Yesterday, I took a look at Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame candidacy, specifically arguing that he should be a unanimous selection. That kicked off what will be a series of articles examining the candidacies of each of the players on the 2020 ballot with connections to the Yankees. Up today is Bobby Abreu, who actually has a pretty compelling case for Cooperstown. Much more compelling than you might think, in fact.
Abreu, along with Cory Lidle, came to the Yankees at the 2006 trade deadline in a deal for C.J. Henry, Jesus Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios, and Matt Smith. He remained a Yankee through the 2008 season. Although these years memorable for the wrong reasons, Abreu was a star in pinstripes. He hit .295/.378/.465 (124 wRC+) with an 11.6% walk rate in more than 1,600 plate appearances for the Bombers. In hindsight, this is one of the better trades in recent Yankee history. He was also very fun to root for. I have fond memories of the Yankee version of Abreu.
His production with New York was just more of the same for the right fielder, who was a bonafide star for the better part of 13 seasons. In just under 2,500 career games, Abreu hit .291/.395/.475 (129 wRC+) with a 15% walk rate, 288 home runs, and nearly 600 doubles. Adding to his value, he stole 400 bases and is a two-time member of the 30-30 club. That is a damn impressive career.
All of this is why Abreu logged an even 60 bWAR (58.2 fWAR) in his career. He was a 5+ win player in seven consecutive seasons (1998-2004), worth 41.6 wins in his seven-year peak. As Bill Baer pointed out the other day, the only outfielders more valuable in this stretch were Barry Bonds and Andruw Jones. Abreu had a no-doubt Hall of Fame peak.
All told, this adds up to a 50.8 JAWS. He ranks 20th all-time among right fielders by the metric, sandwiched in between Dave Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero, both of whom are enshrined in Cooperstown. Many other enshrined players sit below him on the list of right fielders, including Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler, and Harry Hooper.
That, though, is Abreu’s problem: none of those players suited up for a game after 1959. Standards changed. If elected, Abreu would have one of the weaker resumes for his position. That’s true even with some of his more sabermetric bonafides.
Another point against him is the lack of traditional hardware. He was only twice an All-Star and only won one Silver Slugger. He did not an MVP, nor a World Series. This matters less to me than others–most of this is out of his control–but it is worth noting. It suggests, after all, that he was never the best at his position. It’s only fair to note, though, that he was always among the best.
And then there is defense. Abreu’s reputation for being “afraid of walls” has taken on a life of its own, and it is true he was never the sturdiest defender. That will only count against him, too. Like with Jeter, though, a lack of defensive value is calculated into WAR. (Again, to be fair, Abreu did win a Gold Glove.) With that in mind, by WAR, Abreu has a case, one that stands up against other Hall of Fame outfielders.
Taken in total, Abreu was a fantastic player, often among the game’s best. He essentially reached base 40% of the time in 2,500 professional games– Abreu excelled at simply not getting out. This is not a skill to take lightlyHis career counting stats are equally impressive and he played for 18 seasons. He is a true borderline case, though he falls just a bit short for me, though I could be convinced otherwise.
Corner outfielders with high on-base skills often get underrated or overlooked by fans. Abreu is no different. Fans outside of the sabermetric community typically scoff at the idea of his enshrinement. That is not fair to Abreu: he was the sort of player who any team would want. We all saw that as Yankee fans, even several years after his peak. He is very reminiscent of Bernie Williams in this regard: a damn fine player who falls just a bit short of the Hall of Fame.
His election would not be an outrage, unlikely as it may be. In fact, I’d cheer it–it would be yet another sign that voters are taking a more nuanced approach to their process. That’s good news. Overall, his case is a complicated one.
At the end of the day, though, Abreu’s case falls just a bit short for me. On the other hand, “was an outfielder better than Bobby Abreu” feels like an appropriate question to ask for potential enshrinement. If the answer is yes, then that player is worthy of the Hall; if no, they are not. That is a high compliment to Abreu, and it is worthy of a player whose career is very much worth remembering.