro, Jr, wants to get better defensively at the position. For those unaware, Pat Burrell has been one of the worst left-fielders in baseball over the last three years.

UZR data has him costing the team -38.2 runs on defense from 2006-2008, the third lowest total for any left-fielder. Manny Ramirez is worst, at -42.6. Guess who comes in second place, slightly worse than Burrell and just a smidgeon better than Ramirez? That’s right, folks: Raul Ibanez.

The Phillies just replaced the third worst left-fielder over the last three seasons with the second worst. That could potentially be okay, though, if Ibanez could at least equal Burrell’s offensive productivity. I mean, they won with Burrell, and if Raul could provide similar offense, he would likely be had for a lesser fee, right? Well, let’s see. Ibanez signed for 3 yrs/$30 mil, an average annual value of $10 mil. Burrell, at most, would have cost the team $16 mil in arbitration for this year, or something like 3-yrs/$45 mil.

Therefore, if Ibanez could equal Burrell’s offense, and equal his putrid defense, then the Phillies would get the same player for $5 mil less. Unfortunately, the offense of Ibanez is not going to be equal to Burrell’s. Burrell is projected to be about +19 runs on offense. Marcel doesn’t like Ibanez, putting him at just +6 runs on offense, but I would tend to think that +11 is a more appropriate figure.

Therefore, we are talking about two players equally bad on defense who would get the same adjustments for position and value above replacement, not average, and one who is almost one full win less valuable on offense. Well, there goes that theory. Ibanez is projected to be worth 1 WAR next season, Burrell at 1.7. Neither is an elite player and both will be overpaid relative to their actual contribution, but if the goal truly involved improving defensively, then this is an absolutely horrendous move. I mean, if the goal is to improve defensively, then going out and signing one of the only two players worse than your lame duck left-fielder really does not help you reach that goal.

Add in that Ibanez is five years older than Burrell and this just makes no sense. Assuming Raul loses 0.25 wins each year, he would be a 0.5 WAR player by the time this contract ends, commanding something like $3-4 mil at fair market value and earning over double that figure. If Burrell were to lose the same 0.25 wins, he would go from 1.70 to 1.45 to 1.20, a total of 4.35 compred to Raul’s 2.25.

The other issue many in the Phillies blogosphere bring up is the fact that Ibanez is a Type A free agent, meaning the Mariners will receive the team’s first round draft pick this year. And even another issue is that he is a left-handed hitter, meaning that the only realistic right-handed threat is Jayson Werth.

Something important to keep in mind here is that there is a big difference between disliking a deal and disliking a player. As a devout Phillies fan, it isn’t as if I’m going to turn the television off whenever Raul bats, or constantly rail on his abilities. I’m going to root for him and hope he pulls through. I like him as a player and a person, but I dislike the move Amaro made in bringing him here, especially if the goal is to improve defense at the position. I think we are well past the stage when statistical analysis is not implemented in each and every front office, and I just cannot fathom the idea that nobody in the Phillies FO understood that Raul cannot field. Or, that they did know, publicly stated the goal of improving defensively, and STILL went out and signed him.

And before I wrap this up, let me just say that I HATE when people try to justify moves by saying a player is “a good clubhouse guy.” Who cares? To me, this is the hitting equivalent of calling a pitcher an “innings eater.” These are inane characteristics that are only used to describe players whose production does not speak for itself. I don’t care if Raul Ibanez can console Eric Bruntlett after a bad game, if he loves to discuss Jim Varney movies with Jamie Moyer, or can teach Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs the intricacies of Stratego. I care about wins, and as a fan and analyst, this move is not going to add wins to the team relative to the other alternatives.

If Amaro wanted to add a solid bat to man left-field not named Pat Burrell, why not sign Adam Dunn? In that case, he wouldn’t lose a draft pick and Dunn likely isn’t going to cost that much more than Ibanez. And even if he did, he’s 29 years old! All told, they got a nice player, but one that will serve as a downgrade from the alternatives. I hope this isn’t the sign of things to come in the Amaro era. Regardless, Phillies fans like myself will root on Ibanez in every way possible, but this deal is unequivocally poor.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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