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Hall of Fame Ballot Newcomer Bobby Abreu Deserves to Have His Case Heard

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We’re going to go in a slightly different direction with this week’s Friday Hall of Fame preview, the final one before the official announcement of the results next Tuesday. We’re still covering someone on the ballot, it’s just someone without multiple ballots already under his belt, and who I’m not sure will be around for long enough to build up any sort of trajectory towards the Hall (as was the case with Todd Helton, Scott Rolen, Billy Wagner, Jeff Kent, and Larry Walker).

But Bobby Abreu deserves at least a little attention. And since I’m not convinced that he’ll still be around to get that attention next year (he’s currently at 7.6% in the 2020 Ballot Tracker, but that will absolutely drop when the final numbers come out), I want to take the chance to give him that attention now, before it becomes too late to do so.

And he even has an Astros connection! Although it was mostly a footnote: he was signed by the team out of Venezuela as a sixteen-year-old, and played 74 games for them between 1996 and 1997 before being taken sixth overall in the 1997 expansion draft by Tampa Bay. It’s a little painful given how good of a career he had, but simultaneously understandable given that they couldn’t protect everyone, and the outfield at that time was pretty packed. Less defensible is the Rays decision to immediately trade who quickly became the best player taken in that draft to Philadelphia for someone named Kevin Stocker. Stocker was worth 6.0 bWAR in eight seasons, a total Abreu bested in four individual seasons.

And it might shock you to hear that Abreu had that many good seasons! That’s MVP-caliber play, after all, and Abreu generally did not receive MVP consideration; in fact, those four 6.0-Win seasons amounted to just two 23rd-place finishes. I would argue that was more a fault with the voters’ understanding than Abreu’s play, though, and if you need more proof, his best MVP finish came in 2009 when he placed 12th overall. Abreu that year was a 35-year-old putting up solid year, sure, but that year was still arguably worse than half of his other seasons.

Bobby didn’t hit the big, flashy milestones, finishing his career with 2470 hits (just outside of the top 100 all-time) and 288 home runs. His RBI total was similarly a good-but-not-historic 1363, making him 89th all-time. He did manage to finish with a round number of steals, at 400 (74th). And his 574 doubles are actually impressive, tying him for 25th in history.

Individually, none of that may seem special, but put together, you can kind of see it, right? Abreu’s career totals look like a sort of jack-of-all-trades player, really good at a lot of things, but maybe not elite at anything. A lot of power, and speed, and contact, but probably never the top of the league in any one of them (on that note, he led the league in just two batting categories over his career, doubles in 2002 and triples in 1999). Of course, being really good at everything makes a player a star, in its own way.

But there is one thing I haven’t touched on yet, the one area where Abreu was truly one of the best of all-time: getting on base. His eye for batting was truly incredible, as he finished with 100 or more walks eight seasons; only eight players have done it more times than that. He never finished with the league lead, but that was mostly bad luck from playing in the same league as Barry Bonds in his peak (although Abreu did lead the entire majors with 124 walks in 2006…the year he was traded from the Phillies to the Yankees, meaning that he wound up leading neither league)

In total, Abreu walked 1476 times, 20th-most in the history of baseball. Add those with his hits, plus his times reaching on HBPs and errors, and Abreu is one of just fifty-five players in history to reach base 4000 times or more. And the list of players to reach that mark and not make Cooperstown is fairly short. Among eligible players not presently on the ballot, it’s just Rusty Staub, Rafael Palmeiro, and Dwight Evans, and Evans came close to induction via the Veterans Committee last month.

Abreu managed a .291/.395/.475 batting line, good for a 128 OPS+, over more than 10000 career plate appearances. That, plus decent fielding (like recent inductee and fellow right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, Abreu was decent in his younger days but lost a step or two at the end) is why he managed 60.0 bWAR and 59.8 fWAR for his career. By those marks, he’s the nineteenth or twenty-first best right fielder, respectively, in history.

And they’re hardly alone in that assessment, either, as stats that attempt to filter value through a Hall of Fame lens by combining peak and career totals come out similarly. I’m partial to Hall Rating, with combines the two and then equates it to an OPS+-like stat, where 100 is the Hall borderline and each point over is 1% better than the borderline. By that measure, Abreu comes out at 110, twenty-first all-time and right in between Guerrero and future inductee Ichiro Suzuki. JAWS has him ranked similarly, twentieth among right-fielders at 50.8. And since there are twenty-six inducted right fielders, plus several ahead of Abreu also not in for various reasons (including the still-on-the-ballot Walker, the not-yet-eligible Suzuki, and the permanently-ineligible Joe Jackson), Abreu would slot in perfectly as the median Hall right fielder if he were added to Cooperstown right now.

Ultimately, I am not sure if I would vote for Bobby Abreu this year. I don’t know if I’m totally sold on his case, although it is certainly an interesting case and I feel like I’m almost there. But while the ballot isn’t as packed as it has been over the last few years, there are still more than ten players on it that I think deserve support. I also believe that Abreu is the type of player that deserves to have his case actually deliberated over multiple chances, though, and I really hope he can at least stick around another year. If I had an actual ballot, I might even drop votes strategically to help ensure that he hits the five percent he needs to return in 2021. But if he doesn’t quite manage that, at least we got a chance to finally appreciate just how solid his career was.

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Author:

Theo Gerome

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