Bobby Abreu is on the ballot for the fourth time after garnering 8.6 percent of the vote last year. That total was up from 5.5 percent when he first appeared on the ballot. However, he has not made the kind of gains that would suggest induction eventually. Let's take a look at his case.
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.
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, batting .312 with 17 HRs and 19 SBs along with 17 assists from right field. The numbers would just 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 stole 30 bases for the sixth time in his career. In 2010, although his average dipped to .255, Abreu went 20-20 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 would steal his 400th and final base of his career.
What Helps His Case
Make no mistake, Abreu had an elite power-speed combo along with a great eye. He is one of only six players to have 250+ home runs and 400+ stolen bases in their careers. The others are Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan, and Rickey Henderson. Abreu is one of only seven players to have 900 extra-base hits and 400 stolen bases. The others are Biggio, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, and Paul Molitor. That is pretty good company. Since 1990, there have been 28 player seasons of 20 homers, 20 steals, and 100 walks. Abreu and Bonds have 14 of them, seven each. Finally, in baseball history, there have been three seasons where a player has had 40 doubles, 30 homers, 30 stolen bases, and 100 walks. Abreu did it twice (2001, 2004). Bagwell did it in 1997.
While I could go on with how rare of a player Abreu was, let's compare him to a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Dave Winfield absolutely earned his induction to Cooperstown as he was also an excellent player for many years. He won a ring, reached the 3,000-hit mark, and won seven Gold Gloves. However, Abreu matches him in the raw stats for a large chunk of his career. He also shares the lack of "black ink" as Winfield never led the league in any major offensive category except for RBIs (118) in 1979.
What Hurts His Case
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 definitely 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.
This decision comes down to peak vs. consistency. Abreu played in 150+ games each year from 1998-2010. Although 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 HRs and 200 SBs 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 while he should get into Cooperstown, he will have an uphill battle. Maybe he just wasn't "famous" enough.