In my last column, I wrote about some of the positive aspects of the Seattle Mariners underwhelming season. Highlights included the strong play of King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kyle Seager and the rise of several young rookies. However, one positive aspect that I didn’t really dive into was the historic age 41 season currently being put up by Raul Ibanez.
At the All-Star break, Ibanez is slashing .267/.314/.578. This is good for a more than solid .892 OPS. He’s not getting on base at an amazing clip, but you have to appreciate the power numbers, particularly from a guy who wasn’t expected to do a whole lot this season. We’ve had a column on OSN defending him from steroid questions, so I’m going to conduct this analysis under the assumption that Raul isn’t juicing. In all seriousness, I’m also of the opinion that immediately jumping on the steroids train for every guy who is having an unexpectedly productive year is a little disingenuous. We should try to refrain from jumping to conclusions before there’s evidence for us to get to them. I’d say the same thing about Baltimore’s Chris Davis, who has had to deal with his own unfair ‘roid accusations after his amazing 37 homer first half.
At the All-Star break Ibanez has 24 home runs, only 5 away from tying Ted Williams’ record for home runs by a player 41 or older. A 41-year-old Williams hit 29 home runs in 1960. Barring an epic slump, Ibanez is going to break this mark. Our other column on this subject made a Barry Bonds comparison and I think it’s a good one. Take a look at the numbers that Bonds put up as a 42-year-old in 2007, just for kicks.
Barry Bonds 2007 season stats
Granted, the man was probably on steroids, but I still have been enjoying looking at just how utterly dominant he was. A 1.045 OPS at age 42 has to be difficult to do regardless of how many PEDs are flowing through your veins.
Raul’s great season is particularly interesting when you consider that it certainly wasn’t expected, at least not to this extent. In 2011 he hit slashed just .245/.289 OBP/.419. His 2012 season with the New York Yankees was equally unimpressive, with a slash of .240/.308/.453. His power numbers were fine (he managed 20 homers in 2011 and 19 in 2012), but they’ve been better through the first half of this year than they were in each of the last 2 full seasons. Interestingly enough, his strikeout is actually higher this year than it has been pretty much his entire career. He’s getting punched out 23.6% of the time. If that holds, that would actually be a career high. Granted we have the rest of the season for that to even out, but it’s an oddity nonetheless. To me, that is just further evidence that strikeout rates probably don’t matter as much as some people think if a player is demonstrating good power and overall plate discipline. Ibanez struck out 15.8% of the time last year with the Yankees, and it’s pretty inarguable that he had a worse season.
Further analysis of his more advanced numbers don’t really cast much light as to why this resurgence is taking place. His batting average for balls in play (BABIP) is .273, which is relatively close to his .267 overall clip. This means that he’s not just getting lucky and finding holes. And even if he was, that still wouldn’t explain the gaudy power numbers. His fly ball percentage currently sits at 43%, which is slightly higher than his overall career rate of 37.9%. This means he’s elevating the ball more, but that in itself isn’t enough of a disparity to suggest that he’d be having a historically productive year. His plate discipline numbers have also been relatively similar to where they’ve been throughout his career, meaning selectivity isn’t necessarily the answer either.
The rise of the old Ibanez, to me, is confirmation of the oddity of baseball. Before the season, no one would have thought he would be closing on the most prolific power season for a 41-year-old player at the All-Star break. Remember that. We still have 40% of the season left to go and we’re already talking about him achieving power numbers that have never been seen for a player of his age. Wacky.