Archive for Raul Ibañez
During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?
Any time a team in any sport wins a championship or even sits in first place for a prolonged period of time, there’s always a few players on their rosters exceeding expectations. Talent can only take you so far, it’s those unexpected contributions that push one team ahead of the rest. The Yankees have the best record in baseball and comfortable lead atop the AL East, and as you’d expect they have some players on their roster doing more than expected.
When Mariano Rivera crumbled to the ground in Kansas City, all of Yankeeland held their collective breath. The worst case scenario played out — Rivera had torn his ACL and is expected to miss the rest of the season — and New York was suddenly without the one undisputed advantage they had over every team. No matter who they faced, regular season or playoffs or whatever, the Yankees have always had the advantage in the ninth inning thanks to Mo.
Replacing Rivera’s brutal effectiveness is impossible, but the Bombers had the pieces in-house to get by. David Robertson got the first crack at the closer’s job but almost immediately hit the disabled list with an oblique strain. That’s when Soriano, the 2010 AL saves champ who signed on as a setup man prior to last season, stepped in. Since Rivera and Robertson hit the DL, Soriano’s pitched to a 1.25 ERA (2.00 FIP) in 21.2 innings while going 20-for-21 in save chances. He’s allowed just three runs total during that time and has held hitters to a .210/.273/.272 batting line. Soriano has avoided the disabled list and after a rocky first season in pinstripes, he’s settled into a crucial role for the team. He’s not Mariano, but my goodness has he been effective as his replacement.
When the season opened, it was more of the same from Hughes. He allowed 22 runs in his first five starts (21.2 IP) and batters were tagging him for a .298/.365/.617 batting line. After a second-half fade in 2010 and a disastrous 2011 season, it seemed that the Phil’s days as a starter were number.
The Yankees stuck with him though, and Hughes has rewarded them by pitching to a 3.46 ERA (3.91 FIP) in his last dozen starts. Only thrice in that span did he allow more than three earned runs in a start, only four times more than two earned runs. His strikeout (8.31 K/9 and 21.5 K%) and walk (2.08 BB/9 and 5.4 BB%) numbers are so good that he’s actually fourth in the league among qualified starters with a 4.00 K/BB. The only guys ahead of him are Colby Lewis (7.50), Justin Verlander (4.27), and Jake Peavy (4.15). That’s pretty great.
Hughes still has a homerun problem — fourth in the league with 19 allowed (1.72 HR/9) — but that’s just going to be who he is. He’s a fly ball pitcher (just 33.7% grounders), but because he walks so few the majority of them has been solo shots. Only six of those 19 homers have come with men on base, and five of those six were two-run shots. The Yankees have remained patient with Phil and he’s rewarded them in the first half by (finally) becoming a solid and sometimes dominant starter.
Considering his age (40), his performance last year (.245/.289/.419), and his Spring Training showing (.150/.190/.333), it was very easy to write Ibanez off as a non-factor just before Opening Day. Rather than burn out and get released by June 1st like we all expected, Raul was the team’s most reliable hitter for the first six or seven weeks of the year and has settled in as a very nice weapon against righties — .250/.311/.484 vs. RHP — in the lower third of the lineup.
Furthermore, Ibanez has had to step in for the injured Brett Gardner and has effectively been the everyday left fielder for the last three months or so. He’s started 45 of the team’s 85 games in the outfield and has only been the DH a dozen times. That’s hard to believe. Ibanez has certainly had his share of lol-worthy moments on defense, but just being able to step in and play everyday while maintaining a reasonable level of offense is far more than we could have expected. Raul was supposed to flame out and have the Yankees hunting for a new DH at the deadline, but he’s instead provided very real impact.
Eric Chavez & Dewayne Wise
The bench has been one of the team’s strengths this year, thanks in large part to Chavez. He had an okay year in 2011 while missing lots of time due to injury, but this year he’s stayed on the field — minus a seven-day concussion hiatus — and legitimately mashed. Chavez owns a .282/.336/.504 batting line with seven homers already, two more dingers than he hit from 2008-2011. Gardner’s injury has forced him into the lineup a little more than expected, but he’s produced both at the plate and in the field. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that Chavez has been one of the biggest surprises of the season so far.
