Raul Ibanez had one of the most unexpected successful seasons in recent memory. He's older than dirt and somehow managed to smash 29 homers while playing his home games at Safeco Field. Nobody knows how that happened, not even Raul. Nonetheless, he has been tabbed as the Angels' new full-time DH. Like it or hate it, that's just the way things are. Let's hope it works out.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only "meh")
What happened in 2013?
The Mariners signed Raul Ibanez in a sort "oh, that's nice" kind of gesture before last season. Ibanez was seemingly brought in to by the old guy dispensing wisdom from the end of the bench, taking occasional starts at DH against right-handed pitchers. He was supposed to continue his decline and ride off into the sunset with the team that he first came up with.
Then Raul went and hit a bunch of homers, 29 to be exact. It was the third most he'd hit in a single season and he turned 41 in June. It makes no damned sense.
What made even less sense is how Seattle responded to that success. They quickly elevated Ibanez from part-time DH to full-time player that spent way too much time in the field. The full-time part worked out OK as Raul suddenly remembered how to hit lefties by way of a .349 wOBA after being utterly useless against southpaws the two previous years. The fielding part… not so much. For starters, this happened:
So, yeah. That's not good. It was not good 98 times though as the Mariners somehow thought it was a good idea to give him that many starts in the outfield. Ibanez rewarded their stupidity by posting a negative (NEGATIVE!) 19 Defensive Runs Saved and -16.7 UZR. That's nightmarishly bad.
All that time in the field seemed to also coincide with Ibanez declining rapidly at the plate as his wOBA fell to .289 in the second half and included just five homers. That could be a coincidence, but it also seems kind of like exactly what you would expect to happen when you forced a 41-year old to play defense in one of the largest outfields in baseball on an everyday basis.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Ibanez has projections that are all over the place. There isn't much in the way of comparable players who are a few months away from turning 42 and coming off arguably the biggest power output of their career. Nobody thinks that Raul can put up the same crazy kind of power numbers, but Oliver and ZiPS think he can at least come somewhat close. ZiPs in particular seems to think that Ibanez has a lot left in the tank, projecting him to put up essentially the same numbers minus a few homers.
On the flip side CAIRO and Steamer forecast Ibanez to take a big steaming dump in 2014. Oliver actually isn't far off from them either other than it thinks Ibanez will still show good power. Put it all together and you have three systems predicting doom and one predicting an almost repeat of 2013.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Lump me in with the group that thinks Ibanez is going get beat over the head with the regression stick. There are just too many red flags around what Ibanez did in 2013. As I mentioned before, Ibanez hit 24 of his homers in the first half. He could barely do anything after that and I tend to believe that was a truer representation of his current abilities.
I also think that Ibanez might've tipped his hand to what happened. He himself said that he realized he was slowing down as a hitter and made a conscious effort to get pull happy. It resulted in more power, but also more whiffs. It took a few months, but I think the league caught on to the change in his approach and, frankly, his power surge forced opposition to take him more seriously. They made their adjustments and Raul's goose was cooked.
In his favor is that Ibanez is leaving Safeco for the slightly friendlier confines of the Big A. It isn't much of an improvement in run environment, but it is an improvement nonetheless. He also will get to hit in a lineup where he isn't the biggest power threat. Seattle's lineup was terrible (again) last year, so team's would focus on shutting Ibanez down. Now they can't really do that. Those two factors could result in my projection being wrong.
However, I don't expect to be wrong. My guess is Ibanez spends the first six weeks as the full-time DH, struggling mightily. Scioscia eventually relents and starts platooning Ibanez, an arrangement that lasts through the deadline despite the lack of results. Come August, Ibanez gets reduced to spot duty.
What are the known unknowns?
If there is a third question mark with Ibanez's collapse in the second half it is just how much playing the field so much punished him. Raul is a fitness freak, but at his age, nobody would be surprised if he just couldn't handle that kind of grind anymore. The good news is that Ibanez won't have to play the field very much for the Angels, so that variable could be removed and help him be more consistent. Or at least we hope. Scioscia has made few comments about using Ibanez at first and the outfield from time to time, but I'm really hoping Dipoto is able to get through to him on what a disastrous idea that would be.
The other issue with Ibanez that is hard to get one's head around is his platoon splits. He held his own against southpaws most of his career. But in 2011 and 2012, he was totally incompetent against left-handers only to rebound to having almost even splits in 2013. So which is it? Can he hit lefties or not?
My projection banks heavily on him getting mowed down by southpaws, but I admit that there is enough of a track record there to suggest that won't be the case. The lack of obvious platoon partner for Raul suggests that Dipoto thinks he'll be able to hit left-handers and Dipoto is smarter than me. It is definitely something worth monitoring closely.