Fack Youk? Sou Yuck!

I've been reading a lot about Bobby Abreu lately.  The things I've been reading came out in two waves; the first wave featured complimentary articles praising Abreu for the impact he's had on the Angels hitters.  How through Abreu's influence, they've become more selective at the plate, drawing more walks and having an overall better approach to hitting.  The second wave of articles set out to discredit the first wave claiming Abreu had nothing to do with the Angels' improvements, they in fact hadn't really improved that much.

 

Below is an article from a Yankee blog called "Fack Youk" that is pretty typical of the second wave of Abreu articles. 

My comments are in bold.

The Fallacy Of El Comedulce
Good morning Fackers. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 allowed for far easier and faster transportation from the East Coast to the West Coast than had previously existed. Yet, from what I've been hearing and reading over the past several months, the concepts of the base on balls and working the pitch count still did not make its way west until some 140 years later when Bobby Abreu signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Yeah, and the Angels just recently started using gloves. 

Don't get me wrong, Bobby Abreu is a very good baseball player. Depending upon how the Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui situations work out this off-season, he might be a good option for the 2010 Yankees to explore. He was initially acquired in one of the best deals Brian Cashman has made and provided the Yankees with two and a half years of good to excellent offensive production, even if his phobia of outfield walls was downright comical by the end of his tenure in the Bronx. The Yankees rightly refused to offer him arbitration following last season, as the $16M he earned in 2008 would have made his 2009 arbitration figure far more than what he's worth. That coupled with the collapse of the free agent market last off-season in light of both the U.S. economy and the ever changing landscape of baseball economics allowed the Angels to sign Abreu for the bottom basement price of $5M for 2009.

I don't know what a "bottom basement" price is, but I'm sure the Angels front office is happy with what they were able to sign Abreu for.  He's been more than worth the bargain basement salary of $5M plus incentives.

While the prevaling narrative is that Abreu enjoyed something of a comeback season, the reality is that his OPS+ of 115 this year is worse than last year (120), essentially equal to his 2007 (114), and the second lowest total of his career since becoming an everyday player in 1998. Some of that can be attributed to the continued diminishing of his power late in his career. But while his OBP of .390 and his BB% of 14.1 are improvements on 2007 and 2008, they still rank as his third lowest marks since 1998.

Was it a comeback or not?  His OPS+ was the second lowest of his career, but his OBP were improvements over his previous two years.  I don't see how it matters anyway, the point is what type of impact has Abreu made on the other hitters through mentoring and example.

Yet if you were to listen to the announcers during ALDS or any other nationally televised Angels' game this year, or if you were to google "Bobby Abreu influence on Angels", you would be subjected to scores of hyperbolic statements crediting Abreu with teaching the Angels, who have made the playoffs three straight seasons and six of the last eight, how to finally work a pitch count and take a walk. Nevermind that as recently as 2007 the Angels finished third in the AL in OBP, just as they did this year, with a mark .345, just a half percent lower than this year's .350.

Here's where I think the falicy begins.  Abreu's team mates have never said he taught them how to take a walk, but instead to have a different approach when in the batter's box.  Here's what they've said:

  • "Bobby has brought something different to this ballclub," center fielder Torii Hunter says. "I won't say it's all patience. I'll say it's more about hitting pitches that are in the strike zone. When you hit a pitch in the strike zone, you have a better chance of getting a hit than when it's out of the strike zone.  I've learned from Bobby and that's why I'm hitting .300 for the first time," he admits.
  • Third baseman Chone Figgins puts it this way: "It's not that I'm trying to take pitches. I'm just trying to eliminate putting a pitcher's pitch in play. Instead of swinging at a 1-0 pitch that I can't do much with, I'm taking it so maybe I can get to 2-0, a better situation for me.  The big thing is, you have to become confident hitting behind in the count. You have to be willing to take that close 1-1 pitch to get to 2-1 and be confident you can hit with two strikes."
  • "I think Bobby has had an influence on some guys more as a mentoring tool," Scioscia said. "Plate discipline has been a big part of our guys getting into good counts and then being productive in those counts.  I think Bobby has had an influence on that. I don't think that there's been any drastic change in some players we're looking at as far as them looking at Bobby and saying I want to do what he's doing.  I do think some players have become enlightened maybe about not trying to do too much with a pitch or when you get in a hitter's count don't get so aggressive you give the count right back to the pitcher. It's gotten us better looks at the plate than we've had in a long time."
  • Hunter says when he's in the on-deck circle and Abreu is hitting, "I'm going crazy. He's staying alive, staying alive. You don't want to go up there and swing at the first pitch after he just had a seven-pitch at-bat. It trickles down. It's a domino effect. We all want an Abreu at-bat."
  • "Abreu has helped me in many ways," said Aybar, whose .312 average led the club. "He's always showing me things, teaching me the right way."
  • "I'll go in the clubhouse and he's studying video and talking baseball with Chone Figgins, Kendry Morales and Erick Aybar," general manager Tony Reagins said. "That's where he has a big impact. A lot of players after the game are so quick to leave. Bobby stays. He is very bright. He's bilingual. He studies the game and has no problem passing information along."

