As Philadelphia sports fans, we often tend to shower our affection upon our local athletes in a way that fans from other cities see as, for lack of a crueler word, idiosyncratic. We tend to be hard on our superstars (lookin' at you, Donovan McNabb) and love our less-than-valuable fan-favorites (smooches, Aaron Rowand).
One must certainly hope that Phillies' fans, and more importantly the Phillies' front office, are not weathering the storm with Raul Ibanez out of some sort of idiosyncratic love for a hard-nosed and likable local favorite.
Because as much as we love Raaauuuuulllll, the Philadelphia Phillies absolutely must trade him to an American League team for whatever is being offered as soon as possible.
And I mean today.
Make no mistake about it: I am a Raul Ibanez fan. My admiration for Ibanez goes back roughly ten years, to when he suddenly emerged, at the age of 30, as a run-producer and power threat with the Kansas City Royals after a career spent in the Seattle Mariners farm system getting the occasional call-up.
And what Ibanez has done since that season has been amazing.
Ibanez turned 30 in the middle of the 2002 season. Prior to that season, he had 27 career home runs and 112 career RBI in parts of six seasons. Then, in 2002 he very nearly matched that production in one season, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 103. And from 2002 to the present, he has hit 213 home runs and driven in 887 RBI.
It has been an incredible second half of a career. In fact, Ibanez may end up going down as one of the all time great players who played their first full major league season after turning 30.
But let us not get sentimental: Raul Ibanez is very much hindering this Philadelphia Phillies team.
We are not talking about hitting. If we were, then the numbers would prove us to be liars. Oh, sure, his current .246 average, .296 on-base percentage and .427 slugging percentage are not pretty.
But in the month of May, Ibanez was practically the Phillies' leading hitter, hitting seven home runs with 19 RBI while batting .315 with a .941 OPS (compare that to Mr. Ryan Howard). After a rough start to the season, Ibanez is once again being productive with the bat, so no fears there.
What we are talking about is defense. As in, it's the defense, stupid. As in, pitching and defense win championships.
If a team can live with, and even succeed with, a guy like Ibanez at the plate, it would take a freaking miracle to succeed with such a poor defensive left-fielder.
Where to begin?
How about . . . range factor.
As soon as the baseball world decided to stop relying upon fielding percentage as to the teller of the tale for defense, the baseball world (or should we just say Bill James) developed "range factor," which is not the latest and best stat, but is a nice starting point.
The league average range factor for left fielders in baseball is 2.16. That number does not mean anything in a bubble, but know this: Ibanez's range factor is 1.54, which is significantly lower than 2.16.
So low, in fact, that only a handful of major league outfielders, as in all of baseball, have a worse range factor.
Fangraphs.com, an excellent repository of baseball statistics, has a statistic it tracks called "Range Runs," which quantifies a player's range into a runs-style analysis.
Not only is Raul Ibanez last amongst all major league left fielders in Range Runs, but he is last amongst . . . sitting down? . . . . all major league players in Range Runs.
No, really. Out of 166 major league baseball players who qualify, Ibanez is dead last.
I would love to tell you that this is an anamoly, but it is not. Fangraphs.com also has a statistic called Ultimate Zone Rating, or UZR, and Ibanez is dead last in that category as well.
Fangraphs.com's UZR per 150 games? Dead last. In all of baseball.
There is also a defensive statistic called Defensive Runs Saved, which both Fangraphs.com tracks using the plus/minus analysis of John Dewan's company Baseball Info Solutions.
Ibanez is not dead last in this category, but he is fourth worst amongst all major league outfielders, behind Lance Berkman, Nate McLouth, and Michael Brantley
From here, the numbers just kind of snowball.
Ibanez is tied for the fifth worst outfielder in what BaseballReference.com calls Total Zone Fielding Runs.
He is tied for the fewest plays made outside of zone with Jayson Heyward, who has played 100 fewer innings than Ibanez.
He is last amongst all major league outfielders in what Fangraphs.com calls Outfield Arm Runs, which is a measure of how many runs an outfielder saves with their arm.
Look, a team can live with a merely above-average fielder, a mediocre fielder, or even a bad fielder.
What a team cannot live with is the worst fielder, by position, in baseball. And that is what the Phillies currently have in Raul Ibanez.
Right about now, you may be asking yourself the following: Yeah, but how do we know his defense is killing us?
