Scrutinizing Ibanez's defense

December, 19, 2008
The Seattle Times' Geoff Baker asked Raul Ibanez about his defense (and ask yourself if you would have read this in a newspaper even two or three years ago) …

    I broached the topic of Ibanez's defense with him and some of the newer metrics that suggest he's a poor outfielder. Ibanez is aware of some of the conversations that have taken place in the blogosphere about whether the Phillies were foolish to have given him so much money and might actually be worse off defensively.

    "I have to say a number of things," he said. "Number one, with sabermetrics in general, it's a statistical probability thing," he said. "And the way they come up with the defensive measurements, or ratings, is flawed. It's as flawed as the Gold Gloves. One of the reasons is, they don't consider things like ballpark factors, defensive positioning or alignment for certain hitters."

    Ibanez added that most of the people taking down the statistics that measure defense are doing so "off a television" and are "not equipped to assess talent on the baseball field."

    He mentioned a friend of his in Kansas City, who, he said, is deeply into sabermetrics and some of the new-fangled defensive metrics. But, he added, he's not a scout. And when it comes to measuring defensive talent, Ibanez said: "None of these guys has had a baseball background per se."

    It's not just the location of batted balls that has to be judged, Ibanez said, but also the speed and angle at which they are hit.

    "Trying to judge accuracy on a camera view is not the same," he said.

    He also feels that some of the people looking at the numbers have already figured him a below average defender in their minds and discount anything good that he does.

    "Some of those biases that are pre-determined biases come into that mindset,'' he said. "Those are things that I'm going to have to continue to battle throughout my career. But if you go around the game, and you ask the players, you ask quality major-league scouts, you ask managers, they'll tell you I'm the type of player they want on their team."

Three points:

1. Is Ibanez the first player ever to use the term "ballpark factors?"

2. I suspect that as smart as Ibanez apparently is, he has little notion of what the best analysts are considering, or what can be measured with the help of a camera view.

3. Ibanez's take on fielding metrics is exactly what one would expect of a well-informed-but-poor-fielding professional baseball player. If he believes the metrics, he can't admit it because he just got $30 million to play left field for three years. But he probably doesn't believe the metrics, because he knows he's trying hard, he knows he's made any number of great plays (by his standards) and if he were really so awful, would a World Series-winning team have just given him $30 million to play left field for three years?

One more point: We could all be wrong about Ibanez's defense. After reading his comments, I sort of hope so. (Probably not, though.)

(Tip of ye olde chapeau to BTF's Newsstand.)


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