The Cost of Loyalty

The graph below takes Raul Ibanez and John Mayberry, Jr.’s performances in favorable (vs. opposite-handed pitching) and unfavorable (vs. same-handed pitching) platoon scenarios and compares them to an average NL batter in those same splits.


Notes: wXB/H is “Weighted Extra Bases per Hit,” a contact skill-neutral measure of power that I Frankenstein’d together here. Strikeout rate is inverted, so that lower strikeout rates are higher above league average.

As you would expect, Mayberry bests Ibanez in every category except for walk rate versus opposite-handed pitchers. His overall output, plate discipline, and power are all superior to those of Ibanez. The best thing that can be said for Raul Ibanez is that he has streaks of passable to good performance. When you stop creating generous endpoints for him, he is just a corner outfielder with poor defense who is hitting 10% below league average at the moment by wRC+. On many other teams he would be a bench bat — and blessed to hold on even to that role. Front offices less prone to considerations of loyalty and character, on teams whose fates were less assured, would have looked elsewhere for production weeks ago.

Still, we’re a few days away from the official submission of playoff rosters, and I can say with reasonable certainty that Charlie Manuel will start Raul Ibanez in left field for every playoff game. Granted, it’s more complicated than the above graph makes it seem. Ibanez has nearly twice as many plate appearances as Mayberry, and it will be a while before we can be certain that Mayberry’s improvements are the real deal. It’s also questionable how much their skill differential will really matter in the playoff rat race, where a good four or five plate appearances can turn an entire series.

But suppose the Phillies are knocked out shy of their ultimate goal. While we’re sitting around building narratives after the fact, as FuquaManuel detailed, will we at least consider this, a decision predicated entirely on non-baseball factors that objectively lowers the team’s offensive potential? Or will we brush it aside, credit Charlie Manuel again for being the “player’s manager,” and turn our attention to some other scapegoat?

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31 comments

  1. Max

    September 27, 2011 03:35 PM

    Wouldn’t it be better to compare vs. left and vs. right instead, since the decision that has to be made is who to play against a specific-handed pitcher? As it is, you’re saying that Mayberry is worse against his favorable matchup and better against his unfavorable matchup at BB% that Ibanez, which is meaningless if you’re picking against the pitcher right now. On the other hand, it looks like Mayberry has a higher BB% against both right- AND left-handers, as well as everything else, than Ibanez…

  2. Ryan Sommers

    September 27, 2011 03:38 PM

    That’s true, but my angle was sort of that there was no decision to be made. Mayberry is better against RHPs than Ibanez is anyway, so I just picked this as a simple way of sorting the data. You’re probably right though.

  3. Greg

    September 27, 2011 04:23 PM

    Are we sure that Manuel won’t platoon them in the playoffs? Wasn’t he doing that before moving Mayberry to 1st to let Ryan rest his foot? Also, I think someone asked Charlie about whether he would continue to platoon them and he answered something along the lines of “Mayberry has earned the right to start” or something.

  4. Ryan Sommers

    September 27, 2011 04:33 PM

    I’ve seen various hints at it but I’m not convinced. I would love to be wrong though.

  5. Brian

    September 27, 2011 04:45 PM

    They have to be willing to pinch hit late in the games against a LOOGY and leave in for defense. Last night was a perfect example where Mayberry just pinch-hit with the lead, he should have been left in the game in LF and would have caught that ball Ibañez dropped. We just got lucky and he got that second hit against a lefty, which is very improbable.

  6. jauer

    September 27, 2011 05:38 PM

    given how manuel routinely removed pat burrell in innings 5-7 when they had a lead in 2008 for defensive purposes (this often led to eric bruntlett batting in the 5-hole in a close/late situation after the pen blew the lead), its mind-bending that he doesnt use ANY defensive replacement for ibanez. at all. brian just pointed this out, but last night was a perfect example. domonic brown would have caught that ball with his eyes closed, and ibanez flailed at it.

  7. Richard

    September 27, 2011 07:06 PM

    What makes you think “loyalty” has anything to do with Manuel’s use of Ibanez? The fact is, his judicious semi-platooning of Ibanez with Mayberry has been good for both players. You can deride the creation of “generous endpoints” for him all you, but the fact is Ibanez has contributed to this team, and his hot-cold oscillations are fairly regular.

    “decision predicated entirely on non-baseball factors that objectively lowers the team’s offensive potential”

    There’s no reason to assume “non-baseball factors” (e.g., “loyalty”) are factors at all. What’s more likely is you just disagree with Charlie’s baseball factors. But even your chart shows that Ibanez has been pretty good, slugging/xbh-wise. It’s undeniable that Mayberry’s overall numbers are better. I think we have every reason to believe we’ll see Mayberry starting some games in the playoffs.

