2011 Philadelphia Phillies: Why the Phillies Must Trade Raul Ibanez Today

June 3, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

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.

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Cliff Lee: Has He Been Worth the Price Ruben Amaro, Philadelphia Phillies Paid?

June 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

At the end of the day, Cliff Lee may not have been worth it after all.

I am pretty sure that Phillies fans would rather have him and lament his underperformance, than not have him and lament his success.

Of course, these are not the only choices that faced Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., roughly 15 months ago when he made the decision to trade Lee to the Seattle Mariners in order to make room to acquire Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Rather, there were four possible outcomes for Amaro and Lee at that time.

Amaro’s first option: spend tons of money to retain the services of Cliff Lee. This would lead to two possible outcomes: Lee pitches well and becomes a Philadelphia Immortal, or Lee pitches poorly (or even merely below expectations), and adds his name to the long list of semi-successful Philadelphia athletes burned in effigy by a demanding fanbase.

Amaro’s second option: Trade Lee away for prospects and bring in Roy Halladay. Again, this leads to two possible scenarios: Lee out-pitches Halladay, and Amaro and Halladay rue the day or Halladay out-pitches Lee and Amaro basks in the glory.

Now, as we all know looking forward from December 2009, Amaro actually had his cake and ate it, too. After trading Lee away for prospects so that he could trade prospects away for Halladay, Amaro brought Lee back the following season as a free agent in an effort to form one of the greatest pitching staffs of all time, along with Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

All’s well that ends well, right?

Except, something funny happened on the way to the forum.

Yes, the Phillies pitching staff is awesome and yes, the Phillies have the best record in baseball despite lackluster performances from their offense thus far this season.

But let’s take a closer look.

After all, it has not been Cy Young caliber Cliff Lee that the Philly Phaithful have seen this season; indeed, Lee has been far from the dominant pitcher of the last three seasons.

For example, Lee has already allowed more walks in 2011 than he did in all of 2010 and he is halfway home in the home runs department as well. Lee’s 3.94 ERA is below league average and his 1.263 WHIP is his highest since 2007.

And…he has a losing record at 4-5.

As Doctor Emmett Brown said to Marty when he found himself in the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future II, what the hell is going on here?

Thus far, it is unclear.

But the more important question is: Are we happy? And, strangely, at this point the answer would appear to be, “yes.”

As the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have discovered over the last 10 or 15 years, it is OK to waste tons of money as long as the team wins. So far, the Phillies have been winners and to Phillies fans, it feels as though Cliff Lee has been a part of that, whether he has been or not.

And as long as the Phils keep on winning, we will keep on loving Lee, which, at the end of the day, is certainly better than the alternative.

In Washington right now, Jayson Werth is earning way more than the Phillies ever would have paid him to get outhit by Mike Morse (who?) and Laynce Nix (what?). Certainly, no Phillies fans in their right mind wish we had Werth back right now, especially for the money he was demanding.

Lee, on the other hand, is a closer call since he is, in fact, pitching competently, and did not ask for a contract way out of sorts with his market value.

Thus, it is incredibly difficult to imagine him in another uniform, even assuming he would have put up a losing record and a subleague average ERA for whatever other team he would have signed with.

For now, we’re glad we have him, even if he does come with his foibles.

Nevertheless, put the emphasis on the “for now,” because if the Phils stop winning, all Cliff Lee will be is a mediocre pitcher collecting one of the biggest paychecks in baseball history. 

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Philadelphia Phillies: Are the Phillies Looking to Trade Vance Worley?

May 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

For as long as most Philadelphia fans can remember, the Phillies have been an offense-first, pitching-whenever team. 

There was a time when trading away Cory Lidle seemed like a mistake, acquiring Kyle Lohse helped the team and re-sigining Jamie Moyer was vital to the team’s success.

Which is why it seems so odd now to sit at the kitchen table, behind the wheel of the car or under a tree in the park, and listen to local baseball-talking heads discuss trading away young pitching prospect Vance Worley.  

After all, there was a time when Worley would have been a highly-coveted piece of the Phillies’ puzzle for years to come.

Vance Worley Fun Fact: Worley is currently the active leader in ERA for all pitchers with at least four starts, with a 1.24 ERA, which is good for a 322 ERA+.

But these are not your grandfather’s Phillies—or your father’s Phillies, or your Phillies for that matter.

These are the new and improved, alternate-reality, bizarro-Phillies—a team for whom Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Worley are all on the outside looking in, somehow not talented enough to make a rotation that has four aces and Joe Blanton.

At the same time, Monday night’s offensive explosion notwithstanding, it is also a team in dire need of hitting.  