The trickle down effect of Gardner’s injury is quite substantial; it forced Ibanez into the outfield, Chavez into a healthy amount of at-bats, and it brought Dewayne Wise up from Triple-A. The team’s fourth outfielder has 13 hits in 50 at-bats, but two are doubles, one’s a triple, and three (!) are homers. He’s also six-for-six in stole base chances. With the Yankees struggling to score runs and having lost six of their previous seven games, Wise laid down a perfect bunt hit against the Royals to load the bases and ignite a game-winning rally on May 22nd. They won the game and have won 30 of 42 since. Dewayne Wise’s bunt turned the season around. Okay, maybe not. But he’s been awesome.
David Phelps & Cody Eppley
The Yankees went into camp with six starters for five spots, but Michael Pineda‘s injury opened the door for Freddy Garcia to return to the rotation. It also created a competition for the final bullpen spot, a spot Phelps won in Spring Training. He shined in six long relief appearances before taking Garcia’s place in the rotation, at least until Andy Pettitte showed up. Phelps returned to the bullpen and has since bounced back and forth between the big leagues and Triple-A, mostly notably striking out eight in 4.1 innings in a spot start last Wednesday.
Overall, Phelps has pitched to a 3.05 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 41.1 innings, striking out a ton of batters (9.15 K/9 and 23.6 K%) while doing a respectable job in the walk (3.70 BB/9 and 9.6 BB%) and ground ball (43.8%) departments for an AL East rookie. He generated buzz in Spring Training with improved velocity and it carried over into the season, to point where he not only looks like he can get big league hitters out, he looks like a potential long-term starting pitcher.
Joining Phelps in the bullpen has been Eppley, who the Yankees plucked off waivers from the Rangers back in April. He assumed a regular spot on the roster once Rivera got hurt and he’s seized the opportunity by pitching his way into Joe Girardi‘s late-game mix. The sinker-slider sidearm guy has pitched to a 2.70 ERA (3.84 FIP) in 23.1 innings, holding right-handers to a .226/.298/.308 batting line. Eppley’s 65.2% ground ball rate is the fifth highest in the baseball (min. 20 IP). The Yankees do as good a job of find useful arms in unusual places as anyone, and they’ve dug up another good one in Eppley.
Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero to the Mariners, they were left to pluck the scrap heap for a platoon DH option. They passed on former Bombers Johnny Damon (60 wRC+ in 135 PA for the Indians) and Hideki Matsui (39 wRC+ in 53 PA for the Rays) in favor of Raul Ibanez, who has produced an essentially league average 99 wRC+ in just shy of 200 PA this year. He and Derek Jeter carried the offense through the first six weeks of the season, but the last six weeks have been a different story for Raul…
First 33 games: .282/.333/.588 with seven homers, seven walks, and eight strikeouts in 93 PA
Last 33 games: .196/.250/.359 with three homers, five walks, and 13 strikeouts in 100 PA
Brought in to be that left-handed platoon DH, Ibanez has started 36 of the team’s 66 games — including 24 of the last 34 — in the outfield because of Brett Gardner‘s injury. At age 40, I think it’s fair to wonder if all the unexpected time in the outfield has worn him down a bit. At the same time, we also have to acknowledge that Raul has always been one of the streakiest players in baseball. He could just be in one of those slumps before picking it back up, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Gardner’s continued elbow trouble means Ibanez will see more time in the outfield in the coming weeks. The rest of the offense has come around so his offensive slide hasn’t hurt them in the standings, and this is usually the way things go most of the time anyway. Not everyone in the lineup hits at the same time, different players carry the team at different parts of the season. When you’re like the Yankees and you have a lineup full of strong hitters, the individual slumps don’t hurt as much. Hopefully Ibanez gets back to hitting like he was in April and this little dry spell is nothing more than a blip on the radar.
Brett Gardner‘s injury has hurt the Yankees in more ways than one. They miss his productive bat and ability to make pitchers work at the bottom of the lineup, they miss his speed on base paths, and most of all they miss his all-world defense. I give Raul Ibanez an A+ for his effort out there, but the man is a butcher and doesn’t belong anywhere near a glove. Andruw Jones can hold his own in the outfield but is no longer the defender he was during his Atlanta days, and Dewayne Wise is a very good glove man but can’t hit a lick.
