The kid who kept playing for the Mariners.
With Matthias in Alaska (because of course that hipster would go to Alaska on vacation), I felt it necessary to re-examine his post on Raul Ibanez.
When I was a younger man, or a boy to be accurate, I once read a book called The Kid Who Only Hit Homers by Matt Christopher, which I found an acceptable choice at my local library after finding that each chapter had a box score in it.
The protagonist of the book is a young man who has a proclivity for the long ball, as you may guess by the “too-on-the-nose” title. As the story goes, the protagonist is a very bad baseball player in little league, and after meeting a mysterious man suddenly becomes the owner of a swing that can only go deep.
Apart from the book running loosely parallel to Game of Shadows, in which Barry Bonds plagiarizes Christopher on his way to both the single season and all-time home run records, the book also does a pretty good job of describing Raul Ibanez‘s 2013 season — minus the kid part, as Ibanez is literally as old as this book, with both Raul being born and the book being published in 1972.
Also worth noting is that the “mysterious man” is named George Baruth, which is clearly a sloppy amalgamation of George Herman “Babe” Ruth, who you may know from such movies as The Sandlot, The Babe, and for a relatively spectacular baseball career. What this book lacks in a creative title and creative character names, it also lacks in Pulitzer prizes, so save the protest letters.
Anyway, when Matthias checked on Ibanez, he’d been pretty good at the plate, though not as good as you might expect for a guy who had hit eight home runs in limited playing time to that point in the season. Ibanez has since hit 12 home runs, accounting for one-third of his 36 hits in that time.
The point is that when pundits of all levels of credibility started writing Ibanez season off, Ibanez kept hitting homeruns. Then hitting more homeruns. After that he hit more homeruns.
The main point of Matthias’ post was that Ibanez’s awful defense, good for about -43 runs per 1250 innings according to UZR/150, was sapping the value his bat provided. Considering that Ibanez once masqueraded as a passable defensive outfielder, the idea that he’s regressed closer to league average isn’t completely crazy, despite his advanced age. He’s still about a -28 run outfielder, which is still really bad. With a positional adjustment of -17.5 runs for designated hitters and -12.5 runs for left fielders, and about 10 runs being the equivalent to a win above replacement, you can assume that the Mariners will lose an extra two games with Ibanez on the field if his defense has leveled out – at least compared to an equivalent hitter with league average defense. That player is basically Jay Bruce, by the way.
Nonetheless, Ibanez’s 146 wRC+ and regressed defense have transformed his value from a player who is about replacement level, to a guy who has amassed about a half-win, and who could be worth a lot more if the Mariners used him a role he was better suited for: as a platoon at designated hitter.
The problem is that with their present 40-man roster situation and a multitude of injuries in the outfield this year, including injuries to Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Bay, and Michael Morse, Ibanez has essentially been forced into everyday action, and into way too many innings in the outfield.
The bottom line, though, is that Ibanez future with the Mariners is limited more by father time than his present production. Ibanez is likely to retire sooner rather than later, and the Mariners aren’t in a position to contend this year. Ibanez likely never had potential to draw an upper-echelon prospect, but it’s a near-certainty that he’s increased his trade value so far this season – if the team intends to trade him that is.