Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Rest For Raul

(Dude looks tired to me... Courtesy of Getty Images)

For someone who didn't come in with a lot of fanfare or expectations after being signed, Raul Ibanez has been an incredibly important piece of the Yankee lineup this year.  I know that after watching him flail his way through ST and deliver a classic .gif-worthy defensive botch almost immediately after taking a spot in the outfield, I had already started to countdown to the eventual "Raul Ibanez has been DFA'd" story in my head.  But he started to swing the bat OK and hit for some power early in the season, and with Brett Gardner's continued injury setbacks keeping the lineup flexibility limited, Ibanez has proven to be an incredibly valuable resource to have.  He's provided pop when the lineup needed it and his overall defense has been much better than expected.

June has been a pretty rough month for Raul, though.  After yesterday's game, he's hitting .177/.261/.290 for the month in 69 plate appearances, good for a .244 wOBA and a 45 wRC+.  His season batting line had dipped down below the .240/.300 BA/OBP barrier before he used yesterday's at-bats to get himself back up to exactly .240 and .300, and I can't help but wonder if all this time in the outfield covering for the loss of Gardner is starting to catch up with him.

In April, Ibanez played in 18 games: 9 in the outfield, 5 at DH, and 4 as a late-game pinch hitter.  He accumulated 64 PA in April and posted a .241/.297/.448 slash line, .316 wOBA, and 94 wRC+.  In May, the first full month with no Brett Gardner on the active roster, Ibanez played 17 games in the outfield, 4 at DH, and 2 as a PH, posting a .288/.333/.613 slash, .397 wOBA, and 150 wRC+ in 87 PA.  It would seem that the additional time in the field did more good for Raul's performance at the plate than bad.  But then you get back to his down month in June and the ugly numbers referenced above, and you consider that Ibanez has played 16 games this month as an OF, 1 as the DH, and 2 as a PH, and maybe you start to wonder if the extra time in the outfield has tired him.

Ibanez's K rate (11.6%) and BB rate (season-high 10.1%) this month don't indicate much of a change in his approach at the plate, but the drastic change in his contact rates points to a lack of power and energy.  After being above 20.0% in each of the first 2 months, Raul's LD rate in June is just 13.0% and his GB rate his climbed to 50.0%.  He isn't hitting the ball very hard and isn't getting a lot of lift on his swing, and with him being a guy who turned 40 on June 2nd and has started 33 of the past 44 games he's played as an outfielder I could understand why that shift in contact rates could be occurring.

I made my case recently for why I felt the Ibanez/Andruw Jones platoon strategy should continue to be implemented even without the convenience of the DH spot.  I'll make the same argument here again and expand it to include Dewayne Wise and Jayson Nix.  Neither of them are everyday players, but they've shown that they can hold their own both in the field and at the plate. Why not use them more often and get Ibanez, the oldest position player on the roster, some days off?  Ibanez has already played way more outfield than the Yankees probably ever envisioned him having to play this season, and he probably has way more at-bats than they thought he would have at this point.  He's gone above and beyond the call of duty for the team because the situation called for it, but to make sure he can continue to be productive for the remaining 88 games, it would behoove Joe to get him out of the outfield, off his feet, and on the bench for some more rest here and there.

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