Raul Ibanez the Replacement Level Player

I couldn’t resist this picture.

Raul Ibanez has been one of the Mariners best hitters this season. The argument goes like this: Ibanez is second on the team with eight homeruns, fifth on the team in wOBA and third in OPS. That wasn’t a difficult argument, so let’s tackle something a little more controversial. Ibanez hurts—not helps—the Mariners in his current role.

Whoa! I just said he’s one of the M’s best hitters, and then I said he hurts the M’s. What gives? Pretty much everything that doesn’t involve hitting homeruns—that’s what gives. For parts of the season, specifically the last week, Ibanez has been asked to be an “everyday player.” He has started 25 of the 28 games in which he has appeared, and 19 of those have come in left field. Basically, Ibanez is being asked to play defense and hit some off lefties, and that will eventually kill all of his value gained by hitting against righties.

Here are Ibanez’s defensive ratings over the last 5 seasons, courtesy of Fangraphs:

Year Innings UZR DRS Avg/150

2009

1123.7

2.7

-2

0.5

2010

1294.0

-6.6

-11

-10.2

2011

1196.7

-19.2

-23

-26.4

2012

651.0

1.0

-5

-4.6

2013

157.7

-5.3

-6

-53.8

Total

4423.0

-27.4

-47

-12.6

Not only is Ibanez an awful defender, but he’s an awful defender at one of the easiest positions to fill and play. Across the league, left field has been an easily-replaceable position, and thus higher levels of offensive output are expected from the position. Since 2012, 75 players have qualified as left fielders and received at least 200 PA, a group of which Ibanez is a card-carrying member. Those 75 players have recorded a 0.320 wOBA and 100 wRC+. That’s league average for all hitters. But if we include just the 27 left fielders that have received more plate appearances than Ibanez—basically the starters—the expectations are raised to a .343 wOBA and 115 wRC+. Ibanez has recorded admirable rates with a .328 wOBA and 105 wRC+, but that doesn’t cut it at left field, especially with terrible defense.

It will eventually hurt Ibanez’s value if he continues to receive 20 percent of his plate appearances against lefties. Ibanez can’t hit lefties. Don’t be fooled by his production this year in minuscule 19-PA sample because his 54 wRC+ in his last 222 PA against southpaws is much more telling of his true ability. In 2012, left-handed batters in the AL stepped in against left-handed pitchers 22 percent of the time. Ibanez shouldn’t even be allowed to breach the 10 percent mark. Maybe not even five percent.

His defense was supposedly tolerable last season, but that appears to have been a blip in the pattern. The more Ibanez is allowed to play in left, and the more he’s allowed to hit lefties, the more he’s going to negate the fact that he is a good hitter against right-handed pitching. I haven’t mentioned it to this point, because I really shouldn’t even have to, but for interest’s sake Ibanez’s WAR this season is –0.1. That’s the definition of replacement level.

We knew enough about Ibanez before the season such that 98 plate appearances and 158 defensive innings shouldn’t be needed to convince us of his role on team. Ibanez should not be allowed to play in the outfield, and he should not be allowed to hit off lefties, and yet he is doing both far too frequently. You can blame Jack Zduriencik for poor roster construction, Eric Wedge for poor management of that roster, or Raul Ibanez for being old, but don’t go thinking Ibanez is a bright spot. Ibanez is a perfect example of why the Mariners are not good.