The Royals can be a confusing baseball club at times. One of the things they’ve constantly talked about is building this team with pitching and defense, and they’ve done a solid job of that. Their pitching is good, and their defense makes their pitching look even better. The overall defense is arguably the best in the league, and the outfield defense is arguably the best the league has seen in a very long time.
All of the praise for the defense makes one wonder, then, why the Royals have been playing a 42-year old Raul Ibanez in right field on a regular basis, instead of using Jarrod Dyson in center field and Lorenzo Cain in right.
If the defense is so important, why is Ibanez seeing more playing time in the field than one of the best defenders in baseball?
We know how much the Royals’ pitching staff relies on the outfield defense, and we know the Royals’ offense doesn’t always pull its own weight, which makes the run prevention side of things all the more crucial. Rather than using the best defensive lineup to maintain their excellent level, the team is opting for an inferior defensive alternative.
Oh, and did I mention that Dyson is a better hitter than Ibanez, too?
Dyson’s current wRC+ is 98, which is more than twice as high as Ibanez’s 48. Dyson has an on-base percentage of .354, which is over 100 points higher than Ibanez’s .245. The one edge Ibanez has on Dyson is in the power department, but the former doesn’t put enough balls in play for that to really matter, and his .113 isolated slugging percentage this year doesn’t exactly scream “power hitter.” Besides, Dyson can make up for his lack of power by turning most singles into doubles just a pitch or two later.
Dyson is better against righties. He’s better against lefties. He’s better defensively. He’s better on the basepaths.
Dyson provides more value than Ibanez in every facet of the game, and yet, he has remained on the bench for much of Ibanez’s time in Kansas City. Why?
According to this article from Andy McCullough, the Royals would like to see what they have in Ibanez. I would point out that they have a 42-year old player who doesn’t move well in the field or hit well at the plate, but then again, they didn’t ask me.
I can understand hoping to squeeze a little more production out of a player who was successful as recently as last year, but when he’s taking time away from a superior player, it makes no sense. I would love for Ibanez to start hitting dingers left and right, but that simply doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. His bat looks slow, and he’s yet to draw a walk since joining the team. He looks like he’s 42.
Dyson has proven he can handle regular playing time, particularly against right-handed pitching, so taking him out of the lineup for Ibanez is an immediate downgrade. It would be another thing if Ibanez, like Nori Aoki, had a reverse platoon split and only played against lefties, but that’s not the case. Until Aoki returns from the disabled list (likely after the All Star break) Ibanez appears to be the Royals’ regular right fielder.
Not only that, but it sounds like once Aoki comes back, the Royals will keep Ibanez on the roster, in place of Christian Colon, who is the only true utility player with the big league club. Doing so would only compound matters, as it would once again create a situation in which the roster would be without enough versatility. It would be foolish.
For a team that values defense, Ibanez in right field is a poor choice.
For a team that needs offense, Ibanez in the starting lineup is an even worse choice.
When the Royals signed Ibanez, it was a confusing move because it seemed that his career was at its end, but that confusion has turned into complete befuddlement with the amount of playing time he’s received in Dyson’s place. I am, and always will be, a fan of Ibanez, but he’s had his moment to shine, and now is clearly the time for the Royals to move him back to the bench.
As Ned Yost mentioned in that previous article, he does have the ability to play first base (and stuff!), so perhaps he could provide a tiny bit of value if needed in a different role. As things stand now, though, Ibanez is only taking away playing time from a better player, and the Royals can’t afford to allow that for much longer.