Coming into the season, and well into it, I was one of Raul Ibanez‘s biggest critics. I saw an old, power-only hitter who can’t play defense. I did not and do not put very much into veteran leadership or chemistry. They are nice benefits if you have them, but I am not a fan of signing a guy for his ability to relate to players.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Raul for what he has done for this team in the past. But I knew that he would end up playing in the field way too much, negating any other form of value he brings.
And for the most part, everything I said above has pretty much come true. He can’t play defense for anything, but has still been out there a large amount. Offensively, it has been all power for the most part.
But there has been a big difference that I did not for see. That being the amount of power he would bring.
Raul currently has 21 home runs on the year, just past the half way point in the season. He is already up there on the list of most home runs for a 41 year old, or something like that. He has been a very productive hitter for this team, more so than anyone expected.
And for that reason, I am jumping on the Ibanez bandwagon for the rest of the season. At least partially. If you continue with the bandwagon metaphor, I am just kind of holding on to the back of the wagon, barely hanging on. That was an awful comparison. I apologize.
The reason I am not totally throwing myself at Raul like many fans are stems mainly from my sabermetric view of baseball. A lot of people don’t look past the high home run totals, and the fact that he used to be very good. Often times for the casual fan, those two things are enough.
But I need more than that.
More than a .306 OBP. More than a 6.6% walk rate. And a lot more than a -9 DRS (defensive runs saved).
If you look past the homers and the nostalgia, you see a much different story. Those three stats listed above have helped to a 0.9 fWAR on the season, which is not nearly as good as the home run totals might suggest.
But it is much better than it was not too long ago. He has been improving as the season rolls on, and has gotten up to a level that I feel comfortable embracing. Before, I was headstrong on the fact that he was still a barely-above-replacement player. Now, I am totally on board with him being on the team, and playing a roll. I would prefer that he played that roll as a DH, but I can settle for some time in left field.
There is one more thing I want to touch on though, that is somewhat related. And that is the effect of veteran leadership.
As I mentioned before, many Raul-enthusiasts pointed to the role he could play off the field, mentoring the kids. That is all well and good, but people still bring it up from time to time. And my question is: has he really done that?
I mean, look at the kids who he was supposed to mentor. Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero both played even worse than last year, and spend time in Triple-A. Michael Saunders reverted back to his 2011 form. The only kid who has looked better is Justin Smoak, and I don’t think it is fair or rational to assume Raul played a role in that.
That doesn’t mean it never has an affect, but it doesn’t seem like it did in this case.
So in short, Raul is growing on me. If he is used correctly, he can be a very valuable piece for a team to have. Unfortunately, his production for this team may all be for naught, as it looks like another sub-par year for the M’s.
That being said, I still hope with every fiber of my being that Jack doesn’t give him an extension after the year.