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Is Raul Ibanez Juicing?
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Is Raul Ibanez Juicing?
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
June 12, 2009

A minor controversy has been brewing in Philadelphia over the last few days over speculation Ė unfounded to this point Ė that Raul Ibanez may have used performance enhancing drugs in order to accomplish what he has accomplished so far this season. I think it is a rude and unkind thing to say about a guy who thus far has been a feel good story for the city of Philadelphia.

Of course, I am a Phillies fan, so that is what I am supposed to think. Maybe we should take a closer look.

For the season Raul Ibanez is currently your National League leader in runs, RBI, slugging percentage and total bases. He is second in homeruns to Adrian Gonzalez. He currently has 21 homeruns which matches his total from two years ago and is only two less than his total from last year. He currently sports an OPS of 1.051 (168 OPS+) which bests his career high of .869 (125 OPS+) by a mile. He has 21.9 adjusted batting runs, which is already just 0.6 ABR behind his career high set last year.

The answer could be the ballpark. Last season, Raul Ibanez hit 23 homeruns while playing in spacious Safeco Field. This year, after moving to Citizenís Bank Park, Ibanez already has 21 homeruns and we arenít halfway through the season. Isnít it nice that we know that the reason for the offensive surge by Ibanez is his new home park?

Not so fast. Last year, of his 23 homeruns, 14 were hit at home while 9 were hit on the road. His home/road splits thus indicate that had he been playing in a different home park, he may have hit fewer homeruns. Further, of his 21 homeruns so far this season, 13 have come on the road and 8 have come at home. Ibanez is actually having a harder time hitting homeruns at home (relative to hitting homeruns on the road) this season.

What we can do is blame the fact that Ibanez switched leagues. The American League has fewer teams and the designated hitter, so it only makes sense that switching leagues would impact the numbers. But, if a player moves from the AL to the NL, isnít he moving from a hitter friendly environment to a pitcher friendly environment? And wouldnít taking away the designated hitter actually adversely impact the offensive potential of a lineup?

All cheekiness aside, I suspect that the reason for Ibanezís surge is directly related to leaving an offensively challenged team to join and offensively dominant team. Ibanez has been batting third, fifth, and sixth in a lineup that features two of baseballís elite offensive players Ė Ryan Howard and Chase Utley Ė and a supporting cast of guys who are all at least above average hitters. Better hitters has turned into more plate appearances with men on base or in scoring positions which has translated into better hitting opportunities for a guy who has always been a talented hitter.

That said, he is 37 years old, has never been half as good as he has been so far this season, and conventional explanations for vast improvement do not explain the season heís having. This isnít an expansion year, we havenít seen a jump in league wide offense from last year to this one, and other players around the league arenít enjoying similar resurgences.

If you think there isnít a possibility that this is performance enhancing drug related then you must be Raul Ibanezís mom.



Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at asher@baseballevolution.com.

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