With Gardner out anywhere from another two weeks to a full month with a strain muscle in his right (non-throwing) elbow, the Yankees are stuck with sub-optimal left field options for the time being. Ibanez has started each of the last four games and six of the last nine games in left mostly because the DH spot has been rotated around. Even with Eduardo Nunez in Triple-A, the duo of Jayson Nix and Eric Chavez give Joe Girardi a chance to rest Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter somewhat regularly early in the season. Better to rest them now than risk burning them out later, I suppose.
Anyway, the Yankees are stuck with an undesirable left field situation until Gardner comes back. The personnel on the roster is unlikely to change barring injury, but the team can still maximize what they get out of these guys by optimizing their usage. Let’s take a quick look at some batted ball data (2010-present)…
You folks are smart, so you probably already know what I’m getting at here: the Yankees should employ their top defensive outfield unit whenever the fly ball pitchers are on the mound. That means Wise on the field and Ibanez at DH whenever Hughes and Pettitte start. We could also add Nova to that mix if his ground ball rate (44.6% this year) doesn’t return to previous levels (52.7% last year). Kuroda’s ground ball rate (48.6% this year), matches his career average after dropping to 43.2% last year. Perhaps reuniting with former battery-mate Russell Martin helped, or maybe it’s just an early-season fluke.
With Wise in the outfield two (potentially three) out of every five days, Girardi will be able to hide Ibanez’s defense a bit while still being able to rotate that DH spot. It’s not ideal; in a perfect world Ibanez never plays the field, but it’s going to happen until Gardner is healthy, so the Yankees should stick him out there when their top ground-ballers are on the bump to minimize the damage. It also goes without saying that Wise should replace Ibanez in the field in the late innings of close games.
Nunez is in Triple-A now, but the Yankees can also employ a similar defensive platoon on the infield. Nix is not exactly a stellar glove man, but he can spell Jeter at shortstop whenever one of the fly ball guys is on the hill with the thinking that he’ll have fewer tough plays to make. Sure enough, Nix’s only start at short so far this year came with Hughes on the mound this past Saturday. Perhaps the defensive platoon is already in place, at least on the infield. The difference may only be two or three plays a game, but every little bit counts.
Raul Ibanez left tonight’s game after taking a pitch to the right elbow in the ninth inning. He immediately left the game and was replaced by pinch-runner Dewayne Wise. Wise was probably going to come in for defensive purposes anyway, so Ibanez could be fine for all we know. He was in obvious pain however. Stay tuned for any updates.
That Raul Ibanez is off to a slow start comes with little surprise. His poor spring portended such a performance, as did his declining numbers the last two seasons in Philadelphia. The Yankees, we can only hope, did not expect a full recovery from Ibanez, who will turn 40 in just over a month. Instead they sought a serviceable player who could lend a hand for at least half the season.
At .250/.277/.409, Ibanez is looking a lot like his 2011 self. He oftentimes looks overmatched at the plate, as he did last night against Yu Darvish, unable to get his bat around on top-flight fastballs. So far he has been a half-run below average on offense, and his presence in the DH spot, or otherwise playing a poor outfield, further diminishes his value. Thankfully, there is a redeeming factor.
Ibanez has been at his worst in the most forgivable situations: no men on base. In his 21 bases empty PA he has gone 4 for 20 with a walk and no extra base hits. Yet when there have been men on he has put in his best effort. In 26 such PA he has gone 7 for 24 with all three of his extra base hits. As such, he’s been able to turn his 11 hits this season into 9 RBI. The fortuitous timing has made Ibanez more valuable in reality than his overall stat line indicates.
It’s normal, of course, for hitters to perform better with the pitcher in the stretch. This year AL hitters are OPSing 20 points better with men on than they are with the bases empty; in 2011 they hit .013 better with men on. Even still, Ibanez’s performance is out of line even with that disparity. That he’s hit all three of his extra base hits with men on base means a lot for the Yankees’ run scoring. We’d probably have a much more negative opinion of him if he’d hit a pair of solo homers and got stranded after a bases-empty double.
Just as we’d expect Ibanez to even out a bit, so we should expect the Yankees offense to do the same. They’re out of line with the league trend, OPSing just 9 points better with men on base than with the bases empty. That is, Ibanez has picked them up early on, when they needed the boost. Yet this doesn’t mean Ibanez will suddenly disappear. Remember, last year he was hitting .154/.238/.209 after 100 PA. From that point on he hit .264/.300/.462 in 474 PA. Those are no sterling numbers, but for $1.1 million the Yankees would probably take that.
