Sunday, October 14, 2012
Ibanez is hot, but does Cold Ibanez lurk?
By Bill Baer
Raul Ibanez has had some kind of postseason. Legendary, some might say. The 40-year-old hit two home runs in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles: one, a game-tying solo home run in the ninth inning off Jim Johnson; the other a walk-off solo home run in the 12th inning against Brian Matusz. Then, with things looking bleak for the New York Yankees in the opening game of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, Ibanez tied the game up at four apiece with a two-out, two-run home run off Jose Valverde. The Yankees would ultimately lose the game in 12 innings, but Ibanez gave them some much-needed life, bringing them from a 95 percent chance of losing the game to a 54 percent chance to win, according to FanGraphs.
ESPN Stats & Information reported on Twitter that Ibanez became the first player in baseball history with three home runs in the ninth inning or later in a single postseason. Impressive indeed, particularly for a player many thought should have hung up his spikes after his three-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies expired following the end of the 2011 season. Ibanez persevered nevertheless, becoming the 38th player in baseball history to post an adjusted OPS of 104 or greater at the age of 40 or older (minimum 400 plate appearances).
Phillies fans will tell you, though, that Ibanez's hot bat in the playoffs is no surprise despite a career .706 playoff OPS as a Phillie. They would have equally expected what we have seen thus far or an 0-for-25 skid because he has always been a streaky hitter. His three years in Philadelphia inspired The Good Phight writer Joecatz (@joecatz) to dig into the numbers, attempting to explain why Ibanez seemed at times completely lost and at other times the second coming of Babe Ruth. He put Ibanez's games into buckets, generally denoting cold streaks as starting with an "oh-fer" (a game in which he has no hits) and hot streaks starting with a couple consecutive multi-hit games.
Looking at 2010 numbers, Joecatz found six streaks averaging just over 25 games and 106 plate appearances. Interestingly, Ibanez had what Joecatz described as a "scorchin" hot streak (.374 AVG/.457 OBP/.566 SLG) immediately before an "ice freakin cold" streak (.196/.257/.340). We still do not know what his clock-striking-midnight is as Cinderella, but with a double and a home run in Saturday's ALCS Game 1, he now has six hits in 16 trips to the plate in the 2012 playoffs, with a .429/.500/1.143 slash line. It is the continuation of the streak with which Ibanez wrapped up the regular season, hitting .405/.450/.811 in his final 40 PA. Prior to that, he had hit .129/.247/.214 over his previous 81 PAs. From the freezer to the pre-heated oven.
The "clutch" Ibanez we have seen thus far is really just Hot Ibanez, one half of the whole Ibanez. Cold Ibanez lurks in the periphery, a discombobulated hitter who may soon appear and take important at-bats for the Yankees. The rest of the lineup has not done much offensively, particularly the middle consisting of Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez. The trio combined for a .182 batting average in the ALDS and went 1-for-13 against the Tigers. To add injury to insult, Derek Jeter fractured his ankle in the 12th inning, ending his 2012 season. Hot Ibanez has been the Yankees' rock and they are desperately hoping he can stick around for just a little while longer.
Bill Baer is the creator of the Phillies blog Crashburn Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @CrashburnAlley.