I was reading Jeff Sullivan’s latest post, as I’m wont to do, despite its off-putting title (“A Post About Jose Lopez“). Near the end of the somewhat depressing recap of Jose Lopez’s career, Jeff mentions that motivation may have been Lopez’s undoing, and that Raul Ibanez has been acquired in large part to provide motivation and a positive example to others:
“But it sure seems like the motivation thing. This is sort of the reason the Mariners signed Raul Ibanez. Ibanez, more than anything else, is supposed to be a hell of a role model, a great positive example, and the Mariners hope that their young players can learn from Ibanez how to conduct themselves and make themselves better.”
Of course, Ibanez himself was in the position to be a role model to Lopez once upon a time, and that didn’t work out too well. But what if we expand the search a bit? Let’s take a look at every young player (defined somewhat arbitrarily is a player 25 or younger) that the mature Ibanez played with. Raul Ibanez turned 30 in the 2002 season, while he was a member of the Kansas City Royals. This was a pause between rebuilds for KC, so the team had very few young players – the average age was over 29. The only player 25 or below was Carlos Beltran, who was 25 that season. That sounds great, but I’m not sure it really works. Beltran came up in 1998, and going into 2002, he had played about 100 more MLB games than Ibanez. If anything, Ibanez could’ve learned from Beltran (and just looking at his stats after joining the Royals, maybe he did). In 2003, the Royals went young, and Ibanez’s veteran savvy could finally work its magic. That season, KC had three important pieces (over 100 plate appearances) that were 25 and under: Angel Berroa, Ken Harvey and Dee Brown. Hmmm.
Ok, Ok, the Royals were/are terrible. In his first year with Seattle, the M’s were at a transition point with a declining (old) core of veterans and some raw talent that was perhaps not quite MLB-ready. Still, two “young” players played a role on that 2004 team: the 20 year old Jose Lopez and 25 year old Miguel Olivo. The next year marked more of a typical rebuild, with Jeremy Reed in CF, Lopez at 2B after Bret Boone’s ouster, and the arrival of perennial Gold Glove SS, Yuniesky Betancourt. The next year, we can add Chris Snelling and Rene Rivera to the mix – both had seen glimpses of Ibanez’s professionalism the year before, but got to bask in its warmth for longer stretches of time in 2006. The next two years saw Bill Bavasi’s attempt to add “experience” to the team, pushing its average age at or near 30 years, so there were fewer opportunities for youngsters. Still, Wladimir Balentien, Jeff Clement, Bryan LaHair qualified in part-time duty in 2008.
Following that, Ibanez headed to Philadelphia and New York where his leadership was wasted on his fellow veterans. From 2009-2012, Ibanez played with two players (2) who were 25 or younger and got at least 100 plate appearances in a year: Dom Brown in 2011 and Eduardo Nunez last year (Nunez had exactly 100 PAs). So, we’ve learned that Ibanez has played with several young players, many for several years at a time. He’s played with up-and-coming players in several organizations, including numerous top-100 prospects. Let’s review (bolded names indicate top 100 prospect):
Carlos Beltran (again, Beltran had much more MLB experience than Ibanez, but he fits the criteria)
Angel Berroa (Good in 2003, then utterly collapsed. Out of MLB before he turned 30)
Ken Harvey (Weird career; All-Star in 2004, but out of MLB for good early in 2006)
Dee Brown (Tools-prospect bust. Outside of 8 PAs in 2007, was done in 2004)
Jose Lopez (You all know what happened to him)
Miguel Olivo (Mmmhmmm)
Yuniesky Betancourt (Released last year, still waiting for another offer. Motivational problems cut his career short)
Jeremy Reed (2005 would be his best season in MLB. He posted an 85 wRC+)
Chris Snelling (Apparently, ‘leadership’ doesn’t cover avoiding injuries)
Rene Rivera (A back-up C, his wRC+ this year was 8. 8! There’s only one digit there! He finally got another 100 plate appearances in 2011 with the Twins, and was able to push his wRC+ to a solid 13).
Wladimir Balentien (The toast of Japanese baseball after belting 31 HRs in 106 games and posting a .958 OPS last year for Yakult)
Jeff Clement (Never a great defensive C, injuries helped force him to 1B, where his bat simply won’t play. Just signed minor league deal with Minnesota)
Domonic Brown (Vaunted tools prospect, he’s disappointed in brief stints in 2011-12. May get the chance to start next year).
Eduardo Nunez (Utility infielder who’s played in 180 career games. Oddly has a higher career wRC+ than Jeremy Reed).
So what can we determine from this, besides the fact that it resembles a list of the most famous prospect busts of the past ten years? Nothing. For all of you who are saying that this isn’t fair, and that Ibanez couldn’t have prevented Snelling from getting injured all the time, or that it wasn’t his responsibility to physically remove the 5th hot dog from Yuni Betancourt’s grasp, I agree with you. This isn’t “analysis,” it’s just a quick recap of correlations involving Raul Ibanez. No one, certainly not me, blames Ibanez for Jeff Clement’s career going up in smoke. But it is sort of odd, given the stated reason for his acquisition, that he doesn’t really have much of a track record in the way of helping young players develop. Maybe 95% of that is playing in the Kansas City and Seattle organizations, two of the worst orgs in the 2000-2010 period in developing position players. But if he developed these leadership skills playing alongside Chase Utley, Placido Polanco, Jayson Werth and Chooch Ruiz, well, how sure are we that those skills will translate to players 15 years younger? I have no idea, and yes, this entire post is essentially a joke. But what value should we place on ‘leadership’ and ‘example’ when the guy who’s by all accounts the Babe Ruth of the pep-talk, well-timed high-five and quiet dignity has so few examples of players whose careers he helped (positively) influence?
Postscript: Ditching the 100-PA requirement brings several more players into the mix, including some all-stars, so I wanted to at least acknowledge that. Adam Jones got fewer than 100 PAs with the M’s, as did Shin-Soo Choo, but they played so rarely with Seattle it’d be odd to credit Ibanez for their success in other orgs. You also bring in everyone from Tug Hulett to Matt Tuiasosopo to Rob Johnson to Luis Valbuena to Guillermo Quiroz to Ramon Santiago. But Mike Morse!