On January 21, the Baseball Hall of Fame will open its doors to at least one former player, Derek Jeter, and potentially a few more when the BBWAA election results are officially announced.
While Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Larry Walker, and Curt Schilling all seem to be on the cusp of induction, at least according to Ryan Thibodaux’s excellent Hall of Fame tracker, there are quite a few other elite players who likely won’t make it this year.
Some, including former Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu, may not even earn the requisite five percent to remain on the ballot. However, Abreu remains a debatable Hall of Fame candidate, and two of Pitcher List’s managers, Andy Patton and Dave Cherman, decided to take a crack at analyzing his HOF credentials on a for or against basis.
For Bobby Abreu
I can understand folks who saw Bobby Abreu, or at least followed baseball during his career, rolling their eyes at an argument for him as a Hall of Famer.
He was a two-time All-Star who only led the league in doubles and triples once each, was not among the top-10 MVP vote getters in any single season, and didn’t reach any of the key milestones for longevity (3,000 hits or 500 home runs/steals).
However, Abreu’s skillset was under-appreciated for large chunks of his career, and many of his underlying numbers paint a picture of him as one of the top 60 outfielders of all-time, making him a candidate worth examining a little closer.
Abreu’s career .291/.395/475 slash line is extremely good, with the .395 OBP ranking 47th all-time. He reached base 3,979 times in his career, 49th all-time and ahead of Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Lou Brock, Harold Baines, Nap Lajoie, and Roberto Alomar, and also ahead of Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Todd Helton, and Omar Vizquel.
Abreu wasn’t just a compiler however, as he racked up the fifth (or sixth, if you use Fangraphs) highest WAR in baseball from 1998-2004. The names ahead of him? Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, and Scott Rolen. Yet despite a six-year run among the league’s elite, Abreu didn’t make an All-Star game until 2004—a product of the more well-known players around him getting popularity votes.
A couple poor seasons near the end of his career cost Abreu a chance at the elusive .300/.400/.500 slash line (he dipped under .300 in 2009 and under .400 in 2011), but he remained productive, at least with the stick, until the bitter end, posting a .342 OBP and a 97 OPS+ in 2014 at age 40.
JAWS, Jay Jaffe’s excellent Hall of Fame metric, has Abreu just toeing the line of HOF candidacy. He boasts a 60.0 career WAR, a 41.6 seven-year peak WAR, and a 50.8 JAWS, which puts him 20th all-time among right fielders. Hall of Fame right fielders average 71.5 WAR, 42.1 peak and 56.8 JAWS. However, right field, more than any other position, is buoyed by elite talent at the top, with a staggering seven players over 90 career WAR.
That’s not to say Abreu’s numbers are automatically Hall-worthy, just that he would stack up even more favorably at his position if the scale weren’t tipped so high thanks to guys like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial.
The 2020 Hall of Fame Ballot may not be as stacked as it has been in year’s past, but Abreu is having a hard time cracking most people’s list as one of the top 10 most deserving candidates. Unfortunately, that could push him off the ballot after just one season, if he is unable to garner the requisite five percent.
Abreu isn’t a slam dunk case, by any means, but his inclusion would be far from the worst among outfielders, and his case is worth a closer look based on his all-around tools and sabermetric-driven skill set, which went underappreciated in his time, but doesn’t have to prohibit him from Cooperstown recognition.
– Andy Patton
Against Bobby Abreu
Bobby Abreu was very good. There’s not really any denying that. Nearly 2500 hits, nearly 600 doubles, 400 SBs, and just short of a .300/.400/.500 career in all slashes, and I’ll admit, Andy had me going for a minute there. But no, Bobby Abreu does not belong in the Hall of Fame.
In my view, Andy’s main argument revolves around the traditional narrative of the seven-year peak; when you look at his WAR over that time, it does appear impressive. But it doesn’t mean that Abreu wasn’t more than a compiler, as Abreu never missed more than 11 games in any season during that span. When you switch it from WAR to WAR/PA, Abreu drops from 6th to 13th. The rest of his stats back this up; he finished 34th in SLG (behind Glenallen Hill, Ellis Burks, and Richie Sexson), 61st in ISO (behind Todd Hundley, Dean Palmer, Craig Wilson, and Russell Branyan), and despite his elite on-base skills, he finished just 19th in wOBA (behind first-ballot HOFer Brian Giles). And that’s during Abreu’s prime. If he wasn’t one of the elite players during his prime, how is he HOF worthy?
I know I’ve harped harshly on his power there and that’s because I don’t think we can just gloss over it. It’s especially important because Abreu won no batting titles. He won one gold glove. Yes he had speed, and maybe if he had a bat with pop, I’d be more willing to overlook the glove and just above-average bat. But you’re telling me that in one of the most HR-happy eras in baseball history, he could only manage one season above 30 HRs and three above 20? Without stellar supporting numbers, that’s not HOF worthy.
This theme is prevalent throughout Abreu’s career, where you can see two common threads, on-base percentage and durability, but that’s it. From 1998 to 2010, he played at least 151 games per season with only three seasons with an OBP below .390. It’s hard to see much other reason for his 60.0 bWAR/59.8 fWAR. This WAR ranks 125th all-time, but I want to see how efficient he was for his career, so let’s check out the same WAR/PA calculation but this time for his career. When we do that, he drops all the way to 402nd all-time. Starling Marte and Roberto Perez (yes, current Indians catcher Roberto Perez) have higher WAR/PAs than Bobby Abreu and nobody will argue Marte or Perez is a HOFer; it’s not even close.
Now, I’m not saying everyone has to be a power hitter, but Abreu’s only calling-cards were his on-base ability and his durability. That explains why he was only a two-time all-star and never ranked in the top 10 in the MVP voting. It doesn’t mean he was a product of more popular players, as Andy suggests. Rather, while he was always healthy, there were always a significant number of players better than him; that’s enough to qualify for the hall of really good—not the Hall of Fame.
– Dave Cherman
Who do you agree with? Abreu will likely not be inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2020, but do you think he should be next year? This was just his second year on the ballot, so he still has time if he gets the necessary votes.
Photo by Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Nathan Mills (@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)