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Is it time to cut Ibanez in mixed leagues?

6/14/2010

As the third-place Philadelphia Phillies continue to flounder at the plate -- they're now the lowest-scoring team in the NL East -- I'm starting to get correspondence from fantasy owners asking if we should view members of the offense differently than we used to from a fantasy perspective. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot a fantasy owner can do.

The Phillies simply have a few key stars who are slumping right now. Six of the eight starting members -- including shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who is currently on the disabled list -- are owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard (10-team) mixed leagues. I agree that should be the case. Sure, Chase Utley is hitting .158 in June and Jayson Werth has looked just as bad, but the fact is I trust these guys to contribute power, speed and batting average over time. Rollins should be back soon, and Ryan Howard, Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino are helping owners.

There's only one Phillies hitter that people own in a lot of leagues who I'd call droppable in mixed leagues.

Raul Ibanez hasn't hit consistently well in nearly a calendar year, and the fact he's still owned in 64 percent of ESPN leagues means a lot of people just aren't paying attention. He did take Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield deep Sunday afternoon, which will probably buy the left fielder more time on fantasy rosters, but he hadn't homered prior to that for about a month. Ibanez has all of four home runs this season in 60 games, and he's on pace for 11 home runs and 72 RBIs with a .247 batting average. Isn't that what light-hitting Pedro Feliz did for the Phillies last season? (Actually, Feliz did better than that.)

Ibanez's owners no doubt are expecting their 38-year-old to recapture the awesome numbers he put up the first two-plus months of last season, but there's precious little evidence he's the player he was on this date in 2009. On June 13, 2009, Ibanez homered against the Red Sox, giving him 22 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .322 batting average. He was arguably the biggest surprise in baseball considering his age and the backlash from his generous three-year contract. Everyone loved him.

Then a groin injury put him on the disabled list, and we haven't seen the same Ibanez since. After returning from the injury last year, Ibanez hit .232 with 12 home runs in 70 games. That's still good enough power to own in mixed leagues -- a full-season pace of more than 25 homers. But this current Ibanez isn't even doing that. Sunday's home run off a flat knuckleball is not likely a harbinger of things to come, and neither is the four-hit game I saw in person at Citizens Bank Park last Tuesday; all the hits were singles, a few of them of the infield variety.

Looking closer at Ibanez, the statistics match what I've been seeing on a daily basis. His bat looks slower, he's not elevating the ball and he has become anemic against left-handed pitching. Ibanez was one of baseball's top left-handed hitters against lefty pitchers a year ago, providing a .998 OPS and 13 home runs. No left-handed batter hit more home runs against lefty pitchers in 2009. This season Ibanez is hitting .229 with one home run against southpaws, a drop of .342 points in OPS. Ibanez isn't hitting at home (.255 batting average, one home run), isn't a threat when he takes the first pitch for a strike (.401 OPS) and he can't blame a bad batting average on balls in play (.274).

It's a shame Ibanez isn't hitting, but since his DL stint last season, which started after the June 17 games, he is hitting a cumulative .239 in 130 games with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. Those numbers, even if we thought he could play at a similar power pace the rest of the season, would not make Ibanez worthy of being owned in 64 percent of leagues. Sixty RBIs in a year? Vladimir Guerrero has 54 RBIs already this season. If this was the final season of Ibanez's contract, maybe the Phillies would make a move, either calling up hotshot minor leaguer Domonic Brown or seeking a trade. When Rollins returns from another DL stint, Ibanez will drop a spot to seventh in the batting order. It's an easy call to drop him.

What is also becoming an easy call is making the switch in shallow fantasy leagues to these outfielders, all available in a lot more leagues than Ibanez: Chris Coghlan, Aubrey Huff, J.D. Drew, Jason Kubel, Angel Pagan, Juan Rivera, Drew Stubbs and David DeJesus.