World Series Preview: The OutfieldBy
Again, just the Phillies…
Left field: Raul Ibanez
When the Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract this winter, some thought it a bit odd. Ibanez is a good player, but he turned 37 this season and has played notoriously poor defense for years — worse, possibly, than the man he was replacing, Pat Burrell. Add in Ibanez’s left-handedness — the Phillies had just one solid righty, Jayson Werth — and it seemed curious.
Still, the Phillies had signed a solid bat that can fill a middle of the order spot. Ibanez is insanely consistent from season to season, posting a batting average between .280 and .300, and an OBP hovering around .350 every year. His slugging had fluctuated a bit over the years, dipping as low as .436 in 2005, but over his last three years in Seattle he slugged an aggregate .491. Those are solid numbers all around.
Even so, Pat Burrell, a right-handed hitter, had out-hit Ibanez in all categories except batting average over the past three seasons. His batting average sat around .250, but his OBP was up at .400 in 2006 and 2007, and even with a dip in 2008 it was still at a solid .367. Combine that with a slugging percentage around .500 every year, and you’ve got a solid player. But the Phillies must have known something that extended beyond the numbers, because they clearly made the right choice in Ibanez
Burrell struggled in Tampa Bay, and that’s a kind description. His average dipped to .221, his lowest since hitting .209 in 2003. His on base free-fell to .315, and his slugging went from .507 to .367. Back up in Philadelphia, Raul Ibanez put on a clinic to start the season. In his first 50 games he hit .340/.399/.716, far out of line with his career statistics. This prompted the infamous steroids charges, but by season’s end all that Jerod Morris proved is that he doesn’t understand how a baseball season unfolds. From Game 51 through the end of the season, which included Ibanez missing a little less than a month with a groin injury, he hit .228/.313/.446. In other words, he regressed towards his mean. Lo and behold, he ended the season at .272/.347/.552, right in line with his previous three years, just with a bit more power.
In the playoffs, Ibanez had a great NLDS followed by a poor NLCS. Combined he’s 7 for 31 with two doubles, a homer, and five walks.
On defense Raul is notably poor, though he posted an 8.1 UZR/150 in 2009. This, combined with Juan Rivera’s 13.8 mark, makes me seriously question UZR’s accuracy. Damon’s mark is also questionable — he’s bad, but he’s not worst LF in baseball bad. But this is a topic better saved for the off-season.
Center field: Shane Victorino
As Ibanez, Shane Victorino is a pretty predictable player. Over the past four seasons he has hit around .280, .290, and has had an OBP around .340, .350. To his advantage, his power has climbed in the past two years, from the low .400s in 2006 and 2007 to the .440s in 2008 and 2009. That has transformed Victorino, a two-time Rule 5 pick, from a slightly below average hitter to a slightly above average one. He has also strengthened the Phillies’ lineup by inserting himself as the full-time No. 2 hitter.
Victorino has had his postseason moments. He hit a grand slam in Game 2 of the NLDS last season, off CC Sabthia. He also has three home runs this postseason, including one in each clinching game. The LCS was his time to shine, as he went 7 for 19 with a double, triple, two homers, and two walks.
As far as platoon splits, Victorino hit righties a bit better than lefties this season, though his sample numbers are skewed. He batted 499 times against righties to just 195 times against lefties. Part of his success against lefties could come from his .342 BABIP against them. His BAIP is .304 against righties. Then again, he hit lefties better in 2008 while posting just a .279 BABIP, against .329 against righties. In 2007 the discrepancy showed most in SLG, while in 2009 it showed up more in OBP.
In the field Victorino is solid by most anecdotal accounts. UZR/150 rated him as 7.8 in 2008 and then -1.9 this season in center. Unfortunately, UZR is the best thing we have to objectively evaluate defense.
Right field: Jayson Werth
The Orioles had big plans for Jayson Werth when they drafted him with the 22nd pick of the 1997 draft, but the match was not to be. He hit well enough in his first three full pro seasons, posting OBPs that ranged from the mid to upper .300s. His power hadn’t come along by age 21, though, and at that point the Orioles traded him to the Blue Jays for John Bale.
Almost immediately after the trade, Werth’s power came around. After topping out at eight homers in 1998, he hit 20 in 2001, and then hit 18 in 2002. This earned him a few cups of coffee with the Blue Jays, but he never stuck. Just before the 2004 season, the Jays traded him to the Dodgers for Jason Frasor. The trade worked out well at first, as Werth posted a .825 OPS in 326 plate appearances in 2004, but he dropped off a bit in 2005, mostly with his power, dropping to a .711 OPS.
Why the precipitous drop in power? In Spring Training 2005, A.J. Burnett hit Werth in the wrist on what A.J. recalls as the first pitch of the exhibition season. That sidelined Werth until the end of May, and the injury clearly affected him throughout the season. After the season he had exploratory surgery which revealed two torn ligaments. The corrective procedure kept Werth out for all of 2006, and after the season he signed on with the Phillies.
Werth has been a revelation for the Phils ever since. He came on strong in 2007, hitting .298/.404/.459 in 304 plate appearances. He took on more of a full-time role in 2008, and hit .273/.363/.498 in 482 plate appearances. His power, it seemed, had returned. He continued hitting well in 2009, bringing his slugging percentage above .500 for the first time in his career, mostly on the power of his 36 home runs. He is by far the biggest right-handed threat in the Phillies’ lineup.
Over seven postseason series, including the 2004 NLDS with the Dodgers, Werth has shined, hitting .288/.388/.663. This includes an insane 2008 World Series in which he went 8 for 18 with three doubles, a home run, six walks, and three stolen bases. He has also hit very well in the 2009 playoffs. Against Colorado he went 4 for 14 with a triple, two home runs, and four walks, and in the NLCS he went 4 for 18 with three home runs and two walks.
On defense Werth has a positive reputation, and UZR favors him as well. It favored him a lot more last season, with a 35.6/150 mark, though he was at only 5.7 this season. He also received high marks while playing left field earlier in his career.
Left field: Even. Ibanez could take advantage of the short porch while on the road. Damon has more speed and can also take advantage of the short porch, which closes the gap here.
Center field: Phillies. Melky has been hot, and he’s not all that worse than Victorino. Still, Victorino holds a slight edge.
Right field: Phillies. Again, it’s not a stark difference, though Swisher’s playoff woes play a small part in this. It would be a lot closer if he were hitting better, but I’d still give the edge to Werth.