Philadelphia Phillies fans can all agree on one thing this season, I would hope: the Phils have an awesome pitching staff. Terrific. Outstanding. Once in a lifetime.
And that fact has been born out in a number of ways:
- The Phillies have the third best ERA in all of baseball.
- The Phillies have the second best runs allowed per game in all of baseball.
- The Phillies lead the majors in strikeouts.
- The Phillies lead the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio by a considerable margin: 3.10 vs. a second-place 2.86.
- The Phillies have allowed the fifth fewest home runs in all of baseball, and the four teams ahead of the Phillies all play in extreme pitchers parks.
And here's another one for you: the Phillies rank 13th baseball in hits allowed per nine innings.
. . . .
Did you hear the needle come scratching off of the record?
Ask yourself the following question: what is it that makes home runs, walks and strikeouts different from hits. Many of you already know the answer: home runs, walks and strikeouts all reflect purely upon the skill of the pitcher, while hits depend on the defense behind the pitcher.
So what does it say to Phillies' fans that the Phillies are one of the elite teams in baseball in so many statistics, but are mediocre when it comes to hits allowed?
It says the defense is not getting the job done.
Indeed, while the Phillies are third in baseball in ERA, when you look at the Phillies' FIP—which stands for fielding-independent-pitching, as in what you would expect this pitching staff to be doing without regard to the defense behind them—the Phillies are the best in baseball.
Now, ask yourself this question: which Philadelphia Phillies pitchers have performed below expectations this season?
Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt each have ERA's in the twos, while Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee have ERA's in the threes, with Lee approaching 4.00.
Now, other than not being named Roy, what do Hamels and Lee have in common that Halladay and Oswalt do not?
That's right, they are both left-handers. Which means, they both have the platoon disadvantage against right-handed hitters. Which means, they both depend upon the defense of the left-fielder more than their right-handed counterparts.
Want to see something crazy? Here is the ERA for each of the Phillies' Big Four, next to their individual FIP, i.e. ERA that does not depend on defense:
Lee: 3.94/2.78 (+1.16)
Hamels: 3.01/2.41 (+0.60)
Halladay: 2.56/2.12 (+0.44)
Oswalt: 2.70/3.41 (-0.69)
By looking at the difference between the ERA and the FIP for each of these players, we can see how their defensive support is helping them or hurting them, and as can see that Lee would be expected to be allowing over a run less per game than he actually he is. And, in fact, of 137 pitchers with over 40 innings pitched in 2011, Lee ranks 14th in the size of the gap between his ERA and his FIP.
Because of the defense behind him.
The thing of it is, when you have a guy who is killing you like Ibanez is—as in, not merely a bad fielder, but a horrific fielder—you do not need a great or even good fielder to improve your defense and help your pitching staff. From where Ibanez is sitting, even a mediocre fielder would be a massive improvement over what he is giving the team right now.
But do not take my word for it. The proof is in the incredibly small sample size of pudding: the Phillies are 4-1 when Ibanez is not in left field, and they have allowed 11 total runs in those five games.
In the one game they lost, they only gave up one run in a 2-1 loss. And, the starters only allowed six total runs in those combined five starts. (Curiously, Cliff Lee has not started a single game without Ibanez as his left fielder.)
A lot has been made of the Philadelphia Phillies' 2011 pitching staff, and where it ranks amongst the all time great rotations. When having the discussion about the all time great pitching rotations, three teams have consistently been included in this debate: the Chicago Cubs of 1906-1908, the Baltimore Orioles of the late 1960's and early 1970's, and the Atlanta Braves of the 1990's.
What has rarely been mentioned is that those teams also had something else in common: they all had tremendous defenses.
The Braves had numerous Gold Glovers in the hey-day of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz.
The Baltimore Orioles had one of the great defenses of all time, with Paul Blair, Brooks Robinson and Mark Belanger leading the way.
The Cubs had freaking Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, the standard by which double-play combinations are measured.
And the Phillies have entrusted their once-in-a-lifetime pitching staff to a defense that features one of the worst defensive players in baseball.
This just cannot stand.
All of which is to say: Nothing against you, Raul. We love you to death. But this just is not going to work out, and we've got too much riding on this team, and this pitching staff, to give it away out of loyalty to a great but aging guy who simply is not getting it done.
The Philadelphia Phillies simply must trade Raul Ibanez, and they simply must do it today.