Ibanez’s Bat Is Slowing Down

Raul Ibanez’s struggles through the first month of the 2010 season are well-documented. He has an OBP of .330 and a measly SLG of .350. Through May 3 last year, Ibanez had a .424 OBP and .733 SLG. From the time the soon-to-be 38-year-old returned from his groin injury in the second week of July ’09 through the end of the season, Ibanez managed just a .323 OBP and .448 SLG, indicating that his struggles predate this season.

In particular, it appears that Ibanez has struggled with the fastball. After posting a run value of 0.98 per 100 fastballs last year (carried heavily by his MVP-caliber first half), that has shrunk to negative 1.63 runs per 100 fastballs. He’s seen about 220 fastballs already, so he has been about negative 3.3 runs overall.

He has only muscled nine fastballs into the outfield, four of which have dropped in for hits: two in right-center, one in shallow center, and one down the left-field line.

By taking a look at his spray chart from the start of last year until his injury, we can see where a healthy and effective Ibanez typically hits the baseball.

The left-handed Ibanez mostly peppered left-center. That indicates that he was seeing the ball well and squaring it up properly and not swinging as a preemptive tactic against the fastball. Additionally, since he is not swinging preemptively and the fastball is traveling deeper in the strike zone, it indicates that Ibanez has enough bat speed to catch up to the fastball.

The following image shows his batted balls from the time he returned last year through yesterday.

He’s all over the place. More of his batted balls went from left-center towards the left field line. That indicates a slower bat. It also appears that he started pulling more balls down the right field line, perhaps a sign that he is swinging earlier to make up for a lack of bat speed.

It is not indicated on the graph, but the post-injury Ibanez has hit more than four percent more foul balls on fastballs than pre-injury Ibanez, 18.2% to 13.9%.

All of this could also be just one long cold streak. As David Cohen wrote at The Good Phight last year:

In the 36 games ending July 28, 2007, while Ibanez was playing for the Mariners, he hit .178/.228/.296 for a .524 OPS.  And yet, by the end of that year, he was on fire once again — hitting .366/.432/.655 for a 1.087 OPS with 11 home runs and 30 RBI — for the 36 games ending September 9.

He did this in Kansas City as well.  For the 36 games ending May 15, 2002, Ibanez was atrocious — .193/.224/.330 for a .554 OPS.  He hit 1 home run and had only 14 RBI.  This cold streak was sandwiched by two of Ibanez’s hottest streaks in his career, which I discussed earlier this year — his 36 games ending August 11, 2001 (.358/.475/.663 for a 1.138 OPS) and his 36 games ending July 19, 2002 (.364/.422/.803(!!) for a 1.225 OPS).

Whether it’s due to a random streak, mechanical problems, injury, or simply age, it is evident that Ibanez is having a lot of problems catching up to fastballs. While the Phillies have the National League’s second-best offense, if Ibanez can master the fastball again, the team would be less likely to go on cold streaks as they did April 17-27 when they averaged a meager three runs per game.

Thanks to Texas Leaguers for the great Pitch F/X spray charts.

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8 comments

  1. David

    May 04, 2010 09:28 AM

    His bat does indeed look slow. I wonder how long a leash Charlie gives him before considering a platoon with Francisco. I imagine it’s a thin line between age and “streakiness” at this point.

    Bill,

    Can I assume you didn’t agree with Charlie putting in Figueroa in that situation last night? I couldn’t have envisioned a worse situation for Nelson than that particular spot in the game.

    Can we lure Chad Bradford out of retirement? Or hell, I’d settle for Antonio Alfonseca at this point.

  2. Bill Baer

    May 04, 2010 09:49 AM

    The only pitcher I would have preferred over Figueroa at that point is Jose Contreras. So, inasmuch as Contreras wasn’t used, I disagree with the use of Figueroa.

  3. Kyle A.

    May 04, 2010 10:59 AM

    I count 5 hits in the first spray chart Bill, still you are right. He has definitely lost some bat speed. If you look at tapes from last years start compared with his post injury play and this season, his trigger and load are slightly different. Also, he could simply have lost strength in his core and cant rotate through the zone like before. Hitting is almost entirely core and legs. Hit the gym Raul

  4. Bill Pfeffer

    May 05, 2010 04:03 PM

    Can we trade ibanez instead of werth?

  5. Bill Baer

    May 05, 2010 08:47 PM

    Know anyone that wants a declining 38-year-old that can’t hit fastballs, can’t play defense, and is owed a lot of money both this year and next?

  6. pounded clown

    May 06, 2010 10:39 PM

    ”Know anyone that wants a declining 38-year-old that can’t hit fastballs, can’t play defense, and is owed a lot of money both this year and next?”

    I do ….

    He’s certainly better than Eric ”lord of the infield flies” Byrnes at least with the stick and with the clubhouse pipebombardier Bradley oscillating between Defcon 1 and Defcon 2 could the Marniers, darlings of the off-season FA signings, do any worse. I mean on a team that has hit all of 9 HRs so far this season who’s gonna notice something like decreasing bat speed when they are too busy wiping their mouths from the excessive drooling caused by a mere line drive which is for that club is like an exotic delicacy.

  7. Jamie

    May 07, 2010 07:53 AM

    for the past 15 games he has a .957 OPS

    goo.gl/ciaK

    and he hit that high fastball into the upper deck of right field yesterday afternoon. that fastball was roughly at his neck.

    i wouldn’t go as far as saying his swing is slowing down other than that he was just slumping.

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