Analysis: Ibanez or Burrell

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The Phillies chose outfielder Raul Ibanez over Pat Burrell for 2009 and beyond. So, are they better off with Ibanez or would Burrell have been the smarter move?

There is no denying that Pat Burrell played a big part in the story of the Philadelphia Phillies from the time he hit the majors right up through the deciding fifth game of the World Series. There were times when he was booed horribly and times when he was a hero to the fans of Philadelphia.

Now, with his tenure in Philly a thing of the past, Burrell is sitting on the open market waiting to find a new home. For their part, the Phillies have moved on and signed outfielder Raul Ibanez to play left field.

In Ibanez, the Phillies signed a player who is four years older than Burrell, but has much better range in left field than does Burrell. The main reason why is because of the foot problems that Burrell has struggled with throughout his career. At this point in his career, Burrell would likely fit much better as a first baseman, a position that he played before moving to left field for the Phillies.

Even though he's got better range than Burrell, Ibanez doesn't possess the arm that Burrell does. Burrell has a skill for putting himself in position to throw out runners and has a strong, accurate arm out of left field. While Ibanez doesn't have as strong of an arm, he's at least got an average arm and can throw out some runners on the basepaths.

Burrell's 2008 fielding percentage was better than Ibanez' (.991 to .984), but his career mark is lower than Ibanez (.985 to .976).

Overall, the edge in defense has to go to Ibanez. Still, don't be surprised to see some late game defensive substitutions, since it's possible to find better defensive outfielders than Ibanez.

At the plate, Ibanez has driven in at least 100 runs over each of the past three seasons. Burrell has driven in 100 runs just twice in his career, the last coming in 2005, but he's flirted with the century mark, driving in 95 in 2006 and 97 in 2007. He finished the 2008 season with 85 RBI. It certainly matters that Ibanez was in a much better spot to drive in runs in Seattle than Burrell was in Philadelphia. Ibanez didn't have run producers like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard hitting in front of him on the Mariners.

Power-wise, Burrell has a big advantage over Ibanez and has averaged twice the number of home runs per season that Ibanez has (28 to 14). Burrell is also a much more patient hitter at the plate and gets on base at a higher clip than does Ibanez. In their careers, Ibanez has a .347 OBP, while Burrell has a .367 OBP. The big difference is in plate discipline. Ibanez has a career-high of 71 walks in a season, while the least amount of walks that Burrell has drawn in a full season is 70 and that was in his first full season in the majors. Of course, in strikeouts, Burrell has struck out over 100 times in every season that he has played, while Ibanez has struck out over 100 times just twice. Over their careers, Ibanez has a .286 career average, while Burrell is a .257 hitter.

In other words, there is good and bad through the offensive numbers for both players. Burrell would hold an advantage in a number of key departments and is overall, a slightly better hitter, although Ibanez is no serious slouch.

The righty/lefty issue has been well played since Ibanez' signing. Just how much does it matter? It will matter a lot late in games where a manager could go to a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. If Utley, Howard and Ibanez are all stacked together, an opposing manager could play off of that when he goes to his bullpen. Keep in mind though, that Ibanez comes close to Burrell's career .276 average against left-handers, posting a career mark of .268 against southpaws. Last season, Ibanez hit .305 against left-handers, while Burrell hit .279, which could be a big part in determining why the Phillies felt that they could add Ibanez' left-handed bat to the lineup.

Note too, that Ibanez is a career .291 hitter in games against the National League, even higher than his .279 lifetime average against the American League.

It's also possible that manager Charlie Maneul will somehow split up his three big left-handed bats. Perhaps Jayson Werth will hit either third or fifth, pushing Utley up a notch or putting Ibanez in the sixth spot in the order.

Ibanez is an upgrade over Burrell, but not by great leaps and bounds. While we don't know what type of contract Burrell will get, it's possible that he'll be right around the $10.5 million per season that Ibanez got from the Phillies, but likely for a shorter time. As long as Ibanez can continue to produce against left-handed pitching and doesn't wear out before his contract runs out after the 2011 season, the Phillies will have made the right move in choosing to bring in Raul Ibanez rather than sticking with Pat Burrell, who may have been the more popular choice among fans.


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