I Remember This Guy

Friend of the blog (and currently On Notice) Bill Conlin has written a column lauding the Raul Ibanez signing for reasons that defy logic. It’s been a while since I FJM’ed an article, so let’s jump right in.

Ibanez may fit perfectly in leftfield

The classy veteran was introduced at the Bank yesterday.

Classy may make you feel warm and tingly inside as a journalist, but it doesn’t bring your defensive +/- from nearly -20 to even, and nor does it raise your OBP twenty points. From all reports, Ibanez is a great guy but I’d rather have Terrell Owens if he’s a better bet to help my team win ballgames. Or a similarly productive player who is younger, comparably priced, and doesn’t cost a first round draft pick (*cough*adamdunn*cough*).

This weather has been awful. My throat is all scratchy.

Both Park and Ibanez will celebrate birthdays early next season. By the All-Star break, the average age of Ponce de Ruben’s first three major league transactions will be 40.

That is what is known as “cagey veteranosity.” A favorite of former Phillies GM Ed Wade’s. Maybe the concerns were spot-on after all: Amaro is much more Wade than Pat Gillick.

Amaro warmed up for Operation Longtooth by swapping lukewarm catching prospect Jason Jaramillo for out-of-favor Pirates receiver Ronny Paulino, 27. The Phillies are playing the change-of-scenery card big time

I wouldn’t really call the swapping of two mediocre catchers a “big time change-of-scenery.” This free agent class is star-studded — Manny Ramirez, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira to name a few — and Jake Peavy’s name has been routinely bandied about in trade rumors. But, yeah, Ronny Paulino and Jason Jaramillo are up there.

What was Amaro thinking, many have asked, adding another lefthanded, middle-of-the-order hitter to a lineup where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are already entrenched? Add Ibanez to the engine room and lefthanded hitters will be lined up like shooting-gallery ducks waiting for the league’s managers to mow them down with a parade of lefthanders.

Woe is us . . .

The reason why the handedness really matters is because Charlie Manuel has shown limited dedication to changing his lineup around to maximize production. I will be pleasantly surprised if Manuel’s righty/lefty lineups look like this:

vs. RHP

Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Werth, Feliz, Ruiz

vs. LHP

Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Howard, Werth, Ibanez, Feliz, Ruiz

There are variations that would yield similar results, but I think these would be the most effective lineups. I’d bet money that Manuel’s LHP lineup is Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Ibanez, Werth or at least some combination where he has the three lefties 3-4-5.

It just begs for teams to abuse the left-handers in their bullpens.

It’s true that both Chase Utley and Ibanez hit lefties much better than most left-handed hitters do, but it’s not just about individual production. Their handedness will mean that Ryan Howard will also be facing southpaws. Howard’s the #4 hitter, so presumably he will be up in a lot of situations where he needs to drive in runners. Ensuring that he will be facing a left-hander late in the game will minimize the probability of him driving in those runners.

Never mind that righty-swinging Pat Burrell averaged 141 strikeouts during his nine seasons here and never struck out fewer than 120 times. Is that the kind of consistency you’re happy to have?

Pat Burrell and the word “inconsistent” are mutually exclusive. From 2004-08, his OBP ranged from .365 to .400 and his SLG .455 to .507, including .502 to .507 the last four seasons, all above-average numbers.

Raul Ibanez has averaged 103 strikeouts over the past three seasons. He’s not that much more contact-prone than Burrell.

In seven seasons as a regular player, the late-blooming Ibanez has averaged 93 strikeouts.

Conlin went back four more seasons than I did. Is Ibanez the same hitter he was in 2002 with the Kansas City Royals? I doubt it. As Ibanez has gotten older, he’s developed more power, and — surprise, surprise — he has increased his swing-and-miss percentage as well.

His ISO his first four seasons as a regular (2002-05): .243, .160, .168, .156.

  • Average strikeouts per 500 AB in this span: 74.5.

His ISO his past three seasons as a regular (2006-08): .227, .188, .186

  • Average strikeouts per 500 AB in this span: 87.8.

His .305 average against lefties last season appears to be a statistical anomaly and should be discounted.

I wouldn’t exactly call it an anomaly. He had an .865 OPS against lefties last season, by far the highest of his career, but he also OPS’ed .780 and .769 in 2004 and ’05. For his career, he has a .733 OPS against ’em.

