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December 12, 2008

Prospectus Today

Over-Correcting and Over-Spending

by Joe Sheehan

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Pat Burrell at one year and $16 million, or Raul Ibanez for three years and $30 million? I'm pretty sure that there's a right answer to this question, and just as sure that the Phillies didn't land on it.

I'd mentioned in one of the recent chat sessions that there's a perceptions gap between Ibanez and some of the other corner outfielders on the market. Largely because of size and speed, or lack thereof, guys like Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn have terrible defensive reputations. Neither is a good defensive outfielder; Burrell is actually bad. However, as with Barry Bonds, the size of this problem is overstated in part because the player's defense isn't being evaluated so much as judged-how he looks as opposed to what he does-and because a left fielder's defense isn't quite as important to his value as the rest of his game.

The thing is, Ibanez can't play the outfield. He's been one of the worst left fielders in the game the last two years, and he's one of the few options whose glove work has been comparable to Burrell's. Per the Plus/Minus system developed by John Dewan:


Year    Burrell   Ibanez
2006      -26       +2
2007      -27      -25
2008      -20      -18
Total     -73      -41

According to Dewan, these are the two worst defensive left fielders in baseball over the last two seasons, with Ibanez being just slightly better than the guy he's now replacing. However, because Ibanez doesn't look as awkward as Burrell does, he gets a pass for his defense. Let's be clear about this: the Phillies didn't get any better with this deal. They got an outfielder who is just as poor a glove man as the guy he's replacing, likely a worse hitter, somewhat older, and at a cost of two additional seasons and maybe $14 million. They had an option two weeks ago to offer Pat Burrell arbitration, a decision that could have returned a good player on a one-year contract in the $16 million range, potentially less. Now, they have spent more money without making themselves better. Last year, the two were virtually identical:


Guy       Age   AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA  VORP
Burrell    31  .250  .367  .507  .295  34.8
Ibanez     36  .293  .358  .479  .295  38.5

Check the number in the left-hand column. That five-year age difference is very significant, as one player is in his late prime and could be had for a commitment to just his age-32 season. The other is out of his prime, and while he's aged well as a hitter, he's now signed from 36 through 38. Given how close the players' performances have been, and the marginal difference between the two in 2009 of maybe $6 million, it's incomprehensible that the Phillies would decline to offer Burrell arbitration and then sign the same player, five years older, for more years and money.

If you want another reason to hate the deal, consider that Ibanez is a left-handed batter who will clearly be asked to bat second, fifth, or sixth. The Phillies already set up their opponents by batting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back-to-back. A third left-handed batter in the middle of the order will make the target for lefty specialists that much bigger. Whether you agree with my assessment of Howard or you don't, you have to concede that making it easy for managers to run the Scott Schoeneweises of the world at him from the sixth inning on is a bad idea. It's not about whether Howard is a threat against lefties, but about how effective those pitchers tend to be at their jobs. If Ibanez and Burrell are identical, and they seem to be at the plate, the Phillies are better served by having the right-handed batter.

The Phillies simply made a bad play. Burrell probably would not have accepted arbitration, eventually yielding two draft picks in exchange, and even had he accepted, that would have been a better outcome than signing Ibanez will be. Ibanez is the same player, but because of his age, more likely to decline in the short term, and because he bats left-handed, he doesn't fit the Phillies' lineup very well. The perceived defensive gap between the two players is an illusion; Ibanez is just as bad as Burrell in the pasture.

The deal is an excellent one for Ibanez, who was probably the least attractive of a group of good-hit, no-field outfielders currently finding the market a bit cold. Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Burrell, and Bobby Abreu are all free agents as the Christmas music gets a little bit louder, and all signs point to them being out in the cold a bit longer. Teams are finding other ways to fill their corners, mostly through trades, rather than to commit to flawed players for multiple seasons at eight-figure salaries. I'm more convinced than ever that at least one of these guys is going to be this year's Kyle Lohse, still available after Presidents Day for a fraction of the cost of his production, and someone who will go on to be a great signing.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Raul Ibanez,  Pat Burrell

37 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

psalveso

yes, Ibanez is LH, but he his lefties at .305 last year and .256, .243 and .275 in the years before. Like Utley, he can hit lefties.

also, he strikes out less and put the ball into play more. burrell, like old phillie Bobby Abreu, was happy to take walks with RISP (though he had improved as of late). Ibanez hit 327, .319 and .337 the last 3 years with RISP. Burrell hit .234, .258 and .222.

this isn't a huge upgrade over Burrell, but I think you are being a little dramatic that this was some sort of disaster signing for a team that has a significant amount of new revenue coming in thanks to winning the World Series.

