To Ibanez’s credit, however, he surprised everyone with some genuinely solid defensive play. He wasn’t replacing Gardner, by any means, and at 40 years old he doesn’t have the speed to run down scorchers in the gap, but considering the circumstances he acquitted himself well in left field, which was hugely beneficial as it allowed for both Alex Rodriguez and Eric Chavez to be regular fixtures in the lineup against right-handed starters. What’s more, he seemingly developed a knack for being the one guy on the team who could come up with the big hit during the spring, something that definitely ingratiated him with fans, coaches, and media personnel. If nothing else, he would go down as the official “professional hitter” for the 2012 Yankees.
The problem now, however, is that that early season success might be helping Ibanez’s reputation out well past its expiration date. While the struggles of guys like Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson, and Robinson Cano have drawn plenty of attention, the fact that Ibanez has more or less cratered at the plate in the last month seems to have gotten much less notice from everyone. How bad has it gotten? After last night’s game, Ibanez owns a slash line of .230/.297/.430, which translates to a wRC+ of just 91. And that looks positively attractive compared to his wRC+ in the month of August, a ghastly low 69! He’s also hit just one home run since the trade deadline passed, though he does have two triples in that time span, oddly enough. In his defense, he does have a wRC+ of 101 against right-handed pitchers, which is slightly above league average, but then, you’d kind of like to see a level of production that’s at least a bit better than average from a guy whose only real responsibility is to hit opposite hand pitching. All in all, as I said to Rob Abruzzese of Bronx Baseball Daily during last night’s game, Ibanez seems like the most overpraised Yankee in recent memory.
That’s not to say that I’m trying to completely trash the guy or anything; he really was a productive member of the lineup early on in the season, and as I said earlier, his surprisingly decent work in the outfield was a tremendously important part of helping the team win in the spring and early summer. But the Yankees’ front office really made a big mistake in counting on him (and Andruw Jones, for that matter) to continue to be an everyday part of the lineup once they knew that Gardner wouldn’t be back this season, and really should have looked for someone much better than Ichiro Suzuki to come in and fill the hole in the outfield. If this season does wind up ending in disaster for the pinstripers, that bit of inaction is as good a place as any to begin trying to explain how it came to pass.