Best slugger in new Yankee Stadium's short history? Raul Ibañez, of course
With its short rightfield porch, Yankee Stadium is an ideal hitting environment for a lefthanded pull hitter, and since the new ballpark in the Bronx opened in 2009, few hitters have used it as well as Raul Ibañez has. The 40-year-old slugger's season was off to a sluggish start until he returned to the venue where he spent last season, and over the past two nights, he has bashed three homers, two of them in a 12-2 Mariners rout on Wednesday night.
As a part-time outfielder/designated hitter for Seattle, Ibañez was hitting a paltry .194/.250/.403 with three home runs when he came to town. He connected for a sixth-inning homer off CC Sabathia in Tuesday's 4-3 loss, a blow which hooked down the rightfield line and was estimated at only 344 feet by the ESPN Home Run Tracker (formerly Hit Tracker); Yankee Stadium is 314 down the line and 353 feet to right-center. Both his grand slam off Phil Hughes in the first inning and his two-run shot off Brett Marshall on Wednesday night were more substantial, estimated at 394 feet and 381 feet, respectively; the latter went to left-centerfield. Here's the slam, which was hit into the Yankees bullpen in right-center:
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Ibañez spent last season with the Yankees and hit 19 homers in the regular season, 14 of which came in the Bronx, where he hit .273/.349/.545 in 209 plate appearances, compared to .208/.269/.365 elsewhere. All three of his postseason homers — two on Oct. 10 against the Orioles, a third against the Tigers on Oct. 13 — came at home as well, and produced remarkable drama; his first shot against Baltimore tied Division Series Game 3 in the ninth inning and his second won it in the 12th, while his homer in Game 1 of the League Championship Series against Detroit tied the game in the ninth as well.
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Even without counting that October power burst, Ibañez's knack for Yankee Stadium is such that he ranks first in sluging percentage and second in OPS among players with at least 80 plate appearances since the ballpark opened. Ranked by the latter measure:
Admittedly, much of this qualifies as squinting at small sample sizes, but what's interesting is how well the list meshes with a few of the team's recent personnel decisions. Clearly, it guided the signing of Ibañez, but it's also worth noting that last summer's acquisition, Ichiro Suzuki, has fared particularly well there, as have scrapheap pickups Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay, both of whom have played larger-than-expected roles in the midst of the team's injuries this year.
Hafner had just one homer in 27 plate appearances at the new ballpark prior to this year, but his pull-oriented approach appeared to be a natural fit, and he's produced four homers in 60 PA there this year, compared to two in 55 PA elsewhere. Overbay, while less notoriously pull-oriented, had three homers and a .573 slugging percentage in 71 PA prior to this year; he has three homers and a .540 slugging percentage in 66 PA there this year, compared to three homers and a .455 slugging percentage in 77 PA elsewhere. Ichiro has yet to homer at home in 2013, but he did hit five in 139 PA there last year, compared to four in 524 PA elsewhere; his career slugging percentage at that ballpark is 59 points higher than his career mark, and his batting average is second only to Nick Markakis among the qualifiers. That Yankee Stadium III is a hitters' haven is no secret. Since the new ballpark opened, teams have combined to score 9.76 runs per game there, a level topped by only Coors Field (10.94), Fenway Park (10.27) and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (10.02). The lowest average? Safeco Field's 7.05 runs per game. Even with the recent rejiggering of the fences, Ibañez had better collect his hits while he can.