The age of Raul Ibanez, talent of Ben Francisco, and health of Shane Victorino were worries coming into the 2011 season. Each of them have been the cause of more headaches in opening month.
With Domonic Brown sidelined for two months and a terrific Spring from Francisco, this was Charlie's group early in Training Camp. So far, they simply have not performed. While Shane is hitting for more power than in any year of his career (out of the leadoff spot, of all places), Raul has been terrible and Ben just mediocre. The team has gotten by based on some terrific pitching performances and unsustainably good bench play, but without a consistent group manning the grass at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies are vulnerable to even average pitching.
Ibanez is the biggest issue. The three-year deal he signed in late 2008 continues to be heavily scrutinized, especially in the last year of his contract as a 38-year-old left fielder. His range has become more limited and his arm is one of the worst in the league. If Victorino were to get injured for a significant period of time, the outfield defense would be at the bottom in the NL and Raul's fielding inadequacies would become even clearer.
His performance at the plate has actually been worse. His ISO (which measures a hitter's raw power) and SecA (which is a better indicator of hitting than batting average) are easily the lowest they've been in his career, and for the more traditionally-minded, his OPS+ sits at a criminally low 37+. For reference, his career OPS+ average is 113. There's no question that hitters go into slumps based on bad bounces and a few missed calls, but that's not what's happening with Raul.
He has been hitting the ball on the ground 1.5 times for every fly ball, twice his career norm and bad news for one of the slowest players in the game. He has an extra base hit percentage of 3.5%, mostly because his line drive percentage is down 5 points from last year to 16%. If he's hitting slow rollers, he's not getting extra bases. Raul, who is usually solid at drawing walks and limiting strikeouts, is on pace to strike out a career high and his walk percentage is the worst it's been since 2004. He has also seen his least pitches per at bat (3.78) since 2000 and he's making the least amount of contact on pitches for his whole career. In short, his bat speed is slower, his eye is getting worse, and there's almost no power behind his swing.
If Charlie can unlock the Raul from late 2010 or early 2009, he's a worthwhile player on the team. But his splits look bad against everybody, and it seems like, in the midst of an 0-25 streak, Raul is completely toast. With the way John Mayberry has been playing, there's no reason why they shouldn't be at least splitting duties in left field until Dom Brown gets back.
The best option seems to be that Brown, who is scheduled to return from his broken hand within the next month, will platoon with Francisco in right, while J-May and Raul handle the opposite side. This wouldn't be terrible because Charlie has a tendency to play his starters too much anyway. If there's a scheduled platoon, the bench would stay fresh and ready when their number is called to pinch-hit. Also, considering the Phillies have a 22-29 record in Interleague play the past three years and they'll be playing 6 more games with the DH this season, it's that more important to have a bench that can rake. With another trip to the World Series on everybody's mind, having a bunch of different options for the DH will help immensely in any potential matchup.
Everything wasn't going to be roses without Jayson Werth in the lineup, and though the Phils are third in the Majors in wins, the lineup could use a little finessing. Cutting ties with the idea of Ibanez as an everyday player is the first step to maximizing the talent on this roster. With trade possibilities unlikely at this stage, Charlie has to work with what he's got and use his currently deep bench to his advantage.