Phillies Raul Ibanez Is The Best Hitter in Baseball

Eli Nachmany@EliNachmanyCorrespondent IIIMay 27, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 24:  Raul Ibanez #29 of the Philadelphia Phillies hits a RBI double in the sixth inning against the New York Yankees on May 24, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

It's a cloudy, drizzly day in the City of Brotherly Love. The Phillies are trying to distance themselves from the streaking Mets, as the two teams are just a half-game apart.

Joe Blanton has just hurled a great game, mowing down 11 batters. Jayson Werth is attempting to break out of his slump as manager Charlie Manuel gives him chance after chance to turn it around.

And Raul Ibanez is the best hitter in baseball.

It's been a long road for Ibanez, as he has played on mostly losing teams for his entire career. Raul has always been a serviceable player, four times hitting over 20 home runs (including a career high 33 with Seattle in 2006), and once hitting over .300.

He has muddled through years with a Kansas City team that was still wishing for a final go-around with George Brett, although he had been retired for some time. Ibanez has seen a team stumble to a losing record, although their payroll was above $100 million.

Ibanez has seen it all, perhaps, and now the only thing Raul can see are towering blasts hop off of his bat, slightly illuminating an otherwise dark Philadelphia night.

Ibanez single-handedly powered the Phillies past the Yankees recently. Over three games he went 5-13, launching two home runs and knocking in three runs. The Phillies won the series, 2-1, Ibanez's home run in the last game being the difference.

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If his high at-bat totals in the past few seasons are indicative of how durable he is, Raul will have no problem fitting in on a blue-collar Philadelphia team that fights to win. If you weren't a Met fan (or a Ray fan) last year, the feel-good Phillies made people remember what baseball is all about, and sparked hope in fans.

Hard-nosed second baseman Chase Utley hitting to the gaps and hustling the basepaths was inspiring to young kids as they watched him embody the tough ballplayer America fell in love with circa 1950.

Those kids saw Cole Hamels flash his 'gotcha' smile every time he victimized another battle. They idolized Ryan Howard's heroics as he swung a powerful stick, a threat to go for the fences every time.

These kids now watch as Raul Ibanez plays beside these franchise faces, and as the little kid in Raul jumps out every time he clears the fence, we are all excited at what the future of baseball holds in store for us.

Perhaps it is this future that excites us because now, as the steroid era begins to end, is such a great time for baseball. We watch player after player make themselves known through their bat, glove, or arm, and we pay our hard-earned money to watch them do just this.

We see Ibanez, the MLB leader in home runs and NL leader in RBI, determined to succeed. The Phillies have certainly benefitted from his offensive prowess, standing at 25-19 on the year. The outfielder's sweet, left-handed swing showcases discipline and power, all at once, and he is making a case for the designation of the best free-agent pick up.

Among that class are Adam Dunn (15 HR, 40 RBI, .284 AVG) and Mark Teixeira (14, 37, .271), but Ibanez's stats are by far the best of the three. Raul's slugging percentage is through the roof, a gaudy .724, showing just how much power he has had through the first part of 2009.

Ibanez is no slacker on defense, either, improving his UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) from minus-12.1 in 2008 to 4.6 with the Phils.

But it is not the league-leading stats, or the major defensive improvement, that makes Ibanez the Phillies' newest popular face. It is the attitude he has. That mentality you see in an everyday hero. The one who shows up every day for work and does what needs to be done for everything to function properly.

And Raul Ibanez is making sure the Phillies function properly, by coming through in the clutch, playing left field like it's nobody's business, and tearing the cover off of the ball. The Phillies have been kept down for so long, some of last year's hunger has trickled into 2009.

These Phillies fans suffered through a 28-year title drought in which they saw Mitch Williams give up the "biggest home run in Joe Carter's life," a player strike, a steroid era, and an upstart Rays team threaten their hopes for a title.

The Phils would not let their fans down, capturing the title in 2008. This year, Raul Ibanez isn't letting his fans down either.