Unsurprisingly, his OPS against lefties is highly correlated with his BABIP against lefties: there’s a .44 R-squared, using his 2002-08 numbers (there’s a bit of double-counting involved that can’t be avoided, so it’s probably a bit lower). Despite its reputation, Citizens Bank Park’s outfield walls are at about normal depth in all areas (if the measurements are accurate), so Ibanez will have an average amount of area for his hits to drop in, as opposed to the spacious outfield of Safeco. So, you might see a lower-than-usual BABIP across the board from Ibanez because he’s moving to a smaller ballpark.

The best news? He has faced Mets ace Johan Santana 34 times and has a .353 average.

That’s awesome. So, he’s going to have 550 at-bats against Johan Santana?

Manuel will be juggling his lineups at a time when the National League is a little short of quality lefthanders. Santana has been something less than advertised – very good, but not exceptional

Johan Santana had only one season in his career from 2002-07 where he posted a higher ERA+ than he did in ’08 for the Mets. In ’04, he posted a 182 ERA+, 16 points higher than the 166 ERA+ he had last season.

It’s true that Santana’s K/9 is at its lowest point since he became a regular starting pitcher and his BB/9 is the highest since 2003, but that’s like criticizing Michael Jordan because he only scored 40 points in a game.

Only four of the 24 winningest pitchers in the National League last season were lefthanders.

Let’s use a better metric than wins and losses, but something Mr. Conlin will understand.

Top-two leaders in ERA, MLB: Johan Santana, Cliff Lee. 100% left-handed.

Top four: Santana, Lee, Lincecum, Sabathia. 75% left-handed.

To extend it to 24 pitchers is to bias the sample size because there are more right-handers than left-handers.

Does Wolfie scare you?

No, but Johan Santana does, regardless of Raul Ibanez’s presence.

Ryan Howard hit more home runs off lefthanded pitchers last year (14) than did any righthanded hitter but teammate Jayson Werth, who blasted 16. MVP Albert Pujols hit 11. Sleep easy.

Ryan Howard had 237 at-bats against left-handers. Pujols had 158. Howard’s HR rate against lefties is one HR per 17 at-bats; Pujols’ is one per 14.

And despite all those home runs, Howard still put up an OPS 220 points lower against lefties than against righties.

Chase Utley batted .277 against lefthanders last season, despite the hip injury that restricted his swing. And guess who was No. 3 behind Howard in homers off lefthanders? You’d be right if you said Utley, with 13 bombs.

Chase can hit lefties well; Howard used to be able to; Ibanez treads water. And it’s true that this trio of lefties worries you less against LHP than other lefty threesomes, but why would you intentionally increase the probability that lefty specialists are brought in? Do you honestly prefer that the trio face LHP than RHP?

Think of all the righthanded pitchers who will have to face a lefthanded gantlet when Utley is back in a lineup that will include switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, Utley, Howard and Ibanez.

But the question is who would have been better to keep between Burrell or Ibanez. Considering that it cost three years, $30 million, and a first-round draft pick for Ibanez, and it may have cost one year, $16 million in arbitration if Burrell accepts and a first-round pick if he doesn’t… and then consider that they’re about the same in terms of production (just over two wins above replacement), it makes no sense to sign Ibanez and, in hindsight, it made no sense to not offer Burrell arbitration.

Manuel will have some flexibility. You could see a lineup

Call me ignorant, but I have no confidence in Manuel’s lineup creation abilities. Last season, it made too much sense to break up Utley and Howard in the order, but he didn’t do that. Utley was in the #3 spot for 128 games (31 games in the #2 spot) and Howard was in the #4 spot for 154 games.

The Phillies just got through paying $14 million a year for a guy who hit .257, struck out a ton, clogged the bases, hasn’t driven in 100 runs since 2005, has never scored 100 runs, and is a seven-inning player.

Conlin is actually questioning Burrell’s offensive value! Burrell’s career OPS+ is 119 and it’s ranged from 122 to 128 from 2005-08.

Raul Ibanez has a career OPS+ of 113. The last four seasons, it’s ranged from 115 to 125.

And what makes anyone think that Ibanez won’t be “a seven-inning player” as well? He’s equally as bad defensively, is older, and is playing for a manager who has a defensive substitution fetish.

I leave you with this small thought to tuck away for a snowy day. What if it’s coming up on the reporting date for pitchers and catchers and Pat Burrell still has no offer in his years and numbers ballpark?

Any port in storm, right?

Yes, one of the best right-handed hitters available will be jobless in February. The economy may be bad, and unemployment may be hitting record levels, but not in baseball. Burrell may not get an average annual value on his contract greater than what he was likely to have been awarded in arbitration, but he will be offered a contract sooner rather than later. You don’t pass up a 119 OPS+ especially if you can DH him.

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