When GM Ruben Amaro signed Raul Ibanez to replace Pat Burrell in left field, he believed he would be getting a similar offensive player with slightly better skills in the field and on the basepaths. When the move was made, my brother and I were confused, as Ibanez’ defensive and baserunning stats were almost identical to Burrell’s over the previous three seasons, he was older than Burrell, he would make the middle of the lineup left-handed heavy, and the cost of his contract was similar to what Burrell was originally expecting.
Granted, my brother and I each shared a certain affinity (ok, bias) for Burrell that never wavered through all of his struggles, but we were looking at things objectively on paper – a place in which sports are never played.
My dad saw things different.
He thought Ibanez would take the Phillies offense to another level and be MUCH better defensively. And similarly to his strange 2008 prophecies that Shane Victorino would be the most consistent Phillie after the All-Star break and Carlos Ruiz would have a huge postseason — two predictions to which he created the slogan, “A little fella shall lead them,” dad was right. Maybe we should have learned to trust him. After all, this was the same man who informed us that “Ryan Howard will hit a game-changing homer off of Andy Sonnanstine in the fifth inning of Game Four of the World Series” before the Phillies even knew they would play the Rays! (All things considered, papa was wrong. Howard’s eventual three-run homer off Sonnanstine came in the fourth.)
In April and May, Ibanez proved all of his doubters, including yours truly, very, very wrong. He hit .332 with 17 homers and 46 RBI in 187 at-bats. His production was unreal, unexpected, and unfortunately, unsustainable. Ibanez suffered a sore groin, followed by an awful slump that dropped his average from .316 on July 19, to .272 on September 5, a dramatic dip that is nearly impossible to achieve that late in the season.
Just when talk of Charlie Manuel benching Ibanez for a few games a la Jimmy Rollins grew louder, Ibanez turned it around. All he needed to get back on track was a few games in the hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park and a few more against the Nationals, a team that he has hit .433/.513/.896 against, adding up to a ridiculous 1.408 OPS, with 8 HR and 21 RBI in 17 games.
So here we are, 145 games into a season full of extreme highs and lows for our free-agent signing, and Ibanez’ offensive totals are roughly what we all imagined they would be. A .280/.350/.567 line with 31 homers and 86 RBI. That line is eerily similar to Pat Burrell’s one year ago to this day, which was .250/.366/.504 with 31 homers and 79 RBI. Both had 127 hits, both had 31 doubles, both had 3 triples. Burrell’s batting average was significantly lower, but all of his walks added up to a higher on-base percentage than Ibanez.
At first glance, I thought to myself, “Wow, Ibanez is having the same exact season as Burrell did last year.” But then I quickly realized that Burrell compiled those totals in 148 games, while Ibanez has only been a part of 116. And had Ibanez not missed a month due to injury and an even longer amount of actually productive time due to the side effects of that injury, his offensive numbers would be far superior to Burrell’s as of September 17.
The place where Burrell’s 2008 and Ibanez’ 2009 differ the most, however, is in the field. Amaro admitted to Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler while in the booth earlier this season that Ibanez has been a very pleasant surprise defensively, playing much better than anyone in the organization anticipated.
So while Ibanez (22.5) and Burrell (22.4) have similar numbers in “offensive runs above the average major-leaguer,” Ibanez has been worth 4.3 runs above average defensively, while Burrell was worth -4.3 runs in the field for the Phils last year. This means that if Burrell had re-signed and played the same defense for the Phillies this season, he would have cost them almost 9 runs more than Ibanez.
This also means that Burrell cost them over four runs more than an average defensive left-fielder last season. Plus, the 22.5 to 22.4 edge Ibanez has on Burrell offensively will only grow larger as the season continues.
In addition, Ibanez has a 16.9 RAR, or Runs Above Replacement. This means that Ibanez has been worth 16.9 more runs than a replacement-level player like Jeremy Hermida, which I would have to imagine makes the Marlins wonder if Hermida is even worth keeping, since a replacement player (think Andy Tracy or Mike Cervenak) would be much cheaper.
When you add up a players offensive runs above average, defensive runs above average, and RAR, then subtract their positional factor (left-field is an easier position than shortstop, for example), you have calculated their WAR, which stands for Wins Above Replacement. In Ibanez’ case, he has been worth 3.8 more wins than a replacement-level player, meaning that if Hermida were patrolling left-field, the Phillies would be about four games worse than they are. Last year, Burrell was worth 3.2 wins all season.
All of these numbers show that Ibanez has been slightly better than Burrell offensively and SIGNIFICANTLY better than him defensively. I’m sure most of you already know that, but the actual quantification of it is very interesting, especially since it shows such a huge difference between the two players in the field.
Ibanez’s play in left has made Ruben Amaro look like a genius, and, after all Amaro has done this year, it’s hard to not associate that word with the Phillies rookie GM. The Phils signed Ibanez to a 3 year/$30M deal, and according to Fangraphs.com’s salary scale, Ibanez’ performance in 2009 alone makes him worth $17.2M per year on the free agent market.
In contrast, Burrell signed a 2 year/$16M deal with the Rays, and his performance would be worth only $300,000 if he were to enter free agency next year. Ouch.
Next time my dad says something, maybe I’ll listen.