Bobby Abreu: Hall of Fame?

So, is Bobby Abreu slowly but surely heading to the Hall of Fame, as Bill Dwyre suggested in today's L.A. Times? We can use our ongoing Angel-comps series (read intro/explainer here) to examine precisely that. First, consider this: There are 181 or so position players in the Hall, of which around 150 were not blocked by segregation (sorry for the lack of exact numbers; they are for some reason difficult for me to find). Here's how Abreu ranks in Major League history in various offensive categories:

BBs:  47
OBP:  52
2Bs:  57
OPS:  71
RCs:  79
XBH:  94
SBs: 106
TOB: 106
SFs: 112
SLG: 125
RUN: 127
RBI: 135
TBs: 146
OPS+ 154
HRs: 178
HIT: 197
AVG: 219

RCs = Runs Created, TOB = Times on Base. If you want to include more esoteric measures like Base-Out Runs Added and Adjusted Batting Wins, he's got quite a few more top-100 showings.

This year Bobby will almost certainly top 1300 runs, 2200 hits, 500 doubles, 1200 RBI, 260 HRs, and 1300 BBs, while keeping his career OBP over .400 and his Slugging close to .500. He's getting there.

Abreu for the last 12 seasons has put up an average season of this:

 G   AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB/C  BB  K    BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WS
156 570 104 172 39  4 21  97 28/9 103 122 .301 .406 .497 133  26

That's some pretty boss sauce, with phenomenal durability. Though he's clearly slowing down, and has never been a great outfielder, it's worth pointing out that last year, at age 35, he put up his best MVP finish yet (12th place).

So a look at his comps should be interesting not only in telling us how likely it is that Bobby will fall off a cliff at some point during his current contract, but also in giving us a sense of where he fits in to the Hall of Fame discussion. Onward and upward with the old farts!

#comps: 13
topper: .317/.398/.574, 142 OPS+ Larry Walker
middle: .283/.386/.500, 129 OPS+ Tim Salmon
ourboy: .299/.404/.493, 132 OPS+ Bobby Abreu
bottom: .283/.355/.494, 120 OPS+ Shawn Green

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? All of 'em, except the active guy (Magglio Ordonez) and Shawn Green: Tony Gwynn 6, Roberto Clemente 8, Paul Waner 9, Dave Parker 14, Bobby Bonds 15, Dwight Evans 22, Chuck Klein 40, Paul O'Neill 44, Sammy Sosa 45, Larry Walker 55, Tim Salmon 72. Salmon "would move up about ten spots" after his 2000 season, James wrote in a late note about the rankings, and Green would probably make the list, too.

Any other interesting people on this list? Well, you've met 'em all already, but let's talk more concretely about the Hall of Fame. There are three no-brainer 'Famers here -- Waner, Gwynn, and Clemente. But the rest of the list's relationship to the Hall is surprisingly contentious:

* Chuck Klein is in, but many people think he's a bad choice, due to the incredibly inflationary offensive context he played in.
* Dwight Evans is out, but many people think he's one of the most deserving eligible outfielders out there, done in by the previous generation's statistical biases and ignorance.
* Sammy Sosa would probably get in, if it weren't for you-know-what.
* Dave Parker would probably get in, if it weren't for you-know-what.
* Larry Walker and Bobby Bonds are among the shortlist of SABR audience faves when they want to pull a sort of Will Clark argument -- short careers, guys you wouldn't necessarily think of as Hall of Famers, but much better than they look and maybe deserving.
* And, as we all know Tim Salmon was one of the most cruelly underrated players in baseball history.

