If the Yankees’ stable of position players was missing one thing, it was a left-handed power bat to come off the bench. Today, the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal, ostensibly to fill that hole. Ibanez, however, has rapidly felt the effects of aging of late. Can he provide enough of a punch off the bench to help the Yankees in 2012?
Even as Ibanez declined in 2010, his ability to hit right-handed pitching remained, as he posted a .352 wOBA (116 wRC+) in 445 plate appearances. That wasn’t the case in 2011 as his slide continued. Ibanez hit just .245/.289/.413 overall and his performance against righties dropped to a .322 wOBA (101 wRC+). It was the first time since we have recorded splits (back to 2002) that Ibanez posted a sub-115 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.
Still, Ibanez showed he can still take righties deep. Sixteen of his 20 home runs came off of right-handed pitching and he finished with a very solid .440 slugging percentage. The downside was a poor 68 strikeouts against just 30 walks, leading to a tepid .301 on-base percentage in the split.
All of this is probably fine for the Yankees, who only need Ibanez as a left-handed platoon partner for Andruw Jones in the DH slot. If Ibanez ever takes the field it will probably be for emergency purposes only; beyond his horrible -19 UZR last season, his defensive struggles are well documented.
If there ever was a place for Ibanez’s power to be leveraged, it’s the new Yankee Stadium. Philadelphia has never hurt a hitter, and as a lefty Ibanez probably got a touch of help from it in 2011. According to the 2012 Bill James Handbook, Citizen’s Bank Park increased left-handed home runs by nine percent over the past three seasons. That’s all fine and good, but Yankee Stadium is only the best park for power-hitting left-handed batters: the three-year park factor provided by James’s handbook is the highest in the league at an absurd 143 — increasing home runs by 43%. Even in limited action, a repeat of 20 home runs could be possible for the 39-year-old.
Ibanez is not an ideal player by any means, but as long as the Yankees understand his weaknesses and strengths, he should serve as a fine left-handed specialty bat off the bench. And looking at the rest of New York’s stable of position players, that’s about all they need out of him.