Bill Conlin: Ibanez may fit perfectly for Phillies in leftfield

Phillies' new leftfielder Raul Ibanez and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. enjoy a laugh.
Phillies' new leftfielder Raul Ibanez and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. enjoy a laugh.
Posted: December 17, 2008

IT IS THE MONTH when Ruben Amaro, aka Ponce de Ruben, has set up shop at the Phountain of Youth. The first major move of his stewardship as Phillies general manager has been to sign free-agent outfielder Raul Ibanez, age 36, in winter-meetings overtime. The classy veteran was introduced at the Bank yesterday.

Monday, veteran righthander Chan Ho Park, age 35, announced from his native Korea that he has agreed to terms of a 1-year Phillies contract. The free agent also announced the Phillies will use him as a starter. This might be news to manager Charlie Manuel, who now has an added entry in what figures to be an overflow audition for the No. 5 spot in his rotation. Let's see . . . J.A. Happ, Kyle Kendrick, Carlos Carrasco, Adam Eaton (insert groans here) and, now, Chan Ho.

After the Korea Times announced the Park deal - a number of sports writers and editors got the breaking news via Google Alert - the Phillies filled out the rotation by signing free-agent lefthander Jamie Moyer, 46, to a 2-year contract.

Both Park and Ibanez will celebrate birthdays early next season. By the All-Star break, the average age of Ponce de Ruben's first three major league transactions will be 40.

Proving he has no prejudice against players in their 20s, Amaro warmed up for Operation Longtooth by swapping lukewarm catching prospect Jason Jaramillo for out-of-favor Pirates receiver Ronny Paulino, 27. The Phillies are playing the change-of-scenery card big time, hoping a guy who batted .310 and won the starting job as a rookie in 2006 will reverse the problems, including being overweight, that landed him back in Triple A most of last season.

Ibanez seems to be blessed with the same forever-young genes as Moyer. The new leftfielder played in all 162 games for the Mariners last year, a feat at any age. But the topic of controversy is much less about age than it is about his lefthandedness.

What was Amaro thinking, many have asked, adding another lefthanded, middle-of-the-order hitter to a lineup where Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are already entrenched? Add Ibanez to the engine room and lefthanded hitters will be lined up like shooting-gallery ducks waiting for the league's managers to mow them down with a parade of lefthanders.

Woe is us . . .

Never mind that righty-swinging Pat Burrell averaged 141 strikeouts during his nine seasons here and never struck out fewer than 120 times. Is that the kind of consistency you're happy to have? In seven seasons as a regular player, the late-blooming Ibanez has averaged 93 strikeouts. And he has a better career average vs. lefthanders, .268, than Burrell does against righthanders, .251.

However, I'm not going to buy into the Phillies' claim that Raul hits lefthanders better than he hits righthanders. His .305 average against lefties last season appears to be a statistical anomaly and should be discounted. Plus, he won't have a book on many National League pitchers. The best news? He has faced Mets ace Johan Santana 34 times and has a .353 average.

Manuel will be juggling his lineups at a time when the National League is a little short of quality lefthanders. Santana has been something less than advertised - very good, but not exceptional - and the Mets' bullpen is heavily righthanded with Scott Schoeneweis and Billy Wagner out of the picture. Only four of the 24 winningest pitchers in the National League last season were lefthanders. Santana and Moyer were tied for most wins with 16, followed by Cole Hamels with 14 and former Phil Randy Wolf with 12. Does Wolfie scare you?

Ryan Howard hit more home runs off lefthanded pitchers last year (14) than did any righthanded hitter but teammate Jayson Werth, who blasted 16. MVP Albert Pujols hit 11. Sleep easy.

Chase Utley batted .277 against lefthanders last season, despite the hip injury that restricted his swing. And guess who was No. 3 behind Howard in homers off lefthanders? You'd be right if you said Utley, with 13 bombs.

So let's not fly into a forum and chat-room frenzy over all this Phillies' lefthandedness. Think of all the righthanded pitchers who will have to face a lefthanded gantlet when Utley is back in a lineup that will include switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, Utley, Howard and Ibanez. That's a six-pack of dynamite.

Manuel will have some flexibility. You could see a lineup against a lefthanded starter that opens with the World Series alignment that flipped Victorino and Werth in the Nos. 2 and 6 holes. Ask CC Sabathia, now in Yankees pinstripes, how that worked out. With Werth establishing himself as a certified power threat, Charlie could bat Shane No. 2, Utley 3, Howard 4, Werth 5 and Ibanez 6. And please don't start with, "Don't tell me they're gonna pay $10 million a year to a No. 6 hitter." The Phillies just got through paying $14 million a year for a guy who hit .257, struck out a ton, clogged the bases, hasn't driven in 100 runs since 2005, has never scored 100 runs, and is a seven-inning player.

I leave you with this small thought to tuck away for a snowy day. What if it's coming up on the reporting date for pitchers and catchers and Pat Burrell still has no offer in his years and numbers ballpark?

Any port in storm, right? *

Send e-mail to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/conlin.

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