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The Many Overlooked Times Bobby Abreu Played Great

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Abreu intimidated me to write about frankly, because part of me felt I'd struggle to find many moments where Bobby Abreu truly shined as a Hall of Famer. Then again, defining Hall of Fame moments truly is in the eye of the beholder. What makes Abreu fun to write about is the mere fact Aberu completely missed the spotlight basically his entire career. Joe Posnanski describes Bobby as the Most Boring Good Player in Baseball History (MBGPIBH), and in some ways this is not far from the truth. However, I feel found some excellent stories to tell for this post, and I will discuss my thoughts on his case afterwards.

Abreu's Overlooked Rookie Campaign

Abreu's first full campaign was an overlooked success, and the best moment of the campaign came on May 6th, early in the season. The Phillies were not particularly good (under some manager named Terry Francona...), but Abreu proved a revelation. Abreu started his career as a .300 hitter, and basically spent his entire career as such. His entire season tells a complete story of consistency. For the campaign, Abreu never batted below .286 any given month of the year. Abreu's ability to foul off pitches and draw walks ensured he constantly provided offensive value: the lowest OBP of the season was .371.

May 6th, 1998

May 6th was just another day against two poor teams: the Colorado Rockies visited Philadelphia and took the game into the 9th, tied at 6 a piece. The Rockies sent in closer Chuck McElroy in to hold the lead in the 9th. Chuck walked the first batter, struck another out, walked a second before striking out a batter again. That brought in Abreu. Abreu at this point was batting a smooth .333 (.419 OBP), and establishing himself as a powerful hitter for the Phillies. I could not find a video of the at-bat, but I can tell you Bobby took the count full (this should not surprise anyone: Abreu always took the count full). After a full count Abreu lined a single into center field, scoring the game's winning run.

Abreu finished the campaign with a .312/.409/.497 batting line. He did not lead the league in any major statistics, but he finished in the top 10 in: OBP (8th) and Walks (10th). Abreu's 136 OPS+ was not in the top 10, but darned good (especially for a rookie).

Aberu's career accelerated from there

Aberu's 2000 Season

Aberu posted an excellent 1999 season, and continued his success in 2000. Up to this point Abreu had not received much attention from the media or the writers. Abreu did not make an All-Star Game, and was only mildly considered in MVP voting. This did not stop Abreu from continuing his terrific play.

May 24th, 2000

Not quite a walk off, but close. Abreu was in the midst of another excellent (and largely unnoticed) campaign for Philadelphia. The Phillies finished the year with only 65 wins, Terry Francona's time in the City of Brotherly love was not iconic. However, Abreu continued to play well. The Phillies were behind in the top of the 9th against Houston, and Billy Wagner came on to close the game out. It was not one of Wagner's better games to say the least. Up two runs Wagner promptly surrendered a double, and then a single (to bring the Phillies down one), after a ground out Abreu stepped up to the plate and promptly deposited the ball into the left field bleachers, giving Philly the lead.

This was Bobby's highest WPA in a single game for his career up to that point.

August 27th, 2000

Abreu's most notable game came on August 27th facing the Giants. The game was a pitcher's duel with the Giants and Phillies struggling to score runs. Abreu's first big moment came in the 6th against Matt Gardner. Down a run, Abreu took the first two pitches before launching a ball into right field for a home run, tying the game. The more dramatic moment came in the bottom of the 10th. The score still tied at 1 apiece, Abreu faced Aaron Fultz, a lefty, with nobody on base. Again on the third pitch, Abreu launched the ball to centerfield, and the fielder struggled to hold onto the ball. Abreu raced around the bases, and Jeff Kent bobbled the ball, and he slid into home with a walk off, inside the park home run.

Game 4 of the ALDS

This moment stretches things a bit: this would not be a Hall of Fame moment for most players, but I want to highlight some of the skills which made Abreu a great and underappreciated player for his career. The 2007 ALDS against the Indians was not a successful one for the Yankees (for whom Abreu played for that year). However, it also highlighted some of the extreme strengths of Abreu. Abreu ranked 2nd for Yankees hitters in WPA, and he did it without a flare of heroics. In Game 1: Abreu walked twice, and singled, posting the most productive game for the Yankees. Did anyone notice? I don't think so: I do remember Johnny Damon homering off Sabathia to start the game, but that's about it.

