Major league hitters rarely rave about Angel Stadium. The marine layer seems to knock down balls at night, the high wall in right field can turn potential home runs into doubles, and the vast outfield dimensions tend to favor pitchers.
But you’ll hear no such complaints from Raul Ibanez, the 41-year-old designated hitter/outfielder who was formally introduced via conference call on Monday after signing a one-year, $2.75-million contract with the Angels on Dec. 18.
Ibanez’s .349 average (103 for 295) in Angel Stadium is the highest of any player with a minimum of 150 at-bats there. The 16-year big league veteran also has a .407 on-base percentage and .522 slugging percentage in 79 career games in Anaheim, with 10 homers and 48 runs batted in.
“I’ve always felt very comfortable there,” said Ibanez, whose deal includes incentives that could push his salary to $5 million. “I love the background, I see the ball well there, I like the wide-open gaps, and the ball moves through the infield well. I really enjoy hitting there and playing there — I always have.”
The Angels are counting on Ibanez, who had a .242/.306/.487 slash line with 29 homers and 65 RBIs for Seattle last season, to fill some of the power void left by Mark Trumbo, who had a team-leading 34 homers and 100 RBIs last season but was traded to Arizona this month.
To do that, Ibanez must rebound from a brutal second half in which he had a .203/.295/.345 slash line with five homers and nine RBIs in 51 games. He also must produce at an age when most players are deep into retirement. Ibanez turns 42 on June 2.
“If I didn’t think I could still perform at a high level and exceed the level I was at last year, I wouldn’t play,” Ibanez said. “The only reason I would put on a major league uniform, the only reason I continue to play this game, is I have a deep passion for winning and competing.”
Some have speculated that an unexpected workload on defense caused Ibanez’s second-half struggles in 2013. Because of injuries to other outfielders, Ibanez, who hit .267 with 24 homers and 56 RBIs in 73 first-half games, played 832 innings, the equivalent of 92 full games, in the field.
With a starting outfield of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun, and J.B. Shuck and possibly Collin Cowgill in reserve, Ibanez is not expected to see much outfield action in 2014.
“I basically stunk in the second half last year,” Ibanez said. “Being a DH more will certainly help. But at the same time, you prepare during the off-season to play as much as you can. You’ll never hear me say that playing the field that much impacted me. I fully expect to be able to do that, to contribute.
“There’s no such thing as preparing in an off-season to DH; you prepare to be a baseball player, an athlete, to be able to go from first to third on a hit, to score from second with two outs and the game on the line in the eighth inning. You prepare for all those things, and that’s what I’m doing now.”
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