ALCS Preview: Is Bobby Abreu Fast?

On account of the Angels and Yankees don’t begin their ALCS match-up for like another 20 days, I was going to wait a bit on this. But seeing as Dave Cameron has already submitted his preview, