Searching for Bobby Abreu

November 18, 2020
 
Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu were direct contemporaries. Vlad-The-Elder was born in February of 1975, in the Dominican Republic, while Abreu was born eleven months earlier and a few hundred miles south, in the city of Maracay, Venezuela.
 
Both men reached the majors in 1996, and were full-time players by 1998. Both men were primarily rightfielders. Both were big men with some agility, at least early on. Guerrero’s career finished in 2011, while Abreu stuck around a little longer, playing in the majors in 2012 and 2014.
 
We’ll start there:
 
Name
Years
Games
Plate Appearances
Vladimir Guerrero
1996-2011
2147
9059
Bobby Abreu
1996-2012, 2014
2425
10081
 
We have two players whose careers have a similar length. Abreu tacked on a couple years worth of plate appearances at the end, but they were both durable players in their prime. Abreu player 150+ games every year from 1998 through 2010, and Vlad was nearly as reliable.
 
Both men collected about 2500 hits. Looking at the breakdown of their hits gives us some separation:
 
Name
H
2B
3B
HR
Vladimir Guerrero
2590
477
46
449
Bobby Abreu
2470
574
59
288
 
Guerrero has a significantly advantage in homeruns…449 to 288. Abreu cuts into that advantage a little bit with one hundred more doubles and a few triples, but…a dinger is a dinger. Vlad hit many more dingers than Abreu. Bobby is going to have to catch up.
 
Vlad was a famous bad-ball hitter: he is in the small circle with Yogi Berra and perhaps Pablo Sandoval as one of the player who swung at a lot, and made good contact. Because he could make contact, he didn’t walk too much.
 
And Abreu walked a LOT.
 
Name
Walks
IBB
Vladimir Guerrero
737
250
Bobby Abreu
1476
115
 
I included the count of intentional walks because it shows the distance between them in a brighter contrast. Guerrero collected 487 unintentional walks. Bobby Abreu nearly tripled that, tallying 1361 unintentional walks.
 
Abreu makes up some more ground on baserunning:
 
Name
SB
CS
SB%
FG BsR
Vladimir Guerrero
181
94
65.8%
-49.8
Bobby Abreu
400
128
75.7%
34.9
Vlad, who came a homerun of becoming baseball’s second 40-40 player in 2002, was decently fast in his younger days: he had long, strong legs and big hips, and he could accelerate quickly. He wasn’t a good baserunner, however: to get to forty stolen bases in 2002, he had to pace the league in caught-stealing, with twenty.
 
That ‘FG BsR’ is short-hand for FanGraphs’ Baserunning runs. They estimate that Guerrero lost his team some fifty runs on the basepaths, while Abreu netted about 35 runs. That seems right. Abreu didn’t seem fast, especially not late in his career, but he could catch a pitcher from time to time.
 
So you have one player who smacks a lot of homers from the middle-of-the-order, and another player who doesn’t hit as many homeruns, but who draws a walk, can nab a base, and won’t make a lot of mistakes. A look at the Runs Scored and RBI totals for both men:
 
Name
Runs Scored
Runs Batted In
Vladimir Guerrero
1328
1496
Bobby Abreu
1452
1366
 
Guerrero drove in more runs. Abreu scored more. The numbers are bizarrely in parallel.
 
Guerrero was the better hitter, of course: home runs have massive value. The two men’s triple-slash lines, and their Weighted Runs Created Plus (a slightly more advanced version of OPS+), borrowed from FanGraphs.
 
Name
BA
OBP
SLG
wRC+
Vladimir Guerrero
.318
.379
.553
136
Bobby Abreu
.291
.395
.475
129
 
As defensive players, both men are underwhelming, though each won one Gold Glove. Guerrero had a terrific arm, though he was wild. Abreu had better range, but neither player was Mookie Betts.
 
Name
Assists
Errors
FG DEF Runs
BB-REF dWAR
Vladimir Guerrero
126
125
-115.0
-10.0
Bobby Abreu
136
73
-141.3
-10.9
 
Two advanced metrics here: FanGraphs DEF, which measures defensive runs saved against average, and Baseball-References’ Defensive WAR. FanGraphs rates Vlad as the slightly better defensive player – granting that ‘better’ is a stretch – while Baseball-Reference rates it as a draw.
 
