Mets fans let out a sigh of relief as the Ancient Mariner Ibanez signs with the rival Phillies.

The Phillies made their first big move off the off-season, signing free agent outfielder Raul Ibanez to a three-year deal. This works well for the Mets on several different fronts. First it solidifies the departure of Mets killer Pat Burrell, a free agent who has no place left to play for Philadelphia, as Ibanez takes over in left field. It’s good for the Mets because Ibanez is a left-handed hitter, making the Phillies even more heavy from the left side and easier for the Mets to counter attack with southpaw relievers Pedro Feliciano and Scott Schoeneweis. And finally it’s good because it means that Ibanez won’t end up a Met.

Pat Burrell has 42 HR and 104 RBIs lifetime versus the Mets. By contrast, Chipper Jones, who has the reputation of being the biggest Mets killer around, has 39 home runs and 123 RBIs in 170 more plate appearances versus the Mets than Pat the Bat. And while Burrell gave the Phillies a righty bat in the middle of the order (he hit fifth most of last year) signing the lefty Ibanez leaves Jayson Werth as the main righty power bat in the team’s lineup. Against most teams this wouldn’t mean much but given that Schoeneweis and Feliciano combined to limit lefty batters to a .194 average with just five home runs in 206 at-bats, I like the three biggest bats of the Mets’ biggest rivals to be lefty.

But the biggest reason by far for enthusiasm for the Phillies signing Ibanez is it means that he won’t wind up on the Mets. General manager Omar Minaya kicked the tires on Ibanez last season at the trade deadline but did not pull the trigger on a deal. However, the club was rumored to be interested in pursuing Ibanez once they got their bullpen (and perhaps starting rotation) in order. Now that’s not possible.

Now, Ibanez hit .293/.358/.479 last year. Those seem like pretty decent numbers so why did I not want him on the Mets?

1. He turned 36-years old during the season. After getting burned by Moises Alou last year, the last thing the Mets needed to do was to add another 35+ guy to the mix. Now Ibanez is alleged to be a workout and fitness fiend, which may negate his age somewhat. But the simple fact is that the vast majority of players (without PEDs) do not get better as they approach their upper 30s. And Ibanez’ numbers were no better than what Daniel Murphy put up last year. Ibanez and Murphy were virtually equal on average and slugging while Murphy had nearly 40 points of OBP on him. And Murphy is still likely to improve. It would be one thing if signing Ibanez meant that Murphy would become the full-time second baseman but as long as Luis Castillo is on the roster, we can’t assume that Murphy would take over his position.

2. Ibanez is a terrible fielder. No matter what defensive metrics you prefer, Ibanez is a poor fielder in left. Let’s compare him to Murphy, who was playing the position for the first time in his professional career. One thing to keep in mind is that Ibanez had many more chances than Murphy. The rookie, who by all accounts was less than good in left field, could be either better or worse over a full season. Ibanez is pretty much what he is out there.

                            Murphy         Ibanez
Fielding %                  .962             .984
Range Factor                1.84             2.09
Zone Rating                 .842             .793
Ultimate Zone Rating        2.6              -11.0
Defensive Runs Saved        -1               -16.08
Plus/minus                  +5               -18

Fielding percentage tells us how reliable a player is fielding balls that he gets to. This is valuable information but it is subject to the discretion of the official scorer and does not tell you how many plays a fielder made. Range factor tells you how many plays a fielder made but does not tell you how many he did not make and is subject to the makeup of a pitching staff. If an outfielder plays behind pitchers who give up lots of fly ball, he will post a higher range factor than a similar skilled fielder who plays behind pitchers who give up lots of ground balls.

Zone rating tells us how many plays a fielder made of balls that were hit into predetermined zones on the field. It doesn’t credit fielders for plays made outside of his assigned zones or make allowances for defensive shifts and alignments. Ultimate Zone Rating tells us the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both balls in his zone and by the number of errors he makes as compared to an average fielder at that position given the same distribution of balls in play.

Defensive Runs Saved – well, it’s not easy to explain. Click here for Chris Dial’s math-heavy explanation of his system. Plus/minus is a system where “A player gets credit (a “plus” number) if he makes a play that at least one other player at his position missed during the season, and he loses credit (a “minus” number) if he misses a play that at least one player made. The size of the credit is directly related to how often players make the play. Each play is looked at individually, and a score is given for each play. Sum up all the plays for each player at his position and you get his total plus/minus for the season.”

So, if we look at the most basic fielding stats, Ibanez looks okay out there. But for every one of the more advanced fielding metrics, Ibanez is atrocious. Now, most people don’t trust defensive statistics, mainly because they don’t understand them. If you fall in that category, don’t worry, you have plenty of company. Just understand that when every single system says a player is bad, well then, he probably is. Zone rating, UZR, Defensive Runs Saved and plus/minus all say Ibanez is terrible.

3. There are better options available. If you think the team needs additional offense like I do, how about Adam Dunn? He is seven years younger than Ibanez, a better hitter (.899 OPS for Dunn compared to .837 for Ibanez) and while he’s no threat to win a Gold Glove, Dunn may be a better fielder (-12 for Dunn compared to -18 for Ibanez on plus/minus). Finally, the Mariners offered Ibanez arbitration so the Phillies have to surrender a draft pick. The Diamondbacks did not offer Dunn arbitration, so no draft pick compensation required.

So, consider the Mets lucky that they did not fork over an eight-figure contract for an older player with lousy defense and questionable offense. That he’ll be playing for the Phillies next year is just icing on the cake.

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