By the end of spring training, the Raul Ibanez signing was panned by every pundit and Yankee fan alike. The guy hit well below the Mendoza Line, couldn’t buy a walk and had only one home run in the Grapefruit League. “This guy is supposed to be the lefty half of the DH platoon?!?” we all thought to ourselves. The designated hitter can’t hit!
It’s a good thing those games don’t count.
** Before we go any further, please check out our Grading The Yankees page for more player grades **
When Opening Day rolled around, Rauuuuuuuuuuuul had already made his presence felt. He drove in the team’s first run of the season on a ground out in the second inning and added a three-run homer in the third in a losing effort. In fact, for a then-soon-to-be 40-year-old he raked through mid-April; Raul put up a .286/.316/.486/.802 line with two homers and nine RBI.
His May was even better, with about 1/3 of his homers and 16 of his 62 RBI recorded that month. Ibombez ended May with a .268/.318/.543 line and boasted a .946 (!!!) OPS for the month. Think about that; two days prior to his 40th birthday, this guy — who was left for dead at the end of spring training — was straight mashing. Who’da thunk it?
However, June was his downfall. He began on an 0-for-11 skid and finished with a .515 OPS for the month. Yikes. Perhaps all that time playing the outfield, which was necessary due to Brett Gardner‘s injury, was taking its toll.
‘Banez bounced back with a stellar July, but faltered again in August through mid-September. Though he more than made up for it the rest of the way, as his Real Yankee™ status was born.
Hitting .042/.179/.125 with one hit (a triple) and an RBI in 28 plate appearances over 13 September games, everybody hated Raul Ibanez’ face and wanted him gone. But that’s the beauty of baseball; you can be a piece-of-trash loser one day and a hero the next. This was evident as Raul went 3-for-4 with the game-tying homer (his second dinger of the day) and three RBI in
one of the most thrilling win s of the season (the walk-off error in the 14 inning against the A’s in game 151).
Then, of course, there was the game-tying homer in the ninth and walk-off single in the 12th against the Sox in the penultimate game of the season, where a loss would have put the Yanks in a tie with the Orioles on the final day of the season.
Over the final 11 games of the season, Raul hit .405/.450/.811 with four homers and nine RBI in 40 plate appearances. That, my friends, is how to win over a fan base. And that’s not even getting into what he did in the postseason.
Now, his fielding is another story. The ol’ eye test tells us that Raul is not exactly Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson out in left, but UZR (which I have stated my opinion on before) actually says he is better than average (1.8). I’m not sure I agree with that, though. I’m not going to go on a tirade and bash him, because he wasn’t brought in for his glove, but I’ll leave it at this: He was obviously a huge downgrade from Gardner, but I’d rather have him in the field than Andruw Jones (which isn’t saying much).
Another knock on Raul’s 2012 is his home/away splits. Being a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium certainly didn’t hurt; he hit 14 of his 19 homers in the Bronx and his home/away OPS was .895/.634. That’s…interesting.
He was signed strictly to be a lefty DH and when Andruw Jones hit a wall in the second half he more than stepped up. He had some pivotal hits throughout the season (especially in late September/postseason) and exceeded everybody’s expectations. All things considered, Voldemort gets a B- for the season.
For $1.1 million, Ibanez gave the Yanks 1.1 WAR (according to FanGraphs). That’s not great, but pretty darn good considering where he was at during spring training. Plus, you could make the argument that the team doesn’t win the ALDS (and, although it’s more of a stretch, the division) without him. He was one of the most pleasant surprises of the 2012 season, and I really hope the Yanks re-sign him for 2013. Cashman must think so too because he’s had talks with Raul’s agent. Howevah, apparently so have the Mariners. Dun dun duuuuun.