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On Raul: Don't Freak Out Just Yet (Pt. Deux)

Shave the beard, Ralph.
Shave the beard, Ralph.

At this time two years ago, Raul Ibañez was off to a red-hot start. After Ibañez homered to beat the Padres at home on Sunday, April 19, 2009, his triple-slash stood at an astounding .386/.438/.864. And he would stay red-hot all the way through the beginning of June.

It wasn't long before fans, announcers, and media personalities began heaping praise on Ibañez for his "consistency" (totally unlike that streaky Pat Burrell fellow). Clearly, anyone who had questioned the offseason decisions to sign Ibañez, forfeit a first-round pick, and let Burrell go without compensation, had been proven flat wrong.

Thankfully, TGP was one of the few outlets to raise a yellow flag in the face of all this hype. As WC noted on April 28, it was far too early to draw any conclusions about Ibanez based on a single hot streak. And as David S. Cohen later pointed out on May 18, Ibañez has been a streaky player throughout his entire career. It was ludicrous for people to praise him for his "consistency" when they had only seen him play for a few weeks.

And of course, history ultimately repeated itself. Ibañez (whose numbers were already headed slightly downhill at the time) got injured on June 17. He returned to action after the all-star break, and after initially doing okay for a few weeks, he went into a miserable twenty-game funk between August 9 and September 3, where he posted a ridiculous triple-slash of .122/.217/.243. Once again, TGP was prescient. On September 2 (just before the slump ended), DSC pointed out that Ibañez had gone through many cold streaks throughout his career and that he was likely to right the ship eventually.

And that's exactly what happened. After September 3, Ibañez hit .272/.364/.554 for the rest of the regular season. He didn't hit quite as well in the postseason, but he didn't hit badly either: .259/.333/.481 in 60 plate appearances.

We are now in April 2011, and Ibañez is as cold now as he was hot two years ago. Although he had a decent spring, his regular seasons numbers now stand at .219/.286/.297 after 70 plate appearances. And to be sure, there is some legitimate cause for concern, as Ibañez is now 38 years old. Could he have fallen off a cliff? It's possible.

But "cause for concern" is not cause for panic and it certainly is not cause for drawing firm conclusions. The reason why the TGP community was so on-target two years ago was because of its willingness to reserve judgment and wait for all the facts to come in before deciding what it thought. Maybe it was easier to do that then because we were approaching the matter from a starting point of skepticism toward the Ibañez signing. Our approach should not change now just because the shoe is on the other foot.

Yes, maybe Ibañez is losing it. But we have no way of knowing whether that's the case right now, because even when he was younger, he went through slumps like this all the time. If this slump continues to the point where it becomes uncharacteristically long by Raul's standards, then we can start to worry in earnest. Until then, let's chill out.

Oh, and if this post sounds familiar, it should.