It won’t be an easy year for Ibanez. He’s clearly a shell of his former self at the plate, and his previously poor defensive skills have completely eroded. But for a temporary solution to a vacant DH slot, the Yankees could have done worse. If the Yankees can squeeze just a little more well-timed value out of Ibanez, they can approach the trade deadline with an eye on acquiring a bat. That might sound a little cold, to eke as much value out of a guy as possible and then bid him goodbye, but that’s the reality of a team pursuing a championship.
The DH spot figured to be a bit of a lightning rod this season, one way or another. If the Yankees had not traded Jesus Montero, his every at-bat would have been scrutinized and over-analyzed given his status as The Next Great Yankee. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had gotten off to his .286/.261/.286 start in pinstripes. Instead, we’re left with Raul Ibanez and his age-slowed bat and massive platoon split.
Ibanez, 40 in less than two months, owns two of the three most memorable hits on the young season. He clobbered a three-run homer off Jamie Shields on Opening Day, and two nights ago he won the game with an extra innings double off Pedro Strop. More than one-fifth of the team’s runs have crossed the plate because of his bat. Of course, Ibanez hasn’t hit a lick outside of those two big hits, reaching base in just three of his other 16 plate appearances. One of those three was an intentional walk.
The offense as a whole has been hit or miss, especially with runners on base. Ibanez has bailed them out on two occasions even though that Opening Day homer came in an eventual loss. I’d like to think that he has a knack for the big hit, but I generally don’t buy into that stuff. He’s just had the right swing at the right time as far as I’m concerned. He deserves credit for doing that and for shaking off that brutal showing in Spring Training.
Six games — five for Ibanez — means very little in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nice to see him get off to a decent start. Maybe memorable is a better word, because a DH with a .306 wOBA is hardly a standout performance. Perhaps his first trip into the Bronx and Yankee Stadium will get him going a bit, but for now Ibanez has silenced some of the critics, albeit briefly. As long as they don’t play him in the field
anytime soon anymore, there’s no reason for the Yankees to not ride this out a bit and see what he can do in this role.
Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero in January, it became fairly clear that they were going to approach the DH spot differently than they had in the previous few years. For so many years they employed, or planned to employ, a full-time DH. From Hideki Matsui to Nick Johnson to Jorge Posada, it was a plan that seemed to work for the high-powered Yankees’ offense. Raul Ibanez, however, is no full-time DH. That works well for the Yankees plans though, as they have a number of bench players they want to work into more regular roles.
During opening weekend we got a glimpse of what is to come. It started on Friday, when we learned that Eduardo Nunez would start in the field on Saturday against lefty David Price. That afforded Derek Jeter a half-day at DH. On Sunday Girardi went with his regular lineup, but placed Raul Ibanez in right field while using Nick Swisher as the DH. Both times the irregular player committed costly mistakes, but we shouldn’t judge the system based on individual plays. Is this something the Yankees can sustain throughout the season?
In favor of the rotation DH
It is clear that the Yankees are intent on using the DH spot to give a half-day rest to players who need it. Alex Rodriguez figures to be a beneficiary; he’s spent time on the DL in each of the last four seasons and could use the small break that DHing affords him. Jeter, who missed about a week in camp with calf issues, can probably also use the break every now and then. In the outfield the Yankees can mask Brett Gardner‘s relative weaknesses against lefties with Andruw Jones‘s strength. Additionally, as we saw yesterday, they can use this to give a break to the slightly wounded. Remember, Swisher missed time during the spring with a pair of groin injuries, so using him as the DH sometimes early in the season seems like a reasonable idea.
The problem with a rotation DH is that in many cases, it means inserting an inferior bench player into a lineup spot that could go to a more powerful hitter. For the Yankees this isn’t exactly the case. Jones ranks among baseball’s best fourth outfielders, so using him in place of Gardner, or even Swisher, isn’t a huge drop-off. In fact, in the case of Gardner it can create a net advantage. In the infield Nunez clearly isn’t at the level of Jeter or Rodriguez. But the Yankees have been vocal in their desire to get him more playing time, and as Mike said on Friday this seems like the most sensible way to do so.
Absent a DH in the mold of Hideki Matsui circa 2009, this might be the best way for the Yankees to fill the DH spot. It lets them take advantage of Jones’s skills, and also provides an opportunity to get a better read on Nunez. At the same time, they can manage the physical toll on more fragile players, such as Rodriguez, and players who have minor ailments, such as Jeter and Swisher. That kind of flexibility is always useful during the course of a six-month MLB season.