Dec 12, 2008 13:19 PM
rating: -3
 
Fresh Hops

Take a look at Ibanez career splits on the graphs over at fangraphs. Historically, the guy doesn't hit lefties well. His 2008 split was the result of a high BABIP against lefties; his historical BABIP against lefties supports the conclusion that this was luck. His k/bb ratio against lefties is bad.

Taking walks with RISP is good. For a given number of outs, there's no configuration of the bases where more men on board decreases the runs expected. 2/3 of balls in play are outs, and a batter's ability to control that is pretty limited. Indeed, the most important thing to do with RISP is not get out.

Dec 12, 2008 14:45 PM
rating: 6
 
Richard Bergstrom

Considering how long the Phillies have tried to run Burrell out of town by downplaying the things he does well, I think it's a bit of poetic justice that they overpaid for a worse player.

Dec 12, 2008 13:21 PM
rating: 5
 
chartjes
(897)

@psalveso

The amount of money you have at your disposal should not be the determining factor of whether or not a signing is a disaster. Performance should be the determining factor.

I think that you are underestimating the impact on lineup construction that swapping out Burrell for Ibanez will have. Like Joe said, don't give the opposition easy decisions like when to use a lefty killer.

Dec 12, 2008 13:33 PM
rating: 1
 
psalveso
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he hit .305 against lefties last year. better than against righties. and 26 points higher than Pat Burrell hit against lefties last season.

I don't see lefty killers having a big impact on our season. Besides, if it becomes a problem, you can hit Werth 5th and Ibanez 6th.

i agree that they overpaid, but i dont think they grossly overpaid. $16 mill, even for one year, for Burrell, would have been grossly overpaying.

Dec 12, 2008 13:42 PM
rating: -9
 
One Flap Down
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"Our season"? Do you play for the Phillies or are otherwise employed by them?

Dec 12, 2008 14:23 PM
rating: -21
 
mattstupp

This is a bad deal when you consider the other options that were available. Between Ibanez, Burrell, Dunn and Abreu (not counting Manny since he's decidedly more expensive), Ibanez is easily the worst. He's older, not a good hitter for his position, plays terrible defense at an easy position, and left handed. Sorry, but a 36 year old DH who can't play left field, can't slug .500, can't get on base more often than Fukudome or Lyle Overbay and whose handedness creates a distinct lineup imbalance just isn't that valuable.

Dec 12, 2008 13:45 PM
rating: 1
 
rdcramer3

Joe, as an opht-phrustrated Phillies phan for over phiphty years, I completely agree with you. Almost certainly a better left fielder could have been signed for less money with just a little more patience. Not a good start for yet another Phillies front office reboot.

Dick Cramer

Dec 12, 2008 13:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

psalveso,

Do you think that taking a walk with RISP increases or decreases the probable number of runs that will be scored in an inning? I would suggest that unless the hitters behind you are truly terrible, a walk with RISP is a good thing.

Also, in this day and age, why would you use batting average to evaluate a player's performance?

Dec 12, 2008 13:53 PM
rating: 2
 
ChasesAses

This makes me sick. Just the first of many bad moves that the Ruben Amaro front office will make. His promotion, and not this signing, is the worst move of the off-season.

Dec 12, 2008 14:09 PM
rating: 2
 
psalveso
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bishopcreed,

I understand the metrics that say it increases the probibility. but getting the hit actually gets the run in. And when you are batting 5th, the 6th hitter is going to be a worse hitter than you. It's the same mentality as someone like Kobe Bryant constantly passing up the last shot in a game. Sure, the other guy can make it, but Bryant should be taking it.

It's the difference (obviously not the only one) between having a Chase Utley or a Bobby Abreu on your team.

I used batting average because its was easily accessible, and was a large enough difference (100 points) that it was significant.

VORP is the most commonly used stat here, and Ibanez was comfortably better than Burrell 2 of the last 3 years and I guarantee Burrell will fall off quicker than Ibanez because he has a longer swing that relies more on his athleticism. Ibanez is more of a "professional hitter," if you will.

like i said, i think we overpaid, i just don't get why people are acting like we signed Geoff Jenkins to this contract. Ibanez had a higher VORP than Howard, Longoria, Dye, Delgado, Teixiera etc, etc last year. He's no slouch.