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Well, who do you think he resembles? Tony Gwynn, like Abreu, was a portly left-handed batter who nonetheless stole 300+ bases, but he was a slap hitter who couldn't stay in the lineup. Klein and Sosa had monster, are-you-effing-kidding-me HR-crown seasons under questionable circumstances surrounded by lots of meh, while Bobby kept plugging along. Dwight Evans could draw a walk, but he was slow as dirt and didn't really start asserting himself until he was almost 30. Salmon and Walker had injury issues, Bobby Bonds was faster and stronger and meaner until he prematurely collapsed, Dave Parker could do everything he wanted but that also included a ton of coke and cheeseburgers, Shawn Green was out of baseball by 35, and Roberto Clemente is to Bobby Abreu as Tommy Hearns is to Butterbean. Magglio Ordonez doesn't feel right either, but since we're on the topic go look at his stats -- they're really darn good.

Where does that leave us? Paul O'Neill is a pretty good choice -- his excellent 26-35 run produced a very Abreu-looking .295/.376/.483. But I'm going to engage in some grade inflation and old-timey nostalgia here, and go with Big Poison, Paul Waner. Like Abreu, Waner had a stunning dozen-year run where he missed just a handful of games while going absolutely bonkers with the bat:

 G   AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI BB K    BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
149 592 110 206 40 14  8  86 67 22 .348 .417 .507 142

But remember, this was in the mid-1920s and '30s, when scoring was off the charts. Baseball Reference has a wonderful "neutralized batting" function that corrects for context and adjusts for 162 games. Let's use that to compare Waner's 23-34 with Abreu's 24-35:

NM   G   AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB  BB  K    BA  OBP  SLG
PW: 157 611 107 206 40 14  8  83  8  67  23 .337 .405 .490
BA: 156 571  98 172 39  4 21  91 28 103 122 .301 .407 .497

See what I'm talking about? Subtract 34 singles, but add 36 walks. Exchange 10 triples for 13 home runs. And, oh, strike out 100 more times, while swiping 20 more bags. Voila!

Waner led the league in doubles with 62 and 50; Abreu led the league with 50 himself. Waner led the league in triples with 22 and 18; Abreu with 11. Waner scored 100 runs 9 times (leading the league twice and finishing top-10 10 times); Abreu has done it 8 times (finishing in the top 10 6 times). Both were always among the league leaders in OBP without quite climbing to the top. And with 60+ extra base hits a year, they could drive in some runs.

I don't want to stretch this too far -- Waner was the far superior player, putting up numbers that are truly hard to fathom (not least of which were his three batting crowns of .362, .373, and .380). He put up 30+ Win Shares 7 times (adjusted for 162-game seasons), whereas Bobby has done it just once. It is safe to assume Waner was the better fielder. But the man played back when beer-drinking Venezuelans weren't allowed, and the fact that Abreu's numbers are within vomiting distance of him tells us much about what a stealth hitting genius Bobby has been.

Other interesting facts about this group? Here's something random: Paul O'Neill set a career high in stolen bases in his final season, at age 38, with 22, against only 3 caught stealing. How often do you see that?

More to the point, how did these kids do in their age-36 year? Pretty dang good, that's how:

NM   G   AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI SB/C  BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+ WS
RC: 132 522  82 178 29  8 13  86  1/2  26  65 .341 .370 .502 143  24
DE: 149 559  96 164 31  7 21 111  5/1  76  99 .293 .375 .487 135  23
LW: 143 454  86 129 25  7 16  79  7/4  98  87 .284 .422 .476 121  18
TG: 116 451  67 159 27  2  3  50 11/4  39  17 .353 .400 .441 127  17
PO: 153 597  70 170 39  4 19 110 11/9  66  89 .285 .353 .459 107  16
PW: 125 461  62 151 30  6  3  45  0/   35  18 .328 .375 .438 120  15
DP: 153 589  77 149 28  0 26  97  7/3  44 104 .253 .311 .433  92  13    
SS: 102 380  39  84 15  1 14  45  1/1  39  84 .221 .295 .376  78   4
CK:  50  73   6   9  0  0  1   3  0/   10   6 .123 .229 .164  14   0
TS: [did not play due to injury]
BB: [out of baseball after age 35]
SG: [out of baseball after age 34]

Again, 23 Win Shares+ is generally All Star territory.

Next up: How do you find comps for a guy who's played half his career in Japan? Stick around and find out!

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