Yankees were right to pass on Abreu

abreu_250_021309.jpgWITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
A little while ago, I was complaining to my friend and colleague Jay Jaffe that I wanted to get through today’s entry without writing about Alex Rodriguez and steroids. He immediately came back with this question: “At the price the Angels paid, should the Yankees have brought back Bobby Abreu?”

It’s a heck of a question, though one that may be compromised from the outset, because we don’t know if the Yankees could have gotten Abreu to sign at the same price — one year, $5 million. We don’t even know if Abreu’s agent bothered to come back to the Yankees and say, “Give us $5,000,001 and we’re yours” before making their client a Los Angeles Abreu of Anaheim (or is that a Los Angeles Angel of Abreu?).

I’m going to say no. Here’s why: Abreu had a good year for the Yankees at the plate, but his indicators are all pointing in the wrong direction. His home run rate was nothing special, his walk rate was down, and his baserunning and fielding skills aren’t what they used to be, with the resultant give-back on runs severely denting his offensive value. While a one-year deal at a low salary represents a minimum of risk — the Angels are betting that Abreu at least holds his 2008 value for one more season — the danger here is not financial but to the winning effort. With even a smidge of further attrition, Abreu is going to be no fun at all.

Over the last three years, the typical Major League right fielder has hit .277/.347/.451. The PECOTA projection for Abreu for next season, which does not reflect his move to Anaheim (a good thing in this instance) is .282/.368/.436. Thanks to the high on-base percentage, that would be a better than break-even performance, but not one that’s a huge benefit. Nick Swisher should be able to approximate the on-base and slugging percentages while doing a better job of actually catching the ball. The Yankees are already paying him Abreu’s salary plus a little ($5.3 million this year), and there’s little reason to double up.

Now, Jay’s question would be a lot easier to answer if the Yankees only had Xavier Nady to play right field, because even a diminished Abreu is likely to out-hit him, especially in the key area (really the only area) of on-base percentage. PECOTA’s weighted mean projection for Nady is .270/.323/.444, which falls short of even the average right fielder.

Parenthetically, I know I’ve been like a broken record on the Nick Swisher-Nady stuff, but as we head into a Spring Training season in which the Yankees have few big decisions to make, right field stands out as a position where the Yankees can make a choice that will significantly impact the outcome of the season. Johnny Damon is almost certain to regress. The center fielder, whoever he, she, or it proves to be, will not be a major run producer, and maybe not a minor run producer. It will fall to right field to salvage the outfield production.

Sorting out who starts shouldn’t be difficult at all, and is being complicated by a lot of statistical noise from last season. Swisher had a bad year by his standards, Nady a very good one. However, extrapolating from either season is unwise; Swisher is unlikely to have suffered a complete breakdown at age 27, just as Nady is unlikely to have found new strengths at age 30. Even a bad Swisher drew 82 walks and hit a home run every 21 at-bats; even a good Nady drew 39 walks and hit a home run every 22 at-bats. We’re talking about a difference that comes down to a fistful of singles, and we know those tend to come and go for hitters. Throw in that Swisher is the superior defensive player, and this really shouldn’t be a discussion at all.

In summary, to round back to Jay’s question about Abreu, the differences between Abreu and Swisher, if any, will be small enough that had the Yankees been given the opportunity to top the Angels’ offer to the former by some small number of dollars, they would have been correct to demur. Regardless of the resolution to the battle, the Yankees have already gained one victory in saying “Nyet” to their California-bound alumnus: this year’s right fielder may not hit, but he’s certain to catch a few balls at the wall, something we haven’t seen a Yankee do in years. 

6 Comments

Can he bat 3rd in the lineup ? I think the Yanks have a huge hole to fill there. I would rather see No-Rod and Tex bat 4th and 5th behind guys with high OBP. That will give them a chance to drive in more runs. Being that no one bunts, or knows how, or gives themselves up, on this team, to move runners over, there is a real need to get high production out of the 4 and 5 hole. Once again, hoping for 3 run homer to score runs, in order to win. That seems to be the offensive strategy.

Steve,
You are correct in your evaluation of Abreu. That is what happens with age. Nady is a good player and gives it everything he has. I believe with Swisher you have a SH with more speed and should have a better year at the plate. His run production & OBP will be greater than Nady’s. What will be missed the most with Bobby is his arm. We will have to live w/o it. Gardner/Melky, whoever wins the CF job should be capable. IMO gardner has more to offer because of his speed. If he hit .260-.275 the job is his and should only improve. Don’t forget, Matt Holliday could be available in July if Oakland folds early.

Steve. I agree with you about Abreau. He was a decent hitter but his wall freaking-out takes the cake. Swisher/Nady combo will do just fine in R/F. Damon is the one I’m concerned with , his bat is falling off and he throws like a little girl.(no insult meant) I still feel we need to get rid of Matsui and Damon. Have Jeter lead off. I nervous about Cano, I hope he has his head back on his shoulders instead of in the sky. We still should have brought back Bowa to keep Cano straight. Orlando Hudson would have more than replaced Cano. I also feel we should have brought in Dunn as DH. His HR’s and RBI’s overshadow his K’s.. 42 Yankee

OK, I really don’t understand this article. I think your getting lost in statistical analysis. Nick Swisher is a one dimensional player. He hits homeruns. As his HR total declines, so to will his walks and OBP. Nady is a better all around hitter and as he starts spending more time in a lineup w protection, you’ll see him become more productive, not just his AVG, HR, RBIs but also his walks and OBP. Abreu is a steal at 5 Mil. Remember, he was paid 16 million last year. Even if his HR, AVG, BBs continue to fall it will be 3 years before they catch up to his salary. He’s one of the most durable and consistent hitters in BB and his ability to work pitchers makes anyone following him in the lineup better. Also, I think too much is made about his fear of the wall. Good speed, strong instincts and still a great arm.

Prof. Steve,
Do you mind off-the-topic queries? I haven’t heard the name Humberto Sanchez in a little while. Would you kindly give an update on the lad and if/when we might expect to see him?

I agree with RowdyHolly, letting Bobby go was probably the biggest blunder the Yankees have made this year. As much as I like him personally, Johnny is the one that should have made the trip to LA.

Sometimes, you guys take yourselves too seriously. The simple fact is Bobby can throw a ball from the right field wall and hit home plate like a smart bomb being laser directed. His work at the plate wears down just about any pitcher throwing at him and his home runs and RBI’s were what, third on our team last year?

Bad enough we let Giambi go, but without Bobby, all of our “Big Bats” are gone. I don’t consider A-Rod a “Big Bat” because it’s never there when needed the most. The Yankees spend more on klennex then Bobby would have cost and I’m afraid without him, probably much more.

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