Why the Phillies won't, and shouldn't, do anything drastic with Raul Ibanez
Many members of the Phillies organization fancy Philadelphia a baseball town. They view these past few years of success as having restored some semblance of order to the sporting landscape, with the American past time back atop the depth chart and that new-fangled tackle football thing relegated to No. 2.
I will not argue them on this point, mostly because I do not have the energy. But whether Philadelphia is a baseball or hockey or soccer town, it still has a football mentality, and it shouldn't take a video clip of a toddler chugging a Miller Lite for people to realize this.
Over the last several weeks, I have received countless emails wondering when the Phillies will cut bait with Raul Ibanez, the veteran left fielder who as of today is hitting .246 with a meager .383 slugging percentage. People look at the Phillies' three-week-long slump and their current second-place standing and insist that now is the time to shake things up, to give Domonic Brown or John Mayberry Jr. or Ben Francisco a chance to do what Ibanez hasn't.
But it isn't going to happen. And it shouldn't happen.
1) It is EARLY
Twenty games might seem like a long time. And it would be, if we were talking about a season that lasts 16 games or 81 games or however many games are on a Major League Soccer schedule. But a baseball season is 162 games, which means the Phillies have struggled offensively for about 12 percent of their schedule. What is 12 percent of an NFL schedule? Roughly two games. If this were football, the Phillies would have struggled on offense for two consecutive games. It might not be an ideal situation, but it certainly isn't one that calls for a major shake-up.
At this point, change for the sake of change can do nothing but hurt the Phillies' chances for success in the long-run. It would be a panic move, and panic moves resonate throughout a clubhouse and an organization.
2) Ibanez has been here before
In 2007, Ibanez finished July hitting .253 with a .306 on base percentage, .695 OPS and six home runs.
In the final 55 games of that season, he hit .357 with a .423 OBP, 1.057 OPS and 15 home runs.
In his first 57 games of the 2008 season, Ibanez hit .264 with a .328 on base percentage, .777 OPS and eight home runs.
In his last 105 games, he hit .308 with a .373 OBP, .867 OPS and 15 home runs.
This year, Ibanez is hitting .246 with a .339 on base percentage, .722 OPS and three home runs through 57 games.
3) Ibanez is a No. 6 or No. 7 hitter
Keep in mind that when Jimmy Rollins is healthy, Shane Victorino is hitting in the bottom of the order. And even if Ibanez remains the poorest hitter in this line-up for the rest of the season, his numbers thus far are still better than Pedro Feliz's were in the two seasons he spent hitting No. 7 here in Philly. In those two years, Feliz combined to hit .259 with a .306 on base percentage, .699 OPS, and 26 home runs in 1005 at-bats.
Again, Ibanez's numbers thus far this season: 246 with a .339 on base percentage, .722 OPS and three home runs in 183 at-bats.
4) Ibanez is a smart hitter
Perhaps the most legitimate concern about Ibanez's performance thus far is his drop in power. And for this line-up to live up to its potential, it needs Ibanez to drive the ball. But even if his power remains diminished, he is a smart enough hitter to make do. He is near the top of the league in sacrifice flies. He is hitting .279 with a .403 on base percentage and .822 OPS with runners in scoring position. He has a .439 on base percentage when leading off an inning. He is 9-for-30 with three walks, one home run, and one triple in late-and-close situations.
5) He is coming off serious surgery, and he has shown signs of turning things around
Ibanez is making contact. Since and ugly April in which he struck out 16 times in 68 at-bats, he has struck out 16 times in 115 at-bats. He is hitting .261/.338/.409 during that time period. He has recorded plenty of hard outs over the last few weeks. In fact, since the Phillies' offensive slump began, he it hitting .262.
Again, those aren't great numbers. And his power numbers are still miniscule.
But you need to keep in mind that Ibanez is coming off a pretty significant injury to the most critical part of a hitter's body. He played through a ridiculous amount of pain last season. Mike Cameron, for example, has played in just seven games since being diagnosed with an abdominal injury in the third week of April.
While Ibanez looks healthy, and says that he feels healthy and strong, he spent the entire offseason rehabbing from his surgery. That means the normal strength, conditioning, flexibility and timing drills that usually filled his offseason were either eliminated or greatly tapered down.
That's not an excuse. That's just a fact.
6) There are no other options
Do not misconstrue this as an argument that Ibanez is destined to return to the player who carried the Phillies for the first two-plus months of last season. This is an argument that the prudent move is to give him plenty of time to turn things around. One of the basic tennets of economics is that a sunk cost is sunk, but there is no conclusive proof that Ibanez's contract, which runs through next season, is a sunk cost.
It is not as if the Phillies have a ferocious right-handed power bat languishing on the bench while Ibanez eats up playing time. Domonic Brown has played less than a season above Class A. You don't take a player like that and put him in a situation where he is expected to produce for a team that is hoping to advance to its third straight World Series. Forget about him right now. John Mayberry Jr. could well get an opportunity if the Phillies call him up prior to this weekend's interleague series in Boston. But even an outside addition would not force the Phillies to part with Ibanez.
You can argue that the Phillies should look for some insurance via trade. There figure to be plenty of options available. Even if Ibanez does revert to equillibrium, the Phillies wouldn't be ill-advised in adding another bat to their bench.
You can argue that if Ibanez is still struggling at the All-Star break, it might be time to think about giving another outfielder more regular work.
But any argument that the Phillies should just jettison a well-respected veteran with a long track record and a recent history of getting hot quick just because the Phillies have struggled offensively for the equivalent of two NFL games shows a lack of understanding of anything deeper than numbers and paper.