The old saying goes, “first impressions are lasting impressions.” So naturally, falling out of love with a player who had such an immediate impact as Raul Ibanez is extremely difficult, since he excelled instantly after becoming a Phillie.
But, all fondness and “homerism” aside, the time has come to realize that Ibanez is neither “Pujols-ian” nor “Bruntlett-ish,” but somewhere in between.
On June 13, after playing sixty games as a Phillie, Ibanez was hitting .322/.380/.678, with a 1.058 OPS, 22 homers, 59 RBI, and 51 runs scored. As of that same date, Albert Pujols had the same amount of home runs, two fewer RBI, one less run scored, two fewer doubles, a .329 batting average, and a slugging percentage only 21 points above Ibanez. With 40% of the season complete, the two had nearly identical numbers, and were the frontrunners in the race for NL MVP.
I picked the date of June 13 because it was the very last day Ibanez was being somewhat productive, and playing with a healthy left groin. However, he began regressing to his true talent level ten days earlier, in the final game of a series in San Diego, before the Phils traveled to Dodger Stadium. Sure, Ibanez hit safely in every game from June 3-June 13, but he had one hit in each game, allowing him to ride a meaningless hit streak. From that date until he went on the DL, Ibanez went 11-for-53, a .208 batting average, and raked only six extra-base hits in twelve games.
The point of my inclusion of this period? To show you that it wasn’t merely a trip to the DL that derailed Ibanez’ terrific 2009 season. The real Raul Ibanez had showed up two weeks earlier.
The next question would naturally be, “Who is the Raul Ibanez?” Well, that would be a .286/.346/.479 hitter, not a .322/.380/.678 hitter. A guy, who, according to Dave Cameron of the extremely popular Seattle blog, USS Mariner, can look incredible one month and dreadful the next. Like most of you, I found this hard to believe when I was informed of it, but the stats don’t lie.
Sure, certain elements made Ibanez a much better hitter during the first four-tenths of the season. He had a positive change of scenery – went from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park, and was batting in the middle of a powerful, multifaceted lineup. But it would have been unrealistic to expect a player who hit one homer every 25 at-bats to turn into a guy who hits one every 11 at-bats, and be able to SUSTAIN it.
Since the all-important date of June 13, Ibanez has been, well, pitiful.
- 60 games ending June 13: .322/.380/.678/1.058, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 51 R, 44 K in 242 AB.
- 41 games since: .216/.294/.399/.693, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 20 R, 47 K in 153 AB.
He has been dropped from fifth in the order to sixth, and has been given numerous days off to keep him fresh, in hopes of allowing the left-handed power bat to reemerge.
The reason that many of you will disagree with this assessment of Ibanez is highlighted in the first sentence of the article. Call it love at first sight, call it a lasting impression Ibanez made on all of us, or call it the “Brad Lidge Effect.” Like Ibanez, the Brad Lidge we fell in love with last season was an apparition – a player performing at a gaudy, unsustainable, unreal rate.
While the decreased line-drives and increased GIDP’s have been an area of concern, neither stat is as alarming as Raul’s strikeout rate, which has climbed consistently as the year has gone on. His current K-rate is 23%, a career high, well above the previous mark of 16.9%. In August, that rate has gone into red-alert territory, at around 31%. The plate discipline that made us all deem him a “professional hitter” during the inaugural months is gone. He is swinging at many pitches out of the zone, and not making contact. In fact, the percentage of balls he makes contact on is a whopping 8% lower this year than it was during his time in Seattle.
Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler have noted lately that Ibanez has been “looking his age.” But maybe he’s not just looking like a 37-year old player in the dog days of August. Maybe he’s looking like the real Raul Ibanez.