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Raul Ibanez: Is Yankees' Interest A Good Thing?

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Disclaimer/Update: I originally had this scheduled for tomorrow morning, but with the Yankees close to signing Ibanez, I thought it would be more relevant to post it now.

Buster Olney recently reported that the Yankees will add a left-handed bat within the next week, and those connected include familiar names such as Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. However, the Yankees are also interested in Raul Ibanez, a left-handed hitter coming off a down 2011 season.

Ibanez is a New York native, will be entering his age-40 season, and just had his first below average season since 2000 when he posted a 64 OPS+ as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Prior to last season, he rattled off ten consecutive seasons of at least a 104 OPS+ and averaged a .287/.351/.484 triple slash, with a 118 OPS+ over those ten years.

Despite his continued success, Ibanez seemingly struggled in 2011, posting a 91 OPS+ while watching his OPS nearly drop off a cliff.

However, none of this really matters at this point. This was just to give you an idea of who Ibanez is and has been throughout his career. There's only one thing we want to know at this point given the Yankees' team needs.

What's his production like against right-handed pitching?

With the lineup nearly set, the only current opening is the DH slot against right-handed pitching. Ideally, this would go to a player that can not only hit righties well, but also play shortstop and third base in order to allow Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to get rest throughout the season. However, players that can hit righties while also providing defensive value on the left side of the infield are very valuable commodities, and to find one on the cheap is practically impossible.

Since that's the case, the Yankees are left with the above mentioned options. And since we already have a good idea of what Damon and Matsui are all about, I figured it would be a good idea to look into the Yankees' third remaining option, Raul Ibanez.

Raul Ibanez vs. Right-Handed Pitching Since 2002
Season BB% K% BB/K OBP ISO BABIP wOBA wRC+
2002 9.10% 11.50% 0.79 0.363 0.282 0.291 0.396 139
2003 8.60% 10.50% 0.81 0.370 0.165 0.331 0.363 117
2004 7.10% 10.70% 0.67 0.358 0.179 0.317 0.359 120
2005 10.90% 12.50% 0.87 0.359 0.160 0.302 0.347 116
2006 9.90% 14.60% 0.68 0.375 0.272 0.312 0.392 141
2007 9.70% 14.80% 0.65 0.371 0.223 0.323 0.382 136
2008 9.40% 14.20% 0.67 0.353 0.183 0.309 0.351 117
2009 10.10% 19.60% 0.51 0.342 0.250 0.287 0.362 119
2010 12.80% 14.40% 0.89 0.366 0.178 0.301 0.352 116
2011 6.90% 15.60% 0.44 0.307 0.184 0.270 0.322 101

Statistics from fangraphs.com

As you can see, Ibanez has fared very well against righties throughout his career. Leading up to 2011, Ibanez had six straight seasons of at least a 9.4% walk rate, his K% had remained very consistent, his BABIP had remained remarkably consistent, and his wRC+ had been well above average.

However, if you noticed, I highlighted two factors I think contributed to a down year for Ibanez in 2011. First, his walk rate plummeted to just under 7%, and his BABIP dipped to just .270, both representing significant decreases from career norms.

I won't pretend to be a stats expert, and I never will, but I will attempt to figure this out. At first, I thought Ibanez may have been less patient, swinging at balls outside of the strike zone (possibly explaining the lower BB%), which would lead to weaker contact through swinging at bad pitches, and thus, a lower BABIP. However, if he was making weaker contact, shouldn't his ISO (isolated slugging) also have seen a decrease?

Because I'm not a scout and I didn't watch Ibanez play often enough throughout his career, I can't give any definitive answers. This case is a bit curious to me, but who knows. Maybe some of it can be explained by age, but then again, his ISO should also reflect that - but it doesn't. Despite being in his upper 30s, his ISO has stayed very consistent, outside of what is seemingly an outlier in 2009. His ISO rates in 2008, 2010, and 2011 were nearly identical.

With a return to the American League, a home park in Yankee Stadium that was very hitter friendly in 2011, and notoriously friendly to left handed hitters, maybe Ibanez has a comeback season in him.

It doesn't seem impossible. The only two things that concerned me about his 2011 season were his BB% and his BABIP. A return to a ~9 BB% doesn't seem out of the question in the least bit, and since BABIP is notoriously fickle, it could easily bounce back to his career norms since it has mainly hovered in the .290-.310 range.

Additionally, with his power remaining consistent into his upper 30s, his raw numbers could even see an increase due to playing in Yankee Stadium rather than Citizens Bank Park, which was neutral with respect to runs and slightly favored pitchers with respect to home runs.

I know adding a poor defender isn't ideal, but Ibanez seems like a good candidate to give the Yankees above average production against right handed pitching out of the DH slot while combining with Andruw Jones to form a potent DH platoon.