Against the rotating DH
While, as I said above, we shouldn’t judge anything based on a few individual plays, it’s difficult to get the images of Nunez’s and Ibanez’s blunders out of our heads. They were just so egregious. And, in a way, they were to be expected. Ibanez is a notoriously poor defender in the outfield; his misplay yesterday resembled so many plays from his recent past. Nunez, as we saw, committed 20 errors last year in just 753 infield innings — roughly one every four games. That takes away many of the rotating DH’s advantages.
At The Captain’s Blog, William Julano covers the dark side of Girardi’s scheme. It’s not so much about the idea itself, but rather the personnel. Yes, the Yankees can perhaps keep everyone healthier by employing the rotating DH, but at the same time they’re hurting their pitchers by trotting out inferior defenders behind them. As we saw on Saturday and Sunday, those plays can be costly.
Working out the kinks
The good news is that the Yankees have a few options. First and foremost, they can refuse to play Ibanez in the field unless absolutely necessary. They’re paying him just $1 million, so he’s not a guy they have to trot out there against every single right-handed pitcher. If they want to give Swisher a half-day off to keep him fresh — something that will likely happen less frequently as the season wears on — they can simply use Andruw Jones out there. Since 2009 he does have a 101 wRC+ against right-handers, so he’s not completely useless. Given Ibanez’s nonexistent defense, he’ll provide a net positive in those situations.
In the infield the situation is a bit tougher. Nunez will continue to get playing time when Rodriguez and Jeter DH, and for now that’s fine. It might cost them a few runs in the short term, but it will give them a better idea of what Nunez can bring to the table in a more regular role. If by mid-season they judge that he’s not the prospect they’ve made him out to be, they can swing a trade for someone who fits more appropriately. There is, of course, always the possibility that Nunez settles in, cuts down his errors, and adds a little value with his bat vs. left-handed pitching. But the Yanks won’t know until they try.
The idea of a rotating DH is nothing new. Teams have tried it, but because of limited resources it rarely works out as expected. That is, bench players are bench players for a reason. Subbing one of them in and using a starter at DH takes away a spot from someone who can actually hit. The Yankees are in a position, however, where they can give it a whirl for an extended period. They have high-quality hitters in their lineup, and at least one of their rotation guys is a solid, above-average hitter. They might have some growing pains with Nunez, and they’ll have to keep Ibanez out of the outfield. But in the far view of a 162-game season, this could work out for the Yankees.
In his spring training debut, against his former team, Raul Ibanez laced a double in a 1 for 3 performance. Over the next three weeks he’d pick up just one more hit. Considering his age and his 2011 numbers, his slow spring caused plenty of concern for Yankees fans. It’s just spring training, sure, but doesn’t it mean more when a 40-year-old player looks his age? If his bat is slow now, won’t it continue to be slow during the regular season?
In other words, there were plenty of out-loud questions about Ibanez’s ability to help the Yankees in 2012. As with Andruw Jones last year, he has drawn comparisons to Randy Winn, whose time with the Yankees in 2010 didn’t last even two months. While an early exit for Ibanez is still within the realm of possibility, it’s still only speculation at this point. There’s still time for Ibanez to round into form and help the Yankees this season.
For starters, Ibanez’s numbers this spring aren’t his worst in recent memory. In 2010 he hit .130/.266/.241 in 54 spring training at-bats, amounting to a paltry .506 OPS. This year he’s at .167/.211/.370, which is slightly better at .581. His strikeout totals are nearly identical, 13 in 2010 and 12 this year. The only difference is that he hasn’t walked this year. Maybe that’s cause for concern, or maybe it’s him being a little too anxious to belt a base hit. In any case, he went on to produce a .275/.349/.444 line in 2010, including .277/.366/.455 against right-handed pitching. While those aren’t stellar numbers, a repeat would be quite welcome all considered.
Since that horrible start to the spring, Ibanez has rebounded a bit. Following his 2 for 37 slump he’s gone 7 for 17 with a double and three home runs, plus a walk. He also had a fourth homer taken away by Jason Heyward. That streak should at least table the argument of whether he’s finished as a major leaguer. It won’t completely remove it, of course, just as his early spring slump didn’t prove it. But it’s at least a bright sign after a mostly dismal start to the spring.
