Today the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies signed Raul Ibanez to a three-year, $30MM contract. This means Pat “The Bat” Burrell won’t be back.
Is Ibanez really better than Burrell? Let’s look at the numbers.
Last year Ibanez hit 23 home runs. Burrell hit 33. Over the last three seasons Ibanez has 77 home runs and Burrell has 92. Advantage: Burrell.
Ibanez is pretty much a lock to have an OBP around .350. Burrell, on the other hand, has a career OBP of .367, and last season his OBP was — wait for it — .367. Advantage: Burrell.
Ibanez doesn’t rely on walks to get on base to the same extent that Burrell does. His batting average last season was .293, compared to Burrell’s .250. That helps explain why Ibanez’s RBI totals are consistently above 100, while Burrell couldn’t crack 90 in 2008. Advantage: Ibanez.
Now let’s talk about defense.
Last season, Burrell was last among qualified NL left fielders in Revised Zone Rating (.829), meaning he didn’t get to many balls that were hit near him. Ibanez’s Revised Zone Rating was second among qualified AL left fielders (.893). Advantage: Ibanez.
In 2008, Burrell played 50 fewer innings in left than Ibanez but still had more out of zone plays. Advantage: Burrell.
Over the past three seasons, Burrell has thrown out 25 percent more runners than the average left fielder, but he’s been less successful holding runners — holding two fewer runners than average. Ibanez (who didn’t play the outfield in 2006), threw out almost 28 more runners than the average left fielder (in 2005, 2007 and 2008), but he was just average when it came to preventing runners from advancing. Advantage: Ibanez.
John Dewan’s Fielding Bible says Burrell made 20 fewer plays than the average left fielder in 2008, while Ibanez made 18 fewer plays. Advantage: Nobody.
So what does it all mean?
The good news is that it’s pretty clear that Ibanez is a better defensive player, though Burrell sets the bar pretty damn low. Offensively, Ibanez doesn’t hit for power like Burrell does, nor does he get on base as often, but his higher batting average could lead to more RBIs (though that’s not a given). And logic would dictate that Ibanez will flourish now that he’s departing Seattle’s anemic lineup and landing in the middle of Philly’s high-powered offense.
On the other hand, signing Ibanez will cost the Phillies a draft pick because the Mariners offered Ibanez arbitration. Moreover, Philadelphia won’t gain a draft pick when Burrell signs elsewhere because new GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. didn’t offer Pat “The Bat” arbitration.
Why didn’t Amaro offer Burrell arbitration? Because he was afraid Burrell would accept. But would that have been so bad? Burrell might have made as much as $16MM in 2009. That’s a lot of money and more than Ibanez will make. But signing Burrell to a one-year deal would also free up cash to sign a better LF in 2010, when the market could be flush with corner outfielders like Matt Holiday, Rick Ankiel, Vlad Guerero, Xavier Nady and Jason Bay.
When you boil it down, Ibanez and Burrell are both similar players. And since Ibanez will probably be cheaper than Burrell over the course of the next three years, this signing makes some sense. But when you factor in the loss of a draft pick and the fact that Ibanez will be 37 come June and 39 in the final year of this deal…well, I’m not sure one year of Burrell and a return trip to the free agent market wasn’t the better option.
UPDATE: The 700 Level has this to say about the Ibanez signing:
Already a lefty-heavy lineup, adding another southpaw doesn’t exactly sound like a great idea, despite Ibanez’s overall numbers. But he did hit lefties well last season, better, in fact, than he hit righties. His average against lefties was .305, and his OBP was .371, and he slugged .497. Versus righties, those numbers were .288, .352, and .470, respectively.
However, those splits might be misleading. Over the last three years, here are his numbers against lefties: .269 avg, .325 OBP, and .410 slugging; against righties over that span: .300, .366, .526, respectively.
Rob Neyer, meanwhile, pretty much agrees that Ibanez and Burrell are very similar players.