Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Leftfielders

Like a lot of Phillies fans, I was very sad to hear that the Phillies were not going to tender an offer to Pat Burrell last fall. After a fine season last year, and after leading the Phils' World Series parade, the thought of not seeing him in pinstripes after all these years made me sad. I had come to appreciate Pat the Bat, with his inconsistencies at the plate and his streaky hitting. When he was good, he was very, very good. When he was bad, he was very, very bad. However, no matter how you slice it, this man played ten years for the Phillies, including for some really bad teams, and he is third on the team's all-time homers list, ahead of Hall of Famer Chuck Klein and Phillies legends Greg "The Bull" Luzinski and Dick Allen.

I have to admit that I was not terribly familiar with Raul Ibanez. He spent most of his career playing in Seattle, and he didn't get a lot of press there. I typically don't pay much attention to the American League, and I surely don't pay much attention to the AL West, where Ibanez spent most of his career. When I heard that the Phillies had signed a 37-year-old outfielder to replace Burrell, I was perplexed. I looked up his stats and saw that he was a solid offensive player, with a higher career batting average than Burrell. I also saw that he was a lefty, and I was really worried that there would be too many left handed hitters in the Phillies' lineup.

Well, 100 games into the season, I have to say that the decision not to sign Burrell and to replace him with Ibanez makes general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. look like a genius. Burrell has played in only 70 games so far, having been dogged by injuries. He's only hitting .219, with 7 homers and only 37 RBI's. Last year, he hit 33 homers and had 86 RBI's. Burrell is being used as a designated hitter and is not playing the outfield much, so it's entirely possible that he has found the twin adjustments to the American League and to not playing the field difficult. If so, he's far from the first guy to have that particular problem.

Ibanez, by contrast, has made the move to the National League look easy. In spite of a trip to the disabled list due to a strained groin muscle, Ibanez is hitting .307, with 26 homers and 74 RBI's. He's on a pace to exceed his career highs of 33 homers and 123 RBI's, and he's proven to be an integral part of the team's offense. He's also a significantly better fielder than Burrell and has good speed, something Burrell has always lacked. There is no doubt that replacing Burrell with Ibanez has proven to be a significant upgrade that has significantly improved the Phillies.

I was wrong. I admit it. Kudos to Ruben Amaro for having the foresight to make these controversial moves.

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