  8. Phillie697

    September 28, 2011 12:16 AM

    Power doesn’t mean jack when you can’t make enough contact… That’s what I don’t like about the new wXB/H stat Ryan. For the sabermetrically-savvy crowd it gives us another very useful component to evaluate a player. To the less-than-savvy? They start quoting it as if it is just as important as all the other stats, as Richard abundantly demonstrated…

  9. Richard

    September 28, 2011 05:16 AM

    So you’re calling me “less-than-savvy”? For citing, effectively, slugging percentage? No doubt you’re a long-time reader and therefore have kept track of all my previous comments. Since I’m sure that’s not true, you know where you can put your comment, Phillies697.

    In any event, contact is not Raul’s main problem. It’s his walk rate (as Ryan’s chart also makes abundantly clear). My main point was not to defend Raul, but to say that there’s no reason to believe “loyalty” is Charlie’s driving factor. He has baseball reasons for playing him, and he’s not simply objectively stupid for doing so. There’s also no reason to believe he’ll suddenly stop playing Mayberry.

  10. hk

    September 28, 2011 06:39 AM

    While Mayberry has been better than Ibanez vs. both RHP’s and LHP’s this year, I would not think that it was solely out of loyalty if Charlie decided to start Raul vs. RHP’s. If he lets Raul face LOOGY’s in key situations, starts Raul vs. LHP’s and/or leaves Raul in LF late in games the Phillies are winning, then Charlie will have some explaining to do.

  11. TMC

    September 28, 2011 06:44 AM

    Jauer,

    I’m not off the Brown bandwagon, and I’m not one of those people who think he’s a lazy, malcontent bust or anything, but what evidence do we have that he would have caught that ball “with his eyes closed? ” Sure, he’s far more athletic than Ibanez, but the most generous description of Brown’s fielding one can find out there is “work in progress.”

    It’s a minor point, so I hope this doesn’t seem like an attack or anything; I just don’t think Brown is the right example there.

  12. Richard

    September 28, 2011 07:48 AM

    hk, while I will be surprised if Ibanez starts against any lefties, I will be equally surprised if he is either pinch hit for against a LOOGY, or lifted for defensive purposes, though both practices would seem to be in order. Charlie has shown that he will start Mayberry, but I can’t recall him, even once, pinch-hitting for Ibanez, and last night is the first time I can recall him appearing to switch out Ibanez for defensive purposes (though perhaps it marks a beginning, given that just the night before Ibanez had muffed that very catchable ball).

  13. Ryan Sommers

    September 28, 2011 08:32 AM

    Power doesn’t mean jack when you can’t make enough contact… That’s what I don’t like about the new wXB/H stat Ryan.

    This is absolutely right, the guy with the higher ISO is always more valuable. I just included that for fun. I’ll probably stop using it.

  14. hk

    September 28, 2011 08:36 AM

    Richard,

    I don’t disagree. However, while a case can be made that starting Raul vs. RHP’s is rooted in the maanger’s expectations and not just loyalty, letting him face tough LOOGY’s, start vs. LHP’s and play defense late in games when the Phillies are winning would be rooted in loyalty or stupidity.

  15. jauer

    September 28, 2011 09:02 AM

    Okay, then choose any outfielder on the bench. Brown probably would have caught the ball; same with Mayberry (had he been left in the game for defense), Francisco, Martinez, etc.

  16. KH

    September 28, 2011 09:39 AM

    Raul Ibanez is awful. The guy does nothing well at this point in his career. He is a terrible fielder, a bad,slow baserunner, and an awful hitter. People love to look at those 20 HR and 80 RB though. Too bad the best thing you can do on offense is not make outs and Ibanez has something like a .290 on base percetange! I believe he has a negative WAR as well. The guy is not good and there is a decent chance that almost any outfielder the Phillies could put out there instead of him would produce better all around. At least we got the best year of his career in 2009 though which barely saves his signing for three years at 10 mil per year from the awful territory. I know it sounds like I am piling on Raul here but this is a sabermetrics blog and Raul has been really bad this year anyway you slice it. Can anyone say sub replacement level?

  17. LTG

    September 28, 2011 09:58 AM

    I think a reasonable response to Richard would have been to point to these 2 things:
    1) wXB/H is not the same as SLG since the denominators are different. The former answers the question how many bases do you contribute when you reach base via a hit; the latter answers the question how many bases do you contribute when you make contact (i.e., when not walked, etc.).
    2) Assuming Charlie has the information we have about the comparative production of the two players, then it cannot be “baseball factors” that lead Charlie to play Ibanez over Mayberry but something else. Even the streaky card doesn’t really justify what Charlie has done in the past; and, of course, the pattern predicts a terrible October, like last year’s.