Dec 12, 2008 14:15 PM
rating: -5
 
Fresh Hops

Dude seriously, check this out:
http://i27.tinypic.com/28akex2.jpg
Nice work in the outfield, huh?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that both Burrel and Ibanez are basically below average MLB players once you take their defense into account. -20 plays for an outfielder is the logical equivalent of taking away 20 Ks from a pitcher and adding 20 hits to replace them. It works out to about 16 runs. In a rational world, Ibanez would be a DH next season, which would make a difference of .9 (!) in an ERA over the course of 160 innings.

Dec 12, 2008 14:53 PM
rating: 4
 
amazin_mess
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Holy shit. LOL

Dec 12, 2008 19:52 PM
rating: -4
 
Matt Swartz

Just checking-- 16 runs in the entire season is how much worse these LF are. What do you mean 160 IP? The season is about 1400 IP. You can't just make up a number of innings to divide those 16 runs between. Why stop at 160? Why not say that is 144.00 jump in ERA if you pretend those 16 runs happened all in one inning?!

Dec 13, 2008 11:55 AM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

"but getting the hit actually gets the run in"

Yes, and making the out actually sends your pitcher back out to the mound minus that run. You seem to think that "getting the hit" is the alternative to "taking the walk"; it isn't. "Making the out" is the far more likely outcome, for every player, especially when the pitches he's getting make "taking the walk" an option.

Dec 12, 2008 15:21 PM
rating: 3
 
tdrury

The full triple slash splits are accessible too, so let's try looking at those instead for the 4 years that you cited for Ibanez.

2008: .288/.353/.470 vs RH, .305/.368/.497 vs LH. So far, so good.

2007: .305/.371/.528 vs RH, .256/.294/.356 vs LH

2006: .308/.375/.580 vs RH, .243/.301/.362 vs LH

2005: .282/.359/.442 vs RH, .275/.346/.423 vs LH

So we've got approximately a .296/.364/.505 line vs RH and a .271/.330/.413 line vs LH for the 4 year period. The latter, while not terrible, isn't really what I'd want from a corner OF.

Dec 12, 2008 20:19 PM
rating: 0
 
josher464

I think the statement that they're the same hitter is misguided. Yes, they have similar VORPs, but they get their differently, as shown by the slash stats mentioned. Burrell's SLG is noticeably higher than Ibanez's AVG, and vicey versy. I think that's the key to understand why Philly did the deal - they weren't looking for take and rake. Doesn't make it a good decision (because of age, because of fielding, because of cost, because I'd take SLG over AVG any day). But to say they're the same hitter I think is oversimplifying the issue as far as an analysis of why Philly did what they did.

Dec 12, 2008 14:17 PM
rating: 4
 
ElAngelo
(942)

I agree that this signing is horrible, but the arbitration part on Burrell is a little tougher to read. First, it's unlikely he would take arbitration, and for all we know, they had a handshake agreement to NOT offer him arbitration so he could sign elsewhere and make more money in the process.

Dec 12, 2008 14:42 PM
rating: 0
 
mongrel

As a Mets fan I've been nervous knowing that Omar Minaya has coveted Ibanez for a while. I would've been pleased enough to see Ibanez sign with a different team, but seeing him sign with the Phillies is icing on the cake.

Dec 12, 2008 15:05 PM
rating: 0
 
sroney

Garrett Anderson is another left-fielder muddying the free agent waters.

Dec 12, 2008 15:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

"It's the difference (obviously not the only one) between having a Chase Utley or a Bobby Abreu on your team."

...?

No wonder Phillies fans booed Mike Schmidt.

Dec 12, 2008 16:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Clemente

Teixeira's VORP for 2008 places him in the top 10. Ibanez was not higher---he barely beat Teixeira's third-plus of a season at Anaheim.

Dec 12, 2008 16:58 PM
rating: 3
 
amazin_mess

Mets fans everywhere thank you Ruben Amaro!

Dec 12, 2008 17:32 PM
rating: -2
 
WaldoInSC

This whole discussion assumes that defensive metrics are worth the electrons they consume. I have always been, and remain, highly dubious.

Dec 12, 2008 17:34 PM
rating: -1
 
DWrek5

Even the creators would concur the current metrics are not perfect. But there are about 4 or 5 pretty good ones out there. Put them all together and you could get a decent feel.
Two I really like (besides BP if want an unbiased approach) are Dewans +/- and Fangraphs UZR. Both agree that these Burrell/Ibanez are are all kinds of badness out there.

Dec 12, 2008 17:43 PM
rating: 2
 
Evan
(47)

Plus, a quick perusal of Mariner blogs will find you a number of excellent animated gifs of Ibanez making the very worst outfield plays you have ever, EVER seen.