On the counting side of the ledger, I was surprised that Abreu collected a few more assists than Guerrero. Abreu also made significantly fewer defensive errors than Vlad.
 
Adding in league and park contexts, the metric du jour – Wins Above Replacement – credits them as similar players:
 
Name
FanGraphs WAR
B-R WAR
Vladimir Guerrero
54.5
59.5
Bobby Abreu
59.8
60.2
 
Baseball-Reference rates it as a near-tie, while FanGraphs gives Abreu the edge over Guerrero.
 
What about peak seasons?
 
The different versions of WAR come up with different answers for each player’s best season.
 
Baseball-Reference says that Vlad’s best year was 1998 (7.4), while FanGraphs prefers his 2002 season (7.1). Interestingly, Gurrero’s 2004 AL MVP season does not rank as one of his three best seasons by either site.
 
The same thing happens with Abreu, with FanGraphs crediting 2000 as his best season (6.9), while Baseball-Reference prefers 2004 (6.6) and 1998 (6.4) as Abreu’s best years.
 
We can look at seven-year peaks:
 
Name
FanGraphs 7-Yr
 B-R Seven-Year
Vladimir Guerrero
38.2 ('98-'04)
38.5 ('98-'04)
Bobby Abreu
41.5 ('98-'04)
38.8 ('99-'05)
 
FanGraphs says that both players peaked between 1998 and 2004, with Abreu eking out ahead of Guerrero. Baseball-Reference likes Abreu’s 1999-2005 peak a little more, though the gap is narrower between the two players.
 
We can add Win Shares to our discussion:
 
Name
Career Win Shares
Seven-Year Peak
Vladimir Guerrero
324
182 ('98-'04)
Bobby Abreu
356
191 ('98-'04)
 
Win Shares views Abreu as the better player. The metric agrees with FanGraphs that each player peaked between 1998 and 2004, and Win Shares finds Abreu’s peak to be slightly more impressive.
 
As for best seasons, Win Shares says that Abreu’s best season was 2004, when he tallied 33 Win Shares. He had other seasons of 29, 28, and 27 Win Shares, three years at 26, and five seasons in the 20-25 range. Thirteen years of 20+ Win Shares.
 
Guerrero never quite catches Abreu: he posted two 29 Win Share seasons (2000, 2007), two 28’s, two 27’s (including his MVP season), and three years with 20-25 Win Shares. Nine years of 20+ Win Shares.
 
Of course, Guerrero laps Abreu in the metric of public opinion, by a considerable margin:
 
Name
AS Games (Starts)
Silver Sluggers
Vladimir Guerrero
9 (7)
8
Bobby Abreu
2 (1)
1
 
Guerrero played in nine All-Star games, seven as a starting outfielder. Abreu played in two contests (including one where he took home the Home Run Derby trophy). Guerrero won eight Silver Slugger awards to Abreu’s one.
 
And Guerrero did much better in the MVP vote:
 
Name
MVP
MVP Top-5
MVP Top-10
Yrs w/Votes
Vladimir Guerrero
1
4
6
12
Bobby Abreu
0
0
0
7
 
Guerrero received ballot support for the league’s MVP in twelve different seasons, and in half of those years he was judged as one of the ten best players in the league. Bobby Abreu’s highest finish was 12th, when he had a good (though not great) first year with the Angels in 2007.
 
And Vladimir Guerrero was selected to the Hall-of-Fame by the BBWAA in his second year of eligibility, with 92.9% of the vote. Abreu hit the ballot last year, collecting just 5.5% of the vote.
 
*            *            *
 
I guess this is where I’m meant to make a grand declaration about Bobby Abreu. I’ve dragged you along far enough: it’s time to make a point.
 
Except I don’t really have a point to make; I just wanted to share the numbers. Our best objective tools of understanding baseball players say that Bobby Abreu’s value is very comparable to - and perhaps slightly ahead of – the value that Vladimir Guerrero brought to his teams. That math seems coherent: if there’s daylight between them, it isn’t much, and I don’t know who’s ahead.
 
I’d say, too, that my subjective experiences of both players echo the popular consensus. I first got a chance to see Guerrero play in Coors Field, when I was wandering around as a young man, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Aimless in Denver, I bought a ticket from a scalper and watched the Expos take on the Rockies so I could see Vlad Guerrero. He didn’t disappoint.
 
