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Hall of Fame Case: Bobby Abreu

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Bobby Abreu is on the ballot for the fifth time after garnering 15.4 percent of the vote last year. That total was up from 8.6 percent in 2022. While the gain was not great, Abreu has some time, and once voters start truly looking at how his numbers stack up, he will get a much-needed push toward the end of his candidacy.


Abreu is one of the most underrated players of the past 30 years. Unfortunately, he played at a time when he was easily overshadowed by the accomplishments of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Jeff Bagwell, just to name a few. Consistency was Abreu’s calling card, and he was consistently excellent for a long time.


Be sure to check out our other Hall of Fame cases: Billy Wagner | Andy Pettitte | Mark Buehrle | Omar Vizquel


Career Summary

Bob Kelly Abreu was signed at the ripe old age of 16 by the Houston Astros in 1990. He played 74 games with Houston in 1996-1997 before being left unprotected for the 1997 expansion draft. Abreu was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and promptly traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for Kevin Stocker. He proved himself immediately to the Philly faithful in 1998, showing his all-around play by batting .312 with 17 home runs and 19 stolen bases along with 17 assists from right field. The numbers continued to get better and Abreu made his first All-Star appearance in 2004. In 2005, he would again be an All-Star and win his only Gold Glove.


At the trading deadline in 2006, Abreu was sent to the New York Yankees with Cory Lidle for four players. After two and a half successful seasons in New York, he became a free agent for the first time. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels and in 2009 and stole 30 bases for the sixth time in his career. In 2010, although his average dipped to .255, Abreu had a 20-20 season for the ninth time, the most by any player in history without the last name Bonds. The Angels released Abreu in 2012, and he was promptly signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a year off in 2013, Abreu came back to play 78 games for the New York Mets in 2014 where he stole the 400th and final base of his career.


The Case For Abreu

Abreu had a rare combination of power, speed, and an elite eye at the plate. Let's take a look at the company he keeps among the greats of the game.

  • He had nine seasons with 60 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases. The most in history.

  • He is one of seven players with 900+ extra-base hits and 400 steals. The others are Craig Biggio, Bonds, Ty Cobb, Paul Molitor, Tris Speaker, and Honus Wagner.

  • Abreu is 49th all-time in reaching base and 20th in walks.

  • Since 1990, there have been 18 player seasons of 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases, 100 walks, and 100 RBIs. Abreu has four of them. Only Bonds has more (seven) and Bagwell is the only other player with more than one such season (three).

  • Since 1969, Abreu is one of seven players to have appeared in at least 150 games in a season 13 times. The others are Ichiro Suzuki, Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Pete Rose, and Eddie Murray.

  • There are 27 right fielders in Cooperstown. Abreu ranks in the top 10 in OBP, walks, stolen bases, and extra-base hits.

  • He had seven seasons of at least 5.0 rWAR. That is more than Ichiro, Tony Gwynn, or Vladimir Guerrero.

  • Finally, there are three players in history with 1,450 walks, 900 extra-base hits, and 300 stolen bases: Bonds, Mays, and Abreu.


While I could go on with how rare of a player Abreu was, let’s compare him to a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


Bobby Abreu (1998-2010)

Dave Winfield (1978-1992)

Plate Appearances

8,850

8,772

Doubles

513

396

Home Runs

273

356

Runs

1,335

1,226

Runs Batted In

1,238

1,386

Stolen Bases

365

144

Slash Line

.297/.402/.492

.289/.360/.493

OPS+

132

137

rWAR/fWAR

59.2/59.0

49.4/47.4

While Dave Winfield deserves to be enshrined in Cooperstown, can someone explain to me how he is a first-ballot entry and Abreu barely stayed on the ballot?


The Case Against Abreu


The fact that Abreu lacks hardware is a mark against him for many writers. Having only two All-Star appearances, one Gold Glove, and no championships seems to be hurting his case. He also never finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and never led the league in any major offensive category like home runs, stolen bases, runs, RBIs, or batting average. He was never the dominant player in the league in any particular season so his accomplishments from year to year get lost in the ridiculous offensive environment that was the late ’90s and early 2000s.


Verdict


This decision comes down to peak vs. consistency. Abreu was consistently putting up numbers from 1998-2010. His absolute peak was for about seven years from 1998-2004, where he was between a 5.2 and 6.6 rWAR player. He also had the fifth-most fWAR in the majors during those years as well as being the only player to have 150 homers and 200 steals in that span.

While that is an excellent stretch, it never included dominant years compared to his peers. Looking back, Abreu probably deserved a few top-10 MVP finishes in the league, but not many. Aren’t we always told baseball is a marathon and not a sprint? Shouldn’t that apply to this situation? Abreu was so good for so long and his statistics easily warrant induction. Especially when you consider he was never connected with PEDs like many of his contemporaries who put up gaudier numbers and were more "famous".


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