With the 2022 regular season over, it is that time where we go back and take a look at the players who appeared for the Texas Rangers this past season.
Today, we look at infielder Andy Ibanez.
The Opening Day third baseman for the 2022 Texas Rangers was Andy Ibanez.
Weird, isn’t it?
The Rangers have an impressive history of third basemen in the organization. There’s Adrian Beltre, of course, who will be voted into the Hall of Fame the first year he is eligible. There’s Buddy Bell, who should be in the Hall of Fame, but is shafted due to the HOF’s bias against third basemen.
Fun fact — here is a list of the third basemen with a higher career bWAR than Buddy Bell who are not in the Hall of Fame:
Bell is 13th all time among third basemen in bWAR — and that is if you include Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor, both of whom spent more time at DH than at third base.
But beyond Beltre and Bell you also have Toby Harrah, and Steve Buechele, and Dean Palmer, and Hank Blalock, and a couple of years of Michael Young and a couple of years of Roy Howell.
And consistent with that legacy, the Rangers have Josh Jung as their Third Baseman of the Future, someone they expect to nail down the hot corner for at least the next half decade, beginning in 2023.
But every once in a while, you get a one-off. You get Tom Evans as the Opening Day third baseman in 2000, the first of just 23 games he would play for the Rangers. You get Craig Worthington, who started six games for the 1996 Texas Rangers, one of them at third base on Opening Day. You get Opening Day third basemen Asdrubel Cabrera or Brock Holt, as we remember all too well.
Or you get Andy Ibanez.
It wasn’t supposed to be Andy Ibanez, of course. The expectation was that Josh Jung would be the Opening Day third baseman for 2022. Yes, the organization said there would be a “competition” for the job, but really, it was Jung’s job unless he just fell flat on his face in spring training.
Or unless he got hurt. Which, of course, is what transpired, as Jung injured his shoulder working out in the spring and needed surgery, leaving the third base job open for a grab bag of guys come spring training.
The fact that Ibanez was even a candidate was somewhat surprising, given how his career in the U.S. went initially. Signed out of Cuba, Ibanez got his feet wet in 2016 with low-A Hickory before being moved up to AA Frisco. Ibanez was 23, so AA was age appropriate, but he floundered slashing .261/.318/.391 for the Roughriders that year. Things didn’t get better in 2017, as Ibanez slashed .265/.323/.400.
For a second baseman who had questions about his glove and his power, who didn’t have much speed, and whose hit tool was his carrying tool, that sort of performance is not going to work.
Ibanez got a social promotion to Round Rock in 2018 and still didn’t hit, resulting in him largely disappearing from the prospect radar, though a bounceback year at Nashville in 2019 helped his stock recover some, as did his work at the Alternate Training Site in 2020.
Come 2021, Andy Ibanez appeared to have arrived. He put up a 1051 OPS in Round Rock, and in 272 major league plate appearances slashed .277/.321/.435 while playing quality defense at several positions. He was expected to contend for a bench role in 2022, or the short side of a platoon. But when Jung went down, the door opened for Ibanez to get a shot at being the regular third baseman.
It didn’t work out, of course. Ibanez didn’t hit, at all. He slashed .219/.273/.277 in 128 plate appearances before being sent down in early June. And while one could look at his 2021 platoon splits and see that he had an OPS over 200 points higher against lefties than righties and hope that he could at least be a platoon option, Ibanez actually hit slightly worse against lefties (512 OPS) than against righties (571 OPS) in his time in the majors last year.
Back in Round Rock, things didn’t get much better. Ibanez slashed .255/.330/.390 for Round Rock in 315 plate appearances, putting up a lower OPS in AAA in 2022 than he did in the majors in 2021. And it wasn’t a matter of him just having a bad first half and then turning things around. Ibanez’s OPS in Round Rock, by month:
June — 495
July — 862
August — 786
September — 589
His July and August numbers were better, but even then, an OPS in the high-700s to mid-800s in the PCL for a guy in his late 20s aren’t going to get the pulse racing.
In drilling down in the numbers to figure out why Ibanez flopped in 2022 after having success in 2021, one sees a few differences. Ibanez struck out just 12.9% of the time in 2021, which is an extremely low rate — out of 311 players with at least 250 plate appearances in 2021, only 12 had a lower K rate than Ibanez. His K rate jumped to 16.4% in 2022, which is still significantly better than average, but if you don’t walk much and don’t hit for much power, a spike in your K rate is going to have a disproportionate impact.
Weirdly for a guy whose bat-to-ball skills are his calling card, Ibanez popped up in 14.3% of his plate appearances in 2022, which is twice the league average and almost twice his rate in 2021. His ground ball rate also increased, from 38.2% to 43.9%, while his line drive rate dropped almost in half. With almost 60% of his balls in play being grounders or pop ups, his BABIP plummeted from .297 to .258 and his ISO cratered, going from .158 to .059.
Still, while that tells us something about the results, it still doesn’t tell us why Ibanez hit well in 2021 and didn’t in 2022. Maybe it was a mechanical flaw, and the Detroit Tigers, who claimed Ibanez off waivers in early November, think they can straighten it out. Maybe there was a nagging injury or something else hindering him.
Or it could just be that Ibanez was 28 in 2021 and had a career year, a year that he wasn’t ever going to be likely to replicate.