I can recall a handful ofmoments in my life as a fan where Vlad Guerrero shows up at the center. A few years after that gray day in Denver, I was a teaching assistant at a public school in Brighton, Massachusetts. The third game of the 2004 ALDS was scheduled for a Friday afternoon, and all of the teachers made plans to head to the local bar after the kids were safely loaded onto the buses.
 
The Sox were up for most of the game, and then late in the game the score was closer and the Angels loaded the bases, and Vlad was up, and I swear to you that everyone in that bar - all of the faithless townies who remembered Dent and Buckner and probably Pesky holding the ball - knew what was coming. At least Vlad didn’t make us wait too long.
 
I probably saw Bobby Abreu play in person once or twice, but I’m not sure when. I have no distinct memories of him. I remember him as an underrated player, as a player lost in the shuffle during a period of insane statistics. He didn’t stand out significantly. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see him.
 
I have sometimes wondered what the point of the Hall-of-Fame is. In the past, I very much felt that it had an obligation to honor people in a way that reflected some objectivity. If you are greater than X, you should go ahead of him. I used to get upset that Jim Rice was in the Hall-of-Fame and Dwight Evans wasn’t.
 
I’ve lost much of that righteous energy. Now I think of the Hall-of-Fame as an institution served with preserving a collective memory.
 
Certainly, Dwight Evans looms considerably in my memory, but so does Jim Rice. So does Don Mattingly, and so does Lou Gehrig. I really liked Jack McDowell as a kid, and Julio Franco. David Ortiz: I must think about one David Ortiz memory or another every couple of days. That is my remembering, but mine isn’t the only one. Jim Rice wasn’t any better a player than Evans, but his place in the collectively memory is perhaps more significant than Evans’.
 
And Vladimir Guerrero has a significant place of the broader collective memory, more so than Bobby Abreu. Maybe that reflects an ignorance on the part of fans and writers, maybe it reflects on the characteristics and traits of each player, and maybe it is just a matter of dumb luck. Maybe it is all of that, all muddled together.
 
But I am okay with it. I hope Abreu gets serious consideration for the Hall-of-Fame: his career deserves it, and it would be a shame if he were to get lost in the shuffle. But if only one player gets to be remembered in bronze, I think the writers picked the right man.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in southwestern Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and angry counter-arguments here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com
 
 

COMMENTS (14 Comments, most recent shown first)

mikewright
Abreu's arm might not have been as strong Vlad's, but it was an A arm. And he he rarely airmailed the cutoff man.
4:11 PM Nov 20th
 
Manushfan
I take it Bobby's now gonna be the new Jimmy Wynn or Bobby Grich. That's cool. If he goes in sometime I'll be happy for him. But I can see this is just the first act in a long drawn out soap opera.* [See Jack Morris-'Pitching to win' ad nauseum for more]
10:04 AM Nov 19th
 
CharlesSaeger
Vlad the Impaler (you know you have a gun for an arm when it gives you your nickname) held 49% of all runners in right (964 of 1969), with an expectation of 45.8%. I presume BB-Ref is taking things like number of outs at the time of advancement into account when it calculates the expectation. Anyways, that's 63 runners held, worth something like a dozen runs, and 8 more assists (2.8% kill vs. expected 2.4%), which is about 3 more, so 15 runs saved from his arm in right … BB-ref.com gives him 30. Either my linear weights is wrong or this is including his other assists, which typically are throwing out a batter trying to stretch a single into a double; there looks to be about 15 excess assists from that, so about 5 runs there. I figure there has to be some situational stuff helping Guerrero, so saved 20-30 runs.
5:21 PM Nov 18th
 
sansho1
There is also this -- Guerrero was beautiful and Abreu was not. If you knew nothing else, just to look at Vlad at the plate -- tall, broad shoulders, high cheekbones -- you would believe immediately he was one of the best hitters in baseball, because you would want to believe it. Whereas Abreu...let's be honest, a bit of a potato.
4:52 PM Nov 18th
 
steve161
I agree with your conclusion, Dave, and the clue is in the intentional walk numbers: they tell us that Guerrero was feared.
3:39 PM Nov 18th
 
evanecurb
Well said, Dave. Well said. To amplify some of the differences:

Home runs and line drives are memorable. Walks are not.
Strong throws are memorable. An accurate arm that runners don't challenge is not.
Diving catches are memorable. Catches made in stride are not.