We can look to the past, as well, to see other players who performed poorly in the spring, only to bounce back for a quality regular season. In 2010 Marcus Thames looked done, hitting just .135/.192/.269 in 52 spring at-bats. The Yankees signed him to a non-guaranteed contract, yet they still chose to bring him north. He rewarded them by hitting .288/.350/.491 in 237 PA. Brett Gardner hit .200/.286/.273 that spring, but hit .277/.383/.379 in the regular season. Last season Andruw Jones turned in a miserable spring, hitting .182/.265/.318. Even worse, he started off the season slowly. Yet he came back and provided excellent production in the second half.
The exceptions don’t prove that Ibanez will bounce back and produce big from the DH spot in 2012. What they illustrate is that spring numbers can deceive. Some players just take a while to get started. Some streak and slump to a greater degree than others, and their slow springs are just poorly timed slumps. For all we know, Ibanez might really be done as a major leaguer. But it’s not his spring training that will prove it. He’ll get his chances during the season, and considering how the Jones situation played out chances are the Yankees will give Ibanez an extended look. It might not work out, but we’ve seen too many veterans perform well after poor springs that he certainly deserves the shot.
Before the Yankees agreed to terms with Raul Ibanez, they explored the trade market for DH options. The thinking was that they might be able to offload A.J. Burnett in exchange for a left-handed hitter, fulfilling two organizational needs at once. While that never materialized, there were a few whispers about possible targets. Among them was former Yankee right fielder Bobby Abreu, who seemingly has been squeezed out of Anaheim’s lineup. But since Burnett could and did refuse a trade to the Angels, the situation never developed.
A month later, the situation has changed. While Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia spoke of giving Abreu 400 at-bats, that might no longer be the case. Kendrys Morales has come back strong, and the indication is that he’ll be the regular DH. With all three outfield spots spoken for, and with Mike Trout looming, there doesn’t appear to be any regular at-bats for Abreu. The Angels will almost certainly look to trade him before the start of the season. Might the Yankees match up?
The Yankees signed Ibanez to fill the DH spot against right-handed pitching, but the 39-year-old has done little to impress this spring. He has gone 3 for 40 with just two walks, though he did homer on Saturday. His bat looks slow, and there appear to be few redeeming qualities in his spring. We’ve received many emails to RAB lamenting Ibanez’s struggles and suggesting alternatives should he continue to flail. Since he earns just $1 million, he is expendable under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, Abreu’s situation is quite similar to Ibanez’s.
Abreu has 37 at-bats this spring and has just four hits. He has walked just three times, though chances are he’s not honing his discipline. Instead, according to Scioscia, he’s just working on his timing. Abreu, too, is writing off his poor spring performance, saying that he’s focused on getting himself ready for the season and not with his actual production. Still, it’s difficult to see how he’s in a better position than Ibanez. In fact, he might be in a worse position.
After a terrible season in 2011, Ibanez has worked to get himself back into playing shape. There have been no concerns about his weight, his preparedness, or his work ethic this spring. Abreu, on the other hand, has constantly chirped about his dissatisfaction with his role. He also gained weight, another concern for a player his age. Essentially, his words this spring have brought into question his attitude. Ibanez has never come under fire for such character issues. In fact, he is often lauded for his clubhouse personality.
Abreu can turn to his recent performances, but even those fall short. For the last two years he’s seen his average drop to .250, which has in turn dropped his OBP into the .350 range. His power dropped off considerably last year as well, further damning his case. Indeed, he might have a point about his treatment by the Angels; there’s little doubt that Abreu is a better offensive player than Vernon Wells, who will continue to start in left field. But his diminishing performance, combined with his spring numbers and his combative attitude, all work against him.
Perhaps a change of scenery would brighten things for Abreu. Maybe that would spur him to a season that resembles his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. Unfortunately, a match just doesn’t seem to be there with the Yankees. They already have someone like that in camp, and he didn’t show up overweight while throwing jabs at the organization. If Abreu were performing well this spring, maybe the Yankees would consider it. Even then, the Angels would probably have to release Abreu, since the Yankees won’t want to trade useful players for him or pay part of his $9 million salary. But with Abreu struggling similarly to Ibanez, there seems to be no point. The Yanks will just stuck with who they have and monitor the market for upgrades if they feel they need one.
