Posted by Laurie Dougherty
Fresh off their first World Series championship in 28 years, in November 2008, the Phillies front office made the difficult decision to not re-sign fan favorite Pat Burrell. Yes, Burrell had been a top draft pick for the Phillies and certainly had contributed his share of big moments, including setting up the winning run by knocking a double off the left-center field wall in game 5 of the 2008 World Series.
For a variety of reasons, management decided it was time to move on. So in December of that same year, the Phillies signed free-agent outfield Raul Ibañez, who had spent most of his major league career in Seattle (with a brief stint in KC from 2001-2003). Phils fans were a bit cautious. Ibañez was billed as being a much more consistent hitter than Burrell but he was older (he had just turned 36 in June 2008) and he had a bad rap for his defense.
Entering the 2009 season, Phils fans weren’t sure what to expect from Ibañez. He started out very well with his new team. From the first day to June 17, Ibanez batted .312 with 22 home runs and 59 RBIs. The next day, the Phils put him on the DL due to a groin problem that had been nagging him since April.
However, even after Ibañez returned to the roster, his production dropped off precipitously. For the last 72 games he played in the regular season his line was: .232, 12 HR, 34 RBIs. During the offseason, after the Phillies lost to the Yankees in the World Series, Ibanez underwent surgery for his sports hernia and entered 2010 presumably ready to start fresh.
Unfortunately, his struggles continued into the first half of 2010. From April 5 to July 1, he hit .236 with only 6 home runs and 36 RBIs. His on-base plus slugging (OPS) was .711, which ranked him 7th out of 9 Phillies players who had at least 100 plate appearances in that time span.
Luckily, something seemed to click for Raul and from July 2 to the end of the season, he picked up his production--his average was .307 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs. He went from being near the bottom of the rankings in team OPS to near the top—only Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz had a better OPS for Phils players with 200 or more plate appearances in that span (Werth’s OPS was .922, Ruiz .905, and Ibanez .864).
Although Raul struggled in the postseason (as did most of his teammates), he worked hard this offseason to get himself in good shape for the long season ahead. He hopes to carry the momentum from his strong 2nd half performance into 2011.
Although much focus has been on Ibañez’s offensive production (or lack thereof for certain time periods), he has been a steady if unspectacular fielder. In 145 games in left field, he had 218 total chances and only made 2 errors all season, for a fielding percentage of .991. Overall, I would say he’s a better fielder than Pat—he doesn’t seem to let many balls get by him and his arm is at least as good as Burrell. Raul even played two flawless (well, sorta) innings at first base last year—he was pressed into duty there when Ryan Howard was ejected in the late innings of a game against the Astros in August.
Given that the Phillies no longer have Jayson Werth, they could definitely use a strong bat in the middle of the lineup—will that bat belong to Ibañez? It’s one of the questions the Phils are facing as they head into the 2011 season as strong favorites to win the NL pennant and reach the World Series for the third time in four seasons. No doubt Raul Ibañez wants to play a contributing role this year. We can only hope he’ll deliver!