    And didn’t Ibanez slip on the turf when he muffed that play? Do we think he is especially susceptible to slipping and that it could not have happened to Mayberry, Brown, et al.? He is a defensive liability but that play might not be the best example. In fact, the best examples are going to be balls that he could not have made a play on (and looked like routine hits) that others could have made a play on in the air.

  18. LTG

    September 28, 2011 10:04 AM

    Also, I’m not sure about the claim that contact is not Ibanez’s problem. His inverted K-rate is below league average. That looks like a lack of contact to me. (And this would actually make his wXB/H look better because he has fewer seeing-eye singles or bloops into LF.)

  19. Dan D

    September 28, 2011 10:25 AM

    To be fair to Manuel, I don’t think that loyalty is necessarily a non-baseball factor. True, it defies quantification, but is it at least plausible that loyalty has a positive impact on player performance? And not just on the player in question, but on other players on the team as well?

    What I posit is that other players on the team see the way Manuel treats Ibanez (that is to say, with respect) and say to themselves (perhaps unconsciously) “this is a manager that is going to stick with me, even through prolonged slumps,” which are definitely a reality in baseball. Players do go through slumps as well all know very well. The only way to effectively get out of them is to work out of them.

    We, who highly value statistical analysis, chalk it up to variance, but I believe it’s possible the negative effects of a player’s slump may be mitigated by the added confidence of knowing that your manager is going to stick with you.

    We don’t like to talk about it in sabermetrically-inclined forums, but psychology is a very large and mostly unquantifiable part of this game. With all due respect, I believe that is something Charlie Manuel knows a great deal about, and all of us probably know very little about (myself most definitely included).

  20. Richard

    September 28, 2011 11:05 AM

    LTG, I know full well that wXB/H is not the same as slugging. Frankly, I wish I hadn’t mentioned it, but only did so because it appeared in Ryan’s chart. The fact remains that Ibanez’s slugging has been acceptable this year (is it ok to say that he’s 5th on the team in ISO? granted, Mayberry is first, and he’s the alternative in this case); his on-base skills have been abysmal. Overall, that comes to below average (but above replacement!) on offense. As for his streaks, if you read the Good Phight regularly, then you are no doubt familiar with Joecatz’s amusing analysis that shows the fairly reliable ups and downs based on games and ABs, which actually point to a hot October. There’s your full-proof science! (And as for his contact rates, I was basing my remarks on his K%, which is 18.3%, somewhat higher than last year, lower than 2009. I admit I didn’t dig deeper.)

    His defense is obviously bad, so on balance that comes out to below replacement (or, generously, replacement), for the year (though I am skeptical at his extreme UZR score; something seems fishy about UZR scores for CBP leftfielders, just as they do for Fenway leftfielders).

    Anyway, I would mostly play Mayberry, too, but I tend to believe that being rested more (or benched, whichever) has enhanced Ibanez’s short-term usefulness. I still say it wouldn’t be a simple matter of stubbor loyalty leading him to play Ibanez, but day-to-day assessments on who is the guy he wants that game.

  21. Ryan Sommers

    September 28, 2011 11:44 AM

    @Dan D

    I’ve said before that there are definitely positive elements to Charlie Manuel being the player-first, loyal sort of manager. They all love him, and there is no drama in the clubhouse, and that’s a great thing, and he deserves credit for that. I gripe about it when it has a detrimental effect on the way the Phillies use their resources though.

  22. JesseH

    September 28, 2011 12:08 PM

    Typical Sabermetrics drivel. RBIs left completely out of the conversation. I know… they’re meaningless, right? I heard that argument about our friend Jayson Werth last year too. Even without the RBIs, I fail to see how you make the case that Mayberry should be playing every day regardless of the opposing pitcher. Nonetheless, what about the other SABR mantra of “small sample size”? You are putting a career minor leaguer on a pedestal based on what amounts to about a 1/2 season of decent production. If you know anything about baseball and watch the Phillies everyday, you can see that Mayberry is not swinging as well lately as he was over the summer. Raul has been driving in runs consistently for over a decade. Even this year, he has 20 HRs and 84 RBIs in somewhat limited playing time. And when he gets hot, he can carry a team (not just adequate). His defense is far from great, but it has been highly over-criticized this year. He has had a solid year defensively, and has made less errors than Mayberry in more playing time. Doesn’t have a strong arm, but is usually accurate and as a smart player he knows what base to go to. Would never let a ball go right between his legs like Mayberry did a couple weeks ago. In the playoffs, there is more pressure and mistakes like that are magnified.

    In any case, judging from the comments here, I will be in for a shellacking for even mentioning traditional stats and common sense, and I suppose I won’t be invited to sit with you guys at your private screenings of Moneyball where you burn sacrifices to Billy Beane and Bill James. By the way, I suppose you’re concerned the A’s will knock us out of the World Series this year since they believe in WAR, UZR, wXB/H, and UFOs?