Platoons in baseball can be tricky machines. In theory they’re great. They allow batters to emphasize their strengths and hide their weaknesses. But in practice they don’t quite add up perfectly. There are all sorts of issues that go along with platoons, not least of which is the sheer number of roster spots available. As such, teams have to pick their platoon guys with care. The 2012 Yankees seem to have one prominent platoon pair, with a couple of other low-level ones to consider on occasion.
Heading into the 2010 season, the Yankees needed a righty outfield bat. They had just traded for Curtis Granderson, who had struggled against left-handed pitching for most of his career. They were also going to try Brett Gardner, another lefty, in left field. Having a right-handed outfielder to spell one of them seemed not only like a good idea, but a pretty necessary insurance plan. And so, despite Marcus Thames‘ subpar spring training, he made the team.
Deciding that they’d gotten the best of Thames, the Yankees sought another lefty masher for their 2011 lineup. Andruw Jones appeared to be a perfect fit. After slipping in 2007 and turning in a disastrous 2008, Jones had recovered to be a serviceable part-time player, excelling particularly against left-handed pitchers. His continued production against left-handed pitching earned him a return trip for 2012.
Jones has expressed a desire for a more regular role, facing both lefties and righties. He might get that opportunity, given the concerns with our next entrant on the platoon bats list. But chances are he’ll be at his most effective against left-handed pitchers. Since 2009 Jones has produced a 129 wRC+ against left-handed pitching, which ranks 55th among all major leaguers with at least 200 PA (against LHP).
Once the Yankees traded Jesus Montero, their DH situation became a big clearer. Jones could take reps at DH against left-handed pitching, leaving Brett Gardner to a full-time role in left. But that still left open the strong side of the DH platoon. By that point in the off-season there weren’t many viable options remaining, and so the Yankees picked the player whom they thought gave them the best combination of the skills they valued. That turned out to be Ibanez.
Like Thames two years ago, Ibanez has started slowly in the spring. Given his guaranteed contract and lack of competition, however, he’ll likely break camp with the team and commence his role as the platoon DH. Yet it’s difficult to expect big things from him. Since 2009 Ibanez has produced a 112 wRC+ against right-handed pitching, which ranks 65th out of 147 qualified hitters. That does include a poor 2012 as well as a torrid 2009. The Yanks will do best to avoid all confrontations between Ibanez and lefties.
While Ibanez and Jones represent the bulk of the Yankees’ platoon opportunities, they do have a few other players who carry platoon splits. They likely won’t get platooned, at least not frequently, but their rest days would preferably come when facing same-handed pitchers. (Though that should be the rule of thumb regardless, right?)
Last year Gardner saw fewer at-bats against left-handed pitching. This is partly because Jones hit them so well. But there were also signs that he was struggling against them. He didn’t hit for average (.233) and had absolutely no power (.039 ISO). While he did walk and strike out against lefties less frequently than he did against righties, the overall result was pretty negative (75 wRC+).
With the DH spot open against left-handed pitching, Gardner could see more opportunities this year. He did hit lefties fairly well in 2010, a .373 OBP and a 102 wRC+. He’ll get days off against lefties for sure, but it does appear that he’ll get a few more chances to prove his mettle against them in 2012.
Jeter did bounce back in the second half of last year, but his total season numbers against righties still disappointed. In fact, it was his torrid production against lefties, a 160 wRC+ in 168 PA, that contributed greatly to his overall success. Against rigthies, whom he faced 439 times, he hit just .277/.329/.338. Still, that was an improvement on his 2010 season, in which he hit .246/.315/.317 in 500 PA against RHP. The last time he hit righties effectively was 2009: .311/.381/.435. Given his age it’s difficult to expect more out of him than he hit last year. If he can keep up that pace he’ll be OK. But it’s easy to see how his production against righties will hurt his overall numbers in the final years of his contract.
Larry covered A-Rod’s continued woes against left-handed pitching earlier in the off-season. He did a pretty comprehensive job, so there’s no need to rehash it here. A-Rod‘s poor production against lefties makes Eric Chavez an unideal understudy, since he’ll face mostly right-handed pitchers. But perhaps the new, more balanced A-Rod will buck the trend and once again mash left-handed pitching.
There could also be room here to mention both Nick Swisher‘s and Mark Teixeira‘s struggles against righties, but that’s not really a platoon issue. That is, they’re not going to sit against right-handed pitching, since they’re their own platoon partners. But those issues do exist. Just to be clear.