Raul Ibanez’s Continuing Decline

When the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to a three year, $31.5 M contract before the 2009 baseball season, many people (myself included) were critical of the deal. Ibanez was a good but not great hitter for Seattle; he was a below average defender (and that might be a kind way of describing his skills with the glove); and he was going to be turning 37 years old.

Well Raul shut a lot of those people up for a little while, as he started his career in Philadelphia with a scorching .309/.367/.649 first-half. Since then, though, it’s been downhill. And at this point, it’s looking very doubtful that Ibanez will earn his contract.


The second half of 2009, Raul fell off to .232/.326/.448. Part of that drop was some poor fortune (his batting average on balls in play – career .306 – fell to .270), but he also started striking more often. But hey, at least we was still taking walks (34 in 70 second-half games) and hitting for power (12 home runs). His overall numbers for the year were a more than respectable .272/.347/.552. On top of that, the defensive metrics graded him out as average in the field overall. That allowed him to post the kind* of season that – with even normal decline due to aging – would still have left his contract as a bargain (somewhere between a small and a modest one).

* FanGraphs had Ibanez at 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, while Baseball-Reference was at 2.5. There’s different baselines and fielding measures involved, amongst other differences, but it was a good season either way.

In 2010, Raul kept walking and even cut down on his strike-outs, but the power production fell way off. He hit just 16 home runs – fewer than half of the 34 from ’09, and in 21 more games, to boot. His defensive numbers went back towards where they had been his last few years in Seattle. It was quite a drop-off*, but with 2009 in the bag, Ibanez wouldn’t even need to bounce back to justify his contract – he just needed to not collapse further.

* 1.9 fWAR, 0.9 brWAR.

Well… he’s collapsed further this year. Ibanez is hitting just .232/.289/.360.  His walks are way down, to a level not seen in a season from him since 1998 when he was a rookie. His strike-outs are up passed even 2009 levels (his previous career high). The power has continued to fall, and there’s a distinct chance he won’t get more than 10 home runs in 2011. Plus, though we’re talking about very small sample sizes, his defensive numbers are not good (at all). He’s been a below replacement level player, which means he probably needs to pick things up sooner rather than later, or he’ll lose his job. And even so, it would take quite a hot streak to get Raul up enough to earn the $11.5 M he’s making this year.

There’s still plenty of season left, but the early hope of Ibanez surprising those who criticized his deal* has taken a drastic turn the last couple of years. At this point, it looks very likely that they’ll be proven** right.

* Note: the beef was with the contract and not the player. I don’t think anyone faults Raul for taking the Phillies’ offer.

** Note: even if Ibanez performed well enough to earn the money, it doesn’t necessarily make it a good decision at the time. Process, not results, and all that. Though results matter. Might be best to end this digression here.