Daily Dopplers: Bobby Abreu vs. the Hall of Fame

Posted on November 8, 2010

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Bobby Abreu drew 100 or more walks for eight straight seasons, from 1999-2006. No other active player has done that; no other active player has done it seven straight times.

Abreu has hit 15 or more home runs, stolen 19 or more bases and played in 151 or more game every year since 1998. From that year through 2006, he batted .305/.416/.513 with 202 home runs and 264 stolen bases.

If Abreu is able to swat 24 more home runs before hanging up his spikes–and at 36 years old, he has one year left on his current contract–he will become the eighth player in big-league history to notch 300 homers and 300 steals in his career. So far, the seven-player list includes two Hall of Famers (Andre Dawson and Willie Mays), two future Hall of Famers (Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds) and three mere All-Stars (Steve Finley, Reggie Sanders and Bobby Bonds).

On pure name recognition, it would be easy to say that Abreu belongs in the company of the club’s little brothers, as it were. He is no Bonds or Mays, to be sure.

Yet, he is no fit at all for the Sanders-Finley-Bobby Bonds fraternity. Those men were journeymen and free swingers. Finley was almost certainly on steroids (as, of course, were Bonds and Rodriguez); Sanders and Bobby Bonds earned reputations as malcontents and could not stay in one place during the latter stages of their career.

Abreu has a legitimate Hall of Fame resume, one at least worthy of closer examination. Unfortunately for him, no Hall of Fame player has ever had a skill set quite like his. Since comparing him to more obvious clones like Bernie Williams or Jim Edmonds won’t do us much good, though, let’s take a look at two guys who are in the Hall and who each had some of Abreu’s skills.

What are we looking for? First of all, patience is key. Abreu’s walks make up a huge portion of his offensive value. That is what precludes comparisons between him and Dawson. Whatever players we select, they need to have been willing to take a walk.

Secondly, Abreu has always used his speed well. From 2004-06 he stole 101 bases and was caught just 22 times. He also has a career batting average on balls in play of .343, which is excellent. Add some speed to the list.

Of course, almost no one gets near Cooperstown without some power–although Richie Ashburn has a thing or two to say on that subject. Abreu has 276 homers, hardly an especially impressive number, but he did manage 30 home runs one season and topped .540 in slugging average four separate times. Guys with similar power have reached the Hall before.

Add in a small consideration for defense–as much as he has crumbled in this department with age, Abreu once had decent range and a rocket arm in right field–and we have our players. Which two guys help inform the question of whether or not Bobby Abreu achieves baseball immortality?

As it turns out, Billy Williams and Dave Winfield give us some good insight. And as it turns out, Abreu has a pretty good case.

Bobby Abreu

Career stats (age 36): .296/.400/.488, 276 HR, 372 SB, OPS 31 percent better than league

We have pretty well covered Abreu’s highlights, but here are a couple of things that voters often consider: Abreu has 2,257 hits in his career, giving him a very realistic shot at 2,500. He should also reach 400 steals, 300 homers, 600 doubles, 1,500 runs and 1,500 walks without breaking a sweat.

Billy Williams

Career stats (through age 36): .296/.364/.503, 392 HR, 86 SB, OPS 35 percent better than league

Williams obviously had more power than Abreu, although (like all but a fistful of hitters in history) he was not as patient. He did not run much but played steady defense and hit for power at a time when that was much harder than it is today. Like Abreu, he was known for his sweet left-handed stroke. 

Williams played two more seasons beyond our age limit, crossing the 400-homer plateau but doing little else to boost his Hall credentials.

Dave Winfield

Career (through age 36): .287/.357/.481, 357 HR, 209 SB, OPS 31 percent better than league

Winfield hit for comparable power with Abreu, but had a bit more seniority by the time he reached the age of 36. He had just over 2,400 hits at the time, and if he had not played six more seasons, he probably would have been a fringe candidate for the Hall at best. As it was, he eventually surpassed 3,100 hits, and pure longevity made him an inevitable inclusion in Cooperstown.

Unlike Abreu, Winfield stopped running as he got older, and became more and more one-dimensional. Still, his arm was the stuff of legend, and he fits the overall profile of Abreu fairly well.

The Verdict

Wins Above Replacement, WAR for short, is a beautiful statistic that encapsulates a player’s offensive and defensive value in one easy-to-read number. It deserves more expansive treatment, and I will write about it later today or tomorrow, but in the meantime, suffice it to say that WAR tells us about all we need to know about who the best players ever are: Babe Ruth ranks first; Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial are in a dead heat for eighth among position players.

Bobby Abreu has accumulated 58.20 WAR in his career. That puts him a shade ahead of Richie Ashburn and Billy Williams, and a shade behind Dave Winfield.

WAR is cumulative, too, so unless (and almost no one does this, certainly not a player of Abreu’s caliber) he is worth negative WAR for the rest of his career, Bobby Abreu will someday rank ahead of all of these men on the all-time leaderboard–as well as ahead of Joe Cronin, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg and Harmon Killebrew.

If he finishes his career the way Winfield did, Duke Snider and Tony Gwynn are within reach. Abreu is not the best player of his generation, nor even the best outfielder in the AL West right now, but he may be the most underrated superstar of the past 15 years.

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