We keep coming back to Bobby Abreu. He’s that free agent with whom no one knows know what to do.
On Sunday night, in our open thread, a mini-discussion broke out about Bobby Abreu’s declining walk rate. Some saw it as a sign that Bobby is nearing that Bernie Williams circa 2003/2004 point of no returns. Others — as Jeff Passan wrote in his absurdly comprehensive free agent tracker — still see Abreu as a potent offensive force and are seduced by his career .300/.400/.500 offensive line.
I go back and forth on Abreu. On the one hand, I see him as a much better choice than Xavier Nady, but I recognize that this reaction is based on Nady’s bad month and the two players’ prior records. Considering Bobby will be 35 while Nady will be 30 come opening day, the possibility exists that Nady could outperform Abreu in either or both of the next two seasons despite the fact that Bobby Abreu is a far, far superior player.
So while we’ve already debated Abreu, I’d like to offer up some observations that serve as something as a counterpoint to my own previous belief that the Yanks will let Abreu walk. With Matt Holliday heading to Oakland and the Yanks seemingly not that interested in Manny, Abreu may very well be the best choice whether we like it or not.
Now, despite this predicament, there are some warning signs. Since arriving in New York, past his peak, at age 32, Abreu’s walk rate has dropped, while on the Yanks, from a walk every 7.5 BB in his first two months in the Bronx in 2006 to once every 8.3 PAs in 2007 to once every 9.4 PAs in 2008. That is a fairly dramatic slide. But on the other hand, we have his K rates. This went from 4.8 PA/K in 2006 to 6.1 PA/K to 6.3 PA/K. While he’s walking less, he’s also striking out less. All of this means that Bobby Abreu is putting the ball in play more often. But why?
According to ESPN’s stats page, Abreu is still seeing an impressive 4.29 pitches per plate appearance. This total is right in line with his career average and is down from the 4.39 mark in 2007 and the 4.44 mark he put up during his first few months in the Bronx. The 2006 totals, by the way, were a career high for Bobby in that department.
Now, I’m thinking these changes are due to the lineup. In Philadelphia, Abreu hit third in front of Pat Burrell. In New York, he hits third in front of Alex Rodriguez. Pitchers are much more likely to go after Abreu if they have A-Rod up next. Why pitch around Abreu to face Alex with a runner on base? Objectively, that doesn’t make sense. So perhaps the AL pitchers are more inclined to attack the zone. Who knows? That’s just my theory.
While these numbers offer us a glimpse at what’s going on, we can’t escape the fact that Abreu is getting old, and he’s slowing down. It’s unavoidable. But perhaps his declining walk rate isn’t as much of a concern as we all think.
He’s not a steady outfielder; he’s 35. Those are two good reasons to replace him with some younger. But that option might not exist. The Yankees may just need Bobby Abreu after all.