In fact, go to lookoutlanding.com and find down toward the bottom of the left sidebar the section called "Raul Ibanez takes pride in his defense"

Dec 12, 2008 19:31 PM
rating: 0
 
diperna

As far as I know, the methodology behind BP's defensive metrics is proprietary, which is their right, but, then, it's hard to take the metrics seriously when they haven't been vetted by the community.

Dec 12, 2008 22:18 PM
rating: 2
 
nschaef

Two Things:
1) Criticize defensive metrics all you like, but I'm pretty sure visual evidence from people who know what they're talking about really don't like Ibanez's defense.
2) Not only do the Phillies lose the chance of gaining draft picks by offering arbitration to Burrell, don't they also lose their draft pick by signing Ibanez, who's Type A?

Dec 13, 2008 01:22 AM
rating: 3
 
calhounite

yea, but it takes years of practice to dribble the ball..haven't seen it done YET

Dec 13, 2008 06:23 AM
rating: 0
 
jmoyer888

We can look at the data all we want but the primary reason for this deal is that Ibanez, by most accounts, is a good character guy and a known quantity ( through Gillick). Right or wrong, this season reinforced the Phillies belief that having good guys on your team leads to better chemistry leads to better outcomes. There's no way the phils were going to sign Dunn, even less chance they were going to sign Manny or Abreu.
Again, not saying it's right or wrong but it had to be the deciding factor.

Dec 13, 2008 08:32 AM
rating: 1
 
nschaef

Character guys like Brett Myers you mean?

Dec 13, 2008 10:33 AM
rating: 2
 
James Martin Cole

Are you serious?

Brett Myers hit his wife in front of a crowd of people, but Adam Dunn and Pat Burrell are bad character guys?

Dec 13, 2008 14:52 PM
rating: 1
 
McCaffery

No, Mr. nschaef was not serious. He was being ironic.

Dec 16, 2008 14:57 PM
rating: 1
 
caliphornian

I'd have to argue that the deciding factor was money, not chemistry. Why else would you replace a certain level of production with the same amount?

Dec 14, 2008 17:08 PM
rating: 0
 
jeffstoned

The sequence of moves that started with not offering arb to Moyer and Burrell, and ended with a market-setting deal to a player who matches Burrell's flaws but not his virtues and brings negatives of his own, illustrates why so many of us who follow the Phils dreaded Ruben Amaro's promotion. He's well on his way to becoming the Condoleezza Rice of GMs, elevated not for skills so much as ability to schmooze the big shots, superficially impressive yet quickly out of their depth, and above all smug. (And, yes, they're both Stanford people.)

Dec 14, 2008 22:18 PM
rating: 0
 
ndubby

psalveso - I think you used BA because it supported your rather misguided opinion. Let's take a look at the 3-year OPS splits for Ibanez (.735/.892 L/R) and for Burrell (.971/.854).

And people defending the deal appear to be completely disregarding the significant age difference. All things being equal - hitting and defense - don't you want the player in the middle of his career, five years younger?

ps. I think the term "professional hitter" needs to be tossed in the trash along with "most feared"

Dec 15, 2008 08:02 AM
rating: 1
 
ColonelTom

I'll take the over on Ibanez slugging .500 in 2009 (given the vast difference between Safeco and CBP), but I still don't think this is a good deal given (1) the draft-pick issue and (2) the alternatives still available on the market.

The Phils have spent nearly $11M on Ibanez, $8M on Moyer, and $2.5M on Chan Ho Park so far. That's $21.5M committed for next season (not to mention the two additional years on Ibanez and one on Moyer). Presumably they'd budgeted that for the free-agent process before the offseason. With that in mind, why wasn't Burrell wasn't offered arbitration, where the worst-case scenario for the Phils was that he would have received around $15-16M for a one-year deal? More likely, he would have declined, and the Phils would have received draft-pick compensation. That's pure stupidity - frankly I'd fire a GM for making a decision that dumb, however many months/years he'd been on the job.

Moyer's contract is also highly questionable. I like Moyer a lot, but was anyone else really going to guarantee a second season? Vesting option, sure, but when Brett Myers will be hitting free agency after '09, it's best to have options (and cash) available to shop for a #2. With Moyer and Eaton coming off the books after '09, there was payroll room to get a #2. Now they'll have to find other savings, which may hurt their ability to give Hamels an extension - something that should have been a top priority for management before 2010.

Dec 16, 2008 08:58 AM
rating: 1
 
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