It’s no news to any observer that this year’s free agent market is down for players not named C.C. Sabathia or Mark Teixeira. A perfect example is Bobby Abreu. In 2008, Abreu hit: .296/.371/.471 with 20 HRs and 39 2Bs for the New York Yankees. Abreu wasn’t the same hitter he was with the Phillies from 1999-2004, but his bat was still quite useful. It’s been noted that in the early stages of the offseason — before it really took it’s form — Abreu was seeking a 3-year, $48M deal. Just a few short weeks later, and Abreu — if he wants to play baseball in ’09 — is prepared lower his demands and, in the words of his agent:
“No question about that,” Greenberg said. “Whether it’s the economy or other factors, like an abundance of outfielders, it’s a difficult year. There’s no question Bobby will end up signing for a very different contract than we envisioned last September and October when the season was winding down.”
A “very different contract” indeed. It’s a market where Adam Dunn — and his 40 annual home runs — have yet to find a place they can call home. Manny Ramirez is still trying to squeeze as much money out of whichever team decides to sign him. You’ve got older big named players like Nomar Garciaparra, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Edmonds, and Frank Thomas still looking for work. You’ve got useful players like Ty Wigginton, Orlando Cabrera, Joe Crede, and Cliff Floyd still looking for work. The reality is that it’s a very tough market right now.
Now, despite his initial dreams of a 3-year deal, it’s very possible that Abreu might settle for a 1-year contract in the area of $7M. For most of the offseason the Giants have had light interest in Manny Ramirez. I have no idea if they are seriously considering Manny Ramirez, but with Abreu’s falling price there has been some rumors that the Giants might be interested in Abreu’s services. After all, he’s a career .300 hitter with a career OBP of .405 and in a power-depleted lineup such as the Giants, he might be the most potent bat. What’s not to like with Bobby Abreu? And should the Giants be interested in him?
Here’s the surprise. Bobby Abreu is just barely more valuable than Fred Lewis and if you swapped out Abreu right now with Fred Lewis, the difference in wins would be so marginal, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell. This isn’t because Fred Lewis is some rising super star, he’s not, but because Abreu is a terrible fielder that’s on the same level as Adam Dunn or Manny Ramirez.
Let’s compare the projections for Abreu and Fred Lewis in 2009 by using CHONE’s projections for both offense and defense. I’ve calculated the batting runs by setting the league wOBA to .332.
What you’re looking at is a bar graph that breaks down Fred Lewis and Bobby Abreu in terms of hitting (how many runs above average they added with their bats), fielding runs (how many runs above or below average they added or subtracted with their gloves), positional replacement, replacement level, and total runs above replacement.
Offense is good, but defense matters
The first column on our plot is hitting runs. Abreu is adding 16.8 runs by his bat which is a testament to his hitting abilities. He’s still a decent hitter to have on a major league team. Where if you look at Fred Lewis’ hitting, he’s essentially a league average hitter. He’s adding just 1.7 runs above average with his bat. If you only examined these two players in the light of offense — which so many people do — Abreu looks like a no-brainer, why wouldn’t you want him on your favorite team?
The answer is, defense. Bobby Abreu just isn’t a good defensive player in the outfield. You know all of that good work that Abreu is doing with his bat? We’ll he’s giving almost all of it back with his glove which is going to cost him 11 runs below average. On the other side, CHONE has Fred Lewis projected as an average left fielder with a score of 1 run above average defensively. In my WAR projections for the team, I’m actually calling Fred Lewis a +6 run defender in LF. For the sake of argument in this post, I decided to leave CHONE’s original defensive projection alone but Fred Lewis is essentially a center fielder playing left field. The peer group he’s getting compared to will be full of slow moving and bad fielding players like Adam Dunn, Carlos Lee, and Raul Ibanez. Since 2004, by bUZR, Bobby Abreu has been in a pretty ugly decline in the outfield. He’s posted bUZR scores of: -11.3, -6.5, -15.6, -4.2, and -25.2 over the last five years. It’s not surprising that the teams that are interested in him are considering him for DH.
Both Lewis and Abreu will get the same positional adjustment because they both play corner OF positions and they both get the same replacement level adjustment. Then, you add it all up and you get the RAR — runs above replacement — which is the total value of each player. Abreu is only going to add +3 runs more than Fred Lewis when everything is combined. If you wanted to add in base running wins and maybe adjust for throwing arms, I think Fred would make up that 3 run difference. And, each run that Fred defends over his +1 CHONE projection, that gap is going to close even more.
Wrapping it all up
Bobby Abreu is a bad fit for the Giants. Even if you think Fred Lewis is unlikely to repeat his offensive performance of ’08 in ’09 — CHONE’s projection is a step back from his ’08 — he’s going to play an average defensive left field. Meanwhile Abreu is going to hit much better than Lewis but he’s going to give most of it back by his horrid defensive play. The traditional baseball thinking of: “Play your bad defensive players in LF and it won’t hurt as much” is wrong. Losing runs by poor defense is still losing runs. It doesn’t matter where it’s happening. The frequency of BIP in LF might be less than CF, but poor defense at either position is still going to hurt.
Signing Bobby Abreu could be the most lateral move the Giants could ever make this offseason. At least if they sign Manny, for all the negatives that come associated with that deal, they would gain a couple of wins. Abreu offers no such improvement to the team. Pass on Abreu.