Roundtable: Is Bobby Abreu a Hall of Famer?

January 18th, 2022

With the Hall of Fame election announcement approaching on Jan. 25, is conducting a series of conversations debating which players on the ballot are worthy of consideration. This installation examines the candidacy of former outfielder Bobby Abreu.

• Other HOF discussions: Helton | Andruw | Big Papi | Posey | Rolen | Wagner | Lester

Alyson Footer, editor/moderator: At first glance, Bobby Abreu seems like he would be a small step below a “bubble player,” one who had a nice run but who falls short of Hall standards. But a deeper dive suggests we may not be giving him enough credit. Before we get into details, let’s start with a blanket statement: Is Abreu a Hall of Famer?

Mike Petriello, analyst: Yes! And I hope he sticks around long enough for me to give him a real vote in a few years when I get one.

Todd Zolecki, Phillies beat reporter: Yes, I believe he had a Hall of Fame career, but you're right, he's one of those "complicated" players in terms of consideration.

Mark Feinsand, executive reporter: I’m not a believer that Abreu is a Hall of Famer. He had a Hall-worthy start to his career, but I think the back half was fairly average. And when you think of the best players of his generation, I don’t ever think of him. He had the misfortune of playing in an offensively loaded era, which hurts his case -- at least as far as perception goes.

Footer: Abreu reached base safely more times than Tony Gwynn, had a higher career OBP and had twice as many homers. He also had more doubles than Gwynn. Gwynn's career OPS+ was only slightly higher than Abreu's, 132-128. And Abreu may fall off the ballot -- last year, he received only 8.7% of voter support. What cumulative statistic(s) stand out to you that give him the best case as a Hall of Famer?

Zolecki: There really are so many. I think there are something like 26 right fielders in the Hall. Abreu ranks in the top 10 among all right fielders in OBP, walks, stolen bases, extra-base hits and doubles. His career WAR (60.2, per Baseball Reference) is higher than 11 current Hall of Fame right fielders.

Feinsand: The Gwynn comparison is a good one, but when you think of the best players of their generation, Gwynn is an automatic from his era while Abreu is not. Abreu had two All-Star appearances compared to 15 for Gwynn. Gwynn won eight batting titles to Abreu’s zero. Abreu was clearly more skilled at drawing a walk -- he had 1,476 compared to Gwynn’s 790 -- but Gwynn had nearly 700 more hits. Gwynn also won four Gold Gloves to Abreu’s one (which is amazing given his generally average defensive ability).

I know there is plenty of rightful criticism toward Gold Gloves, but it’s still something. Gwynn also helped the Padres to a pair of National League pennants -- 14 years apart! -- while Abreu reached the LCS just once in his career. Overall numbers don’t always tell the story.

Petriello: The Gwynn comparison is a perfect one; I laid out exactly how similar their offensive lines were in a piece a few weeks ago. Abreu hit more than twice as many homers as Gwynn, stole more bases and got on base more often. I'll admit he wasn't as good a defender, but the main difference there is batting average. I just compare him to some other outfielders who were easily in and think, what's the huge difference?

Turn to OPS+ for a second: Abreu, Dave Winfield, Roberto Clemente and Carl Yastrzemski all had a nearly identical mark (in the 128 to 130 OPS+ range). Abreu had more steals than any of them. He had more homers than Clemente. Again, his defense wasn't up to the same standard. But those guys sailed in.

Think about it this way: There are only six players in AL/NL history who had at least 250 homers and 400 stolen bases. Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio and Joe Morgan are all Hall of Famers. Barry Bonds should be. His dad, Bobby, had an underrated career. The sixth? Bobby Abreu.

Zolecki: From 1998-2009, he played in more games (1,877) than anybody else. He was second in walks (1,231) only to Barry Bonds, second in doubles (472) only to Todd Helton. He was tied for third in stolen bases (341), sixth in extra-base hits (779), seventh in hits (2,059), eighth in RBIs (1,160) and WAR (57.3) and 11th in OBP (.406).

Footer: Todd's argument crushes the notion that Abreu wasn't dominant for long enough, even though he was one of the more feared players for a decent span of time. So why is he in danger of falling off the ballot? Because he played in a "too offensive" era? Because he was an outfielder, and there are so many of them that maybe his numbers get lost in the big picture?

Feinsand: Abreu never finished higher than seventh in his league in WAR, and he finished in the top 10 only five times in his career. He was a consistently excellent player, but not one of the best of his time.

Petriello: Two reasons, I think. First is that there's a max of 10 names voters can choose, which I have long considered to be a ridiculous idea, and he's often the 11th or 12th best guy on a ballot.

Footer: So he could get squeezed out just when the ballot is going to clear out a little.

Petriello: Second, he got little notice in his own time. Two All-Star Games? Never getting top 10 on an MVP ballot? Not, I admit, great. But then I look back at some of those seasons, and I have absolutely no idea what baseball writers were doing. In 2000, he hit .316 with 25 HRs and 28 steals. He had 100 hits by the All-Star break. (And what we'd now say was a 143 OPS+). He got no MVP votes. He did not make the All-Star Game. What on earth were people doing? I think also playing on some deeply horrible Phillies teams of the time did not help.

