Should the Phillies Platoon Raul Ibanez?

The three-year deal given to Raul Ibanez prior to the 2009 season was puzzling at the time given the length of contract weighted against the veteran’s age (He’s about to turn 38 at the mid-point of the contract). Ibanez, though, laid those concerns to rest with an outstanding ’09 season in which he posted a 3.9 WAR and slugged 34 homers.

This season has been a different story. He’s currently hitting .253/.356/.404 in 177 plate appearances. Ibanez’ wOBA has slipped from .379 last season to .325 in ’10. He’s currently being paid $11.5 million and will receive the same amount in 2011. He also has a full no-trade clause in his contract.

The good news for Phillies fans is that the veteran is currently hitting much better in May than he did in April; his wOBA has increased from .308 to .341. However, Ibanez has a .640 OPS against left-handed pitching. His OPS, in comparison, is .805 against righties. Like many left-handed hitters, Ibanez has hit right-handers much better over the course of his career.

At this point, it might make sense for the club to consider platooning the former Mariner. With turning 38 soon, Ibanez’ body would probably benefit from the added rest. Unfortunately, neither back-up outfielder – Ben Francisco nor Ross Gload – has been overly effective this season. Francisco is currently hitting .219/.265/.281, while Gload is batting .241/.241/.448 in an almost strictly pinch-hitting role.

The best solution can found down in triple-A in the form of former No. 1 draft pick John Mayberry Jr. who, at the age of 26, has never been given a fair shot to stick on a MLB roster. The 6’6” 235 lbs outfielder is currently hitting .288/.354/.494 in 160 at-bats. Against left-handers, though, he’s hitting .333/.383/.500. The Stanford alum also has a track record of success against left-handed pitching, as seen by his career line of .283/.355/.495. Mayberry could also potentially spell Ryan Howard from time-to-time, as the big first baseman has also been struggling against southpaws (.696 vs .880 OPS).

At the cost of just Francisco or Gload, it’s really not a big risk for the organization to give Mayberry a chance. Adding his prowess against left-handers could help the club when facing some of the tougher left-handers in the league. With the Phillies club in first place in the National League East, the instinct may be to leave things well enough alone. However, it’s a long season and the club’s hold on first place is anything but secure. This move has the potential to make the team stronger with little downside.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Brad Johnsonmember
12 years ago

I agree that calling up Mayberry at the expense of Gload is probably worthwhile. However, I’m curious about your splits comments. For his career, Raul has featured a normal platoon split, but in 2009 he had a reverse split, hitting lefties better than righties and in 2008 he was basically equal against both hands. 2007 and prior the split resembled what he’s done this year.

So which small sample do we weigh less? The 46 PA against lefties this year or the 387 over the last two years (keeping in mind his overall career numbers are similar to the 46 PA sample)? From the numbers, it’s hard to tell if his skill set changed or if he was just locked in for two years and it went away.

My point is, I’m not sure it’s fair to conclude that Ibanez needs a platoon caddy. It’s a reasonable possibility, but we need a bunch of scouting reports to make an informed decision on it.