And Abreu himself never mentions going up to the plate looking to walk, but rather, looking for better pitches to hit.  "The guys are doing good trying to understand that you need to wait for your pitch. When you're hitting, you don't have to be afraid of the count. The count doesn't matter to me. Sometimes, I see the best pitch to hit with two strikes."

In this post yesterday, Rob Neyer, vamping on Tyler Kepner's piece in The Times, pointed out that the Angels walked 66 more times this year than last, boosting their walk rate from 7.8% to 8.7% and rising from 11th in the AL in OBP back to third, where they had finished in 2007. Yet Neyer also notes that the difference can be entirely attributed to the performance of Abreu alone, who had 65 more walks than the man he replaced - Garrett Anderson, a notorious free swinger whose career high in walks is a whopping 38. In addition to Abreu, Chone Figgins walked 39 (actually it's 41) more times this year than in 2008. So outside of Figgins and swapping Anderson for Abreu, the rest of the Angels walked 38 fewer times than they did in 2008.

Once again, it's not about the base on balls, it's about having better at-bats.  But note that Figgins increased his walk total by 41 over last season.  Figgins' OBP increased from .367 in 2008 to .395 this year, but the increase isn't entirely because of added number of walks.  His batting average also increased from .276 to .298 which means the majority of the increase in OBP was a result of more hits, not more walks.  This also explains why the Angels OBP increased while actually getting fewer (as Neyer claims) walks.  The Angels hit better than last year...and this is where the Angels say Abreu's influence has impacted the team.

While their average pitches per plate appearance increased from 3.65 to 3.88, that only equates to about 12.5 extra pitches per game, of which about 5.5 can be attributed to Abreu and Figgins. So the rest of the line up saw, on average, one extra pitch each over the course of a game. And while the team's walk rate did increase by 0.9% this year, their IsoD is consisent with last year (.065 this year as opposed to .062 last year). Their 20 point boost in on base percentage is just as much due to a 17 point jump in batting average, which in turn can be attributed to a 23 point jump in team BABIP despite just a one percent increase in LD%.

Can their 17 point jump in batting average really be attributed to an increased BABIP?  Can't their 23 point jump in BABIP and 28 point increase in slugging percentage be attributed to better at bats? 

Again, looking at Figgins' season, his 2009 LD% remained the same as it was in 2008, while his FB% increased and his GB% decreased.  His batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage increased in every category, regardless if it were a groundball, flyball or line drive.  Was it possible by being more selective Figgins hit less routine flyballs and more harder hits to the outfield?  And if he's trying to eliminate putting the pitcher's pitch in play wouldn't that improve the outcome of his at-bat by eliminating weak groundballs?  If a player improves his approach at the plate, and his results in turn improve, why can't we believe the results are for the reason the player gives?  Figgins stated, "I've learned a lot being around Bobby.  He helped me improve an important part of my game with his discipline and approach."

And now, here it comes Angel fans.  The word people use when they can't explain the Angels' performance...

So much for Abreu's influence; it appears luck has far more to do with the Angels' surge in OBP than Abreu does.

Once agan it comes down to LUCK.  Sure.  If your kid comes home from school with better math grades and tells you it's because his teacher showed him a better way to solve the equation, are you going to tell him, "No, you just got lucky".

Bobby Abreu was the best bargain of the 2008-2009 Crazy Eddie style off-season. You don't need FanGraphs to tell you that Abreu was a steal $6M ($5M base plus $1M incentives), but just to put a number on it, FanGraphs places Abreu's worth at $11.8M this year, nearly twice his salary. That's one helluva deal the Angels got for themselves, but it doesn't mean that Abreu, as one of the most selective hitters in the game, has bestowed his patience upon the rest of the lineup through his mere presence. Keep that in mind as Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal, and the print media try to beat that story line into our head over the course of the ALCS.

This part pisses me off, "through his mere presence".  If numerous Angel players say the reason they've done better this season is because of the influence of Bobby Abreu, why can't people believe them?  Especially if the stats support their beliefs? 

Keep that in mind as Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal, and the print media point out one of the reasons for the Angels improved offense over the course of the ALCS.

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