Noted sabermetrics guru Bill James popularized the concept a while back that a player often peaks at age 27, hits his prime when he's 27-30, and then gradually declines.
Nobody told Raul Ibanez of the Philadelphia Phillies though.
Ibanez is hitting .353 through 42 games with 17 homers and 43 RBI.
These are eye-opening numbers for any major leaguer. They're phenomenal for a guy who will turn 37 on June 2. It seems to be part and parcel of the contrarian career of the former Seattle Mariner.
Here are Ibanez's numbers during his "peak" years.
1999 (Age 27): 83 games, nine HR, 27 RBI, .258 BA, .734 OPS.
2000 (28): 92 games, two HR, 15 RBI, .229 BA, .630 OPS.
2001 (29): 104 games, 13 HR, 54 RBI, .280 BA, .847 OPS.
2002 (30): 137 games, 24 HR, 103 RBI, . 294 BA, .883 OPS.
As if on cue, Ibanez's offensive output began to decline ever so slightly when he reached age 31.
2003 (31): 157 games, 18 HR, 90 RBI, .294 OPS, .799 OPS.
2004 (32): 123 games, 16 HR, 62 RBI, .304 BA, .825 OPS.
2005 (33): 162 games: 20 HR, 89 RBI, .280 BA, .792.
In 2006, at an age (34) when all players' talents have considerably eroded (according to James), Ibanez posted career highs in homers (33) and RBI (123) while batting .280.
His home run output plummeted in both 2007 (21) and 2008 (23), while his RBI totals dipped slightly (2007: 105, and 2008: 110) and his batting average remained more or less constant (2007: .291, and 2008: .293).
One could reasonably expect that Ibanez wouldn't be threatening to shatter personal career milestones in homers, RBI and batting average this season.
The $64,0000 question, of course, is this: Will Ibanez, barring injury, be able to maintain his current pace?
Ibanez's past career profile, before 2009, shows that he's neither a slow or fast starter. In April/May he averaged .273 with 59 long balls and 244 RBI.
Even in his career year in 2006, Ibanez was only hitting .267 with eight homers and 36 RBI by the end of May.
Ibanez traditionally heats up in June (.308 BA, 32 HR, 137 RBI) and then really sizzles in August (.300, 44 HR, 177 RBI).
Ibanez's offensive output is even more remarkable since he's making the transition to a new league. Oftentimes, it takes a hitter, no matter how accomplished, a half-season or longer to make an adequate adjustment to his new surroundings, not to mention new pitchers.
Ibanez is undoubtedly benefiting from having the likes of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley in the lineup. However, this can't entirely explain Ibanez's emergence as one of the most productive sluggers in 2009.
Whatever mysterious confluence of forces are at work, the Phillies' acquisition of Ibanez in December for $30 million over three years is shaping up as one of the shrewdest deals in recent years.