  23. JesseH

    September 28, 2011 12:13 PM

    The other ironic thing is that your heading “The Cost of Loyalty” is proudly displayed just under a picture of the Phillies celebrating a World Series victory (under Manuel). For shame that their 8 game meaningless losing streak will cost them anything better than 102 wins this year…

  24. Joe

    September 28, 2011 02:16 PM

    @Richard

    I don’t understand why you are questioning the “non-baseball factors” side of this arguement. All signs statistically point to Mayberry being the superior outfielder as well as hitter.

    Simple Stats:
    Mayberry, BA .275
    Ibanez, BA .246

    Mayberry, OBP .341
    Ibanez, OBP .290

    Mayberry, SLG .519
    Ibanez, SLG .420

    So we’ve established that “baseball factors”, like statistics, are not the reason for going with Ibanez. If you really want, you can argue Ibanez is a better fielder, but you’d be better off trying to prove the sky isn’t blue.

    I understand Charlie is big on the non-baseball factors. He makes great decisions sometimes. But sometimes, as can easily be found throughout this blog, he sends in lefties against lefties, pitches righties aginst righties, and does some pretty weird stuff. Having Ibanez play over Mayberry wouldn’t be weird, it would just be wrong.

    Unless of course, you are relying on “non-baseball factors”.

  25. Joe

    September 28, 2011 02:17 PM

    BTW, I meant righties against lefties and vise-versa, just had a mild baseball brain fart.

  26. Dan D

    September 28, 2011 02:44 PM

    @Ryan

    Your point certainly does not fall on deaf ears with me. As a scientist I highly value all of the new tools for performance evaluation that have come out of the SABR community, be they complex or simple. But there is certainly an argument to be made for Manuel keeping Ibanez in the lineup regularly, especially on a veteran-laden team like this one. Guys like Rollins, Howard, Utley, Polanco, etc. have been around for a while and know that slumps are reality, and seeing how Ibanez gets treated I’m sure has some positive impact on their performance. How much, I couldn’t possibly start to fathom. Maybe I’ll write my thesis on that.

    If this were a team comprised mostly of younger players, I might be inclined to go the other way and show all the younger players that superior performance will be rewarded, regardless of service time. It’s a tradeoff, and while Manuel perplexes me from time to time I do trust him to know what’s going on in his clubhouse more than us and to act accordingly.

    Was it Jim Fregosi that used to rest many of his players in one game periodically, hoping to keep them in good shape for the long-term? I can’t believe I’m referencing Jim Fregosi…. but this may be a different application of that axiom, taking a known downgrade in one situation in hopes of getting more than offsetting returns in other areas.

    Having said all that, I agree with your premise. I’m just trying to incite what I think is a useful conversation. Keep up the good work!

  27. hk

    September 28, 2011 03:23 PM

    Joe,

    There are some arguments to be made – not that I necessarily agree with them – that Charlie has baseball reasons behind starting Raul vs. RHP’s. For instance, Charlie may look at the fact that Raul has a higher batting average (.257 to .252) vs. RHP’s this year than JMJ. Or, Charlie may point to Raul’s career .291 batting average vs. RHP’s compared to .237 from JMJ during his short career so far. I am pretty sure Charlie doesn’t use BABIP or wOBA in his decision making, but if he did, he could at least float the argument that Raul’s career wOBA vs. RHP’s is .363 (vs. .337 for JMJ) and that Raul’s 2011 #’s were hampered by a well below average .270 wOBA.

    To reiterate, I am not saying that I agree with any of the arguments that I showed above, but those or similar ones could be reasons why Charlie starts Raul vs. RHP’s. If Charlie starts Raul vs. a LHP, let’s him face a LOOGY or continues to “pull an Ozark” and leaves him in LF while protecting leads in the late innings, I would agree that those decisions are based non-baseball factors.

  28. Phillie697

    September 28, 2011 10:09 PM

    I love how people take it so personally when someone points out how he/she misused a stat, and badly at that, and I wasn’t even referring using the stat with regard to Ibanez at all; the fact that anyone would try to elevate wXB/H to be on par with, say, OBP, when evaluating any player is not understanding sabermetrics, let alone in this case Mr. Raul “My cat gets on base more than he does” Ibanez. Don’t want to sound less-than-savvy? Then don’t make less-than-savvy remarks (which I admit I myself am prone to do, but I don’t get upset when someone points it out).

    It’s simple. Raul is bad. Very bad. He shouldn’t even be on our bench (can’t hit, can’t field, can’t run), let alone start. The fact that he’s PLAYING means it’s a loyalty/”we’re paying him all this money for something” issue.

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