Which brings us to Game 4. It was not particularly close, the Indians held a 6-3 lead going into the 9th. Then the Indians brought in Joe Borowski into the game. Borowski was never the surest of closers; he remains the only closer in history to lead the league in saves with an ERA over 5 (granted much of THAT came from an early game...against the Yankees, which ballooned his ERA over 5, his ERA after that game on April 19th was a respectable 4.22). So Tribe fans were reasonable at least mildly nervous. Borowski got Jeter to pop out, and then Abreu came to the plate. After three pitches Abreu found one he liked and drove the ball way out of the field for a home run. Abreu, briefly, made me feel like the Yankees would manage to steal the game from our grasp. Thankfully, Alex Rodriguez stunk in the playoffs and we got out of it.

Outlook

What is there to say about Abreu? On the one hand he, in many ways, falls well short of the Hall of Fame line. Abreu rarely led the league in major offensive categories: only in doubles and triples once a piece. Abreu was a non-factor in MVP balloting (and frankly never deserved the award), and was only honored at the All-Star Game twice, this in a time when making the All-Star Game was not exactly difficult. Abreu was not a defensive maestro (although he was hardly bad with the glove) and only won a single Gold Glove. From a pure visibility standpoint: Abreu never stood out much his entire career.

On the flip side, while Abreu rarely shined brightly, blocking out all around him, Abreu was a darned good player for a long, long time. To start, a huge amount of Aberu's value came from his walks. Abreu led the league in walks once (2006, his split campaign between Philadelphia and New York) and finished in the top 10 13 times. His career 1,476 walks ranks a whopping 20th all time, which is incredibly impressive. Additionally, Abreu did not stand out (besides walks) in any one particular aspect of his game, but he lacked any real weakness to exploit. Abreu got on base, finishing in the top 10 in that category 8 times in his career, including six seasons where he batted over .300. Abreu hit for reasonable power, finishing in the top 10 in doubles 5 times, leading once; his 574 doubles ranks 24th all time. Abreu was a solid baserunner, swiping 400 bases, and finishing in the top 10 seven times (Abreu was successful 75% of the time). Finally, Abreu was a good fielder, especially as a young man, winning the one Gold Glove and adding over 60 runs before he turned 30 with the glove.

Conclusion

Abreu's Hall of Fame case requires you to take a comprehensive view of a player instead of focusing on one aspect of a players' game. Abreu was the contemporary of Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero and Ichiro Suzuki. All three played to extremes: Manny & Vlady with the stick, and Ichiro with the glove (although he was also a good hitter). Looking at the three:

Manny Ramirez
651 Batting Runs, -49 baserunning runs, -129 fielding runs, 154 OPS+, 54.6 JAWS (10th)

Vladimir Guerrero
429 Batting Runs, -20 baserunning runs, 7 fielding runs, 140 OPS+, 50.3 JAWS (21st)

Ichiro Suzuki
84 Batting Runs, 118 baserunning runs, 118 fielding runs, 107 OPS+, 51.7 JAWS (16th)

Bobby Abreu
369 Batting Runs, 33 baserunning runs, -7 fielding runs, 128 OPS+, 50.9 JAWS (20th)

As we can see: Manny was a transcendent hitter, and deeply in the red everywhere else. Guerrero was the second best hitter, and did not hurt his team elsewhere. Ichiro falls well short with the stick, but is arguably the best fielder in right field ever.

Abreu's curse is: he was not as good a hitter as Vlady, not as good a baserunner as Ichiro, and his defense deteriorated after 30. In my eyes: the true curse is few give Abreu as much credit as he deserves for his walks. Unlike Manny he did not finish his career with a shiny .300 batting average (and received few opportunities to shine in the postseason). However, when you factor in his entire game: Abreu was every bit as good as Guerrero and Ichiro. That's a Hall of Famer to me.

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