The Phillies’ hitting woes have been well-documented, so we won’t recollect them here, but suffice to say that the Phils’ could use another bat. And the prospect of squandering one of the finest rotations in baseball history because the offense cannot squeak across three runs per night must be keeping Phillies GM Ruben Amaro up at night.

To be fair, Worley will not continue to put up the numbers he has so far in his career; while we will not go so far as to call his 3-1 record, 1.24 ERA and 0.931 WHIP an aberration, this is simply not who Worley is as a pitcher.  

But it does appear as though Worley could be a quality major league starter, and major league baseball teams are often willing to give up quite a bit to haul in one of those.

For what it is worth, the major league rumor mills are not exactly alive with Vance Worley trade talk; thus far such propositions have been coming from guys like Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic, which represents little more than expostulation.

At the same time, though, something about it does feel right. It just seems odd that this Philadelphia Phillies‘ team will soon trade away a future major league starting pitcher because they need a bat. 

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Chase Utley: Six Fun Facts from the Return of the Phillies Second Baseman

May 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

Chase Utley made his triumphant return—and season debut—on Monday with the Philadelphia Phillies, and the gratification was instant.  The Phillies’s offense came alive, hitting early and often.

After scoring two runs off of Bronson Arroyo in the first inning, the Phils chased Arroyo with a seven-run third and reminded the sellout crowd of Philadelphia faithful of an earlier time, when scoring runs was easier and a solid outing by a starting pitcher was enough to win a game.

Along the way, the suddenly explosive Phillies’ offense did some things which, when compared to recent performances, are actually quite fun.

Here’s a look at six fun facts from tonight’s game.

Begin Slideshow

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Philadelphia Phillies: Raul Ibanez and the Miserable Phillies Offense

May 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Fan News

Phillies fans, we all know the drill—our veteran left fielder comes to the plate and the entire crowd bursts into a chorus of what sounds like boos.

Then the guys calling the game, especially if it is an out-of-town crew or a national broadcast, will explain: “Now, fans at home may think that the crowd is booing their left fielder, but really they’re saying ‘Ra-uuuuuuuuuul”

Of course, Phillies fans also know a thing or two about a new drill of sorts which has been taking place this season and that is the actual booing of Raul Ibanez, for as the Phillies offense has become downright dysfunctional, Ibanez has been one of the guys bearing the brunt of the criticism for the team’s woes.

Indeed, Ibanez has become an aging wonder of sorts, slowing down in the field and at the plate and establishing himself as a drag on the Phillies offense.

Or so you may think.

What has been lost—for the most part—on the Phillies faithful as the hometown team has endured its Second Annual May Swoon, has been the fact that, rather than serving as a poster child for the Phillies’ struggles, Ibanez has actually been a lone wolf—the only Philly hitting in this miserable month of May.


Since May 1, the Phillies are hitting a would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-sad .229 with a .643 OPS. Jimmy Rollins is hitting .238, Ryan Howard is hitting .178 and even Placido Polanco, whose season average is still a robust .335, is only hitting .247 on the month. 

Meanwhile, Raul Ibanez is batting a no-really .324 with an .896 OPS (and, editor’s note: as I sit here writing this he just hit a home run in tonight’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds).

It would appear that, for the time being anyway, we all need to cut ol’ Raul a break and when he comes to the plate we should return to saying “Ra-uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuul” instead of the increasingly more popular alternative.

Or am I?

Much like a House episode where Dr. House figures out what mystery illness his patient has with more than 20 minutes left in the episode, we all know that the story does not end here.

The full story here is that Ibanez has not simply heated up in the month of May. Ibanez has also had the extra added benefit of playing the majority of his May games—12 out of 19 to be exact—at Citizens Bank Park.

And here is where things start to look grim for the sage veteran.

For the season, Ibanez is hitting .302 with four home runs, 16 RBI and 16 runs. His on-base percentage is a quite good at .362 and his slugging percentage is an excellent .500.

These next few numbers are going to turn you all into five-year-old girls at a horror movie, peaking through your fingers as you shriek with fear:

On the road, in 2011, Ibanez is batting .145 with zero home runs, two RBI, four runs scored and 21 strikeouts in 74 plate appearances. His on-base percentage is a check-his-pulse .203, his slugging percentage is a time-machine-to-the-deadball-era .188 and his ridiculous OPS is .391.

The only good thing you can say about Ibanez’s road performance in 2011 is that he has grounded into only one double play, but in reality, this probably just proves that he simply is not hitting the ball at all.

At which point we are compelled to say, “Yikes.”

So, what’s the point of all this?

At the end of the day, Raul Ibanez is in a curious position—he is simultaneously performing better than anyone realizes, while also performing far worse than his numbers would indicate.

And to that, there is only one thing to say:


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