It's just weird, though. He hit .300 six times. He had eight 100-RBI seasons. He had 14 years with 10-plus steals. Those are all traditional stats. It's not trying to apply 2021 thinking to 1952 baseball. How was that not getting him any love? Because the team was always lousy and he was never in the playoffs?

Zolecki: I wonder if his production wasn't understood or valued as much during his peak years, so he flew under the radar quite a bit. Phillies fans loved to complain about his defense, totally overlooking his ridiculously awesome offensive performances.

Feinsand: Is 10-plus steals a year really a number we’re going to hype for a Hall candidacy? Yes, he had eight 100-RBI seasons, but that got him in his league’s top 10 only twice, never finishing higher than eighth. He put up excellent numbers in an era when more players were putting up even better numbers.

Zolecki: I probably did not appreciate Abreu's play when I covered him from 2003-06, but I still believed he was really, really good. I never understood people who nitpicked him. Again, the defense. He didn't come up with clutch hits, which was untrue. Look at his career marks with RISP, etc.

Petriello: I think where he really falls short is in the Hall of Fame test. Right? He doesn't "feel" like a Hall of Famer to people, so he's not. Which is a shame.

Zolecki: Yes, the Hall of Fame test! It's funny because in Philly right now there is Abreu, who doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer because of some folks' arbitrary intangibles. Then there is Jimmy Rollins, who is falling short because some folks just look at his WAR and go, "Eh, nah."

Petriello: I think Rollins is an all-time Phillie great who should have his number retired, but not be a Hall of Famer. I think Abreu is not close to that standard in Philly, but should be in the HOF. Perceptions are weird!

Feinsand: To me, borderline candidates have a chance to enhance their chances with standout postseason performances. Abreu played in 20 playoff games in his career and had one home run and nine RBIs. His team lost in the first round three times in four tries. I’m not blaming him for being on bad teams, and while I don’t penalize players for a lack of a postseason résumé, it also doesn’t help a questionable candidate make a stronger case.

Footer: All of you have pointed out how much Abreu was lacking defensively. In defense of defense, that has to count, too, right? Should bad defense factor in?

Petriello: It should, though the further you go back in time the harder it is to actually quantify that. (It is deeply hilarious he actually won a Gold Glove in 2005.) But the eye test said ... ehh, not great. And the numbers concur, which really hurts his WAR total. So when those things match up, I do think that's taken into account. On the other hand, if you had an offensive performer like that who could actually field, that's a first-ballot legend.

Zolecki: I never watched Abreu play in right field and said he was bad. He certainly wasn't a Gold Glover. Fans killed him all the time because they said he wouldn't crash into the wall in right field. Maybe he did that a few times. But he could get the balls within range and he had a solid arm. I don't know what this means, but I'll mention it anyway: Abreu's 120 outfield assists from 1998-09 led all outfielders, six more than Vladdy Sr.

Yes, defense matters, but I just think his remarkable consistency and performance, especially when compared to the all-time right fielders in baseball history, overrules any shortcomings there.

Feinsand: Getting back to his offense for a moment, I feel like his career can be divided into two parts -- which we often see with Hall candidates. His OPS was .931 from 1997-2004, which is tremendous. Then it was .817 from 2005-2012, which is still very solid, but not Hall of Fame good.

Petriello: From age 31-38 he did have a .380 OBP and a 117 OPS+. That's really good!

Feinsand: He could always get on base. Nobody would ever argue that.

Footer: Abreu is on the ballot for the third year, and last year he got 8.7% of the vote. Which means he could fall off this year. Let's say he stays on. Do you think he'll eventually make it into the Hall? He's still really early in his eligibility.

Feinsand: I covered him with the Yankees from 2006-08, and never once did I think I was watching a Hall of Fame type of player. And I really liked him a lot, so this isn’t personal by any means.

It’s tough to see a guy going from single digits to 75%. It can happen, but I don’t see it. There aren’t THAT many voters that have left him off solely due to a crowded ballot.

Petriello: I do not think he'll make it, but I do think once we get past this year's ballot, a huge logjam opens up in terms of huge names who will no longer be eligible, so he'll get a bump from voters who couldn't fit him onto a 10-man ballot, and he'll stick around for all 10 years and top out at, I don't know, 41%.

Feinsand: That sounds about right to me, Mike.

Zolecki: It'll be interesting to see how many more votes he gains once others like Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, etc., fall off the ballot. But I agree, I just don't see him getting in. Maybe a Veterans Committee at some point will push him in. Then again, I thought the same thing about Dick Allen!

Petriello: Need a Veterans Stadium committee, apparently.

Feinsand: Hey, the Veterans Committee put Harold Baines in. And I think Abreu was a better player than Baines.