There are other things we can add to this list, but whatever we come up with, Guerrero and Rice did more memorable things than Abreu or Evans.
3:30 PM Nov 18th
 
DaveFleming
I suspect, too, that Guerrero's reputation might've limited the number of runners willing to test his arm. He sure had a cannon.
3:23 PM Nov 18th
 
sroney
Abreu's extra assists come from playing a lot more games in the outside. In addition to his longer career, Vlad DHed over 300 extra games.
3:06 PM Nov 18th
 
MarisFan61
Besides that I see their "greatness" differently (Guerrero distinctly higher), I see the Win Shares comparison oppositely from how you do.
Not far apart -- quite similar -- but oppositely.

(these data are from Baseball Gauge, only because they're easier to see and play with than this site's data)

Two things:

First:

Win Shares per 162 games
Abreu 23
Guerrero 25

And:

Best Win Share seasons, starting with highest
Abreu: 32, 28, 27, 27, 26, 25, 25, 24, 24, 22, 21
Guerr: 31, 31, 29, 28, 27, 27, 25, 25, 24, 22, 20


I don't quarrel with what you showed, but I do quarrel with saying simply that Abreu shows better. He does only if you look at it how you did. As I see it, all you can say for him on the Win Share comparison is that arguably he's about equal to Guerrero.
12:40 PM Nov 18th
 
michaelplank
The Phillies never knew what to do with Abreu (just as they never knew what to do with Von Hayes). In his best seasons, he was a 30-30 guy with 100 walks but they never felt like they could really build their offense around him. Vlad is easy, stick him in RF and let him hit third or fourth. Abreu maybe didn't have the home run power for that but he wasn't really a leadoff hitter either. He was good in RF but they never really tried to stretch him into being a centerfielder (not saying that was necessarily a great idea, just a possible way to view him). They got him for nothing and they dumped him for nothing.
12:14 PM Nov 18th
 
bearbyz
I have Abreu slightly ahead of Guerrero in my formula. My formula favors career more than peak and prime, but I do include those.
11:55 AM Nov 18th
 
DaveNJnews
To elaborate on my point below. On July 30, 2006, the Phillies were going nowhere and dumped Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yankees for four prospects who didn’t pan out. (The best of the prospects left baseball to play college basketball at Kansas.) The team was 49-54 that day. The team had not made the playoffs since the 1993 World Series.

They went 36-23 the rest of the season. Over the following five seasons, they went 473-337, winning five straight division titles, two National League pennants and one World Series title. That was quite possibly the greatest stretch in team history.

Abreu had been a fabulous player for the Phillies from 1998 to 2005, a championship-caliber player. But the team didn’t win til he left. I don’t see cause-and-effect there, but it’s understandable that the fans noticed this.
11:38 AM Nov 18th
 
DaveNJnews
As a Phillies fan, I have to say Abreu is someone for whom Phillies fans generally don’t have great affection for. He was traded right before the team went on its five year playoff run, and some fans regarded his departure as essential to that run. Rightly or wrongly, he was viewed as a me-first guy, kind-of the antithesis of Chase Utley.

One thing that fed into that was his clear reluctance to crash into the outfield wall, which was attributed to his experiences with unpadded walls in Venezuela. Another was his reported reluctance to bat lead off. Personally I thought his combination of skills could have made him one of the great lead off hitters of all time.
11:01 AM Nov 18th
 
Rallymonkey5
My favorite Bobby Abreu moment was in a different ALDS game 3, in 2009. Vlad was there too. Angels were down 2 runs to the Red Sox, with 2 outs in the 9th and an 0-2 count on Erick Aybar.

Then Aybar singled, and Figgins drew a walk. Bobby followed with an opposite field double off the green monster to bring in a run and put the go ahead run in scoring position. Red Sox walked Torii Hunter to bring up Vlad, who put the Angels on top with a 2 run single. Bobby of course scored the go ahead run, that play forever links them in my mind. Quite a coincidence that they were near exact contemporaries and rank about the same in value stats.
10:56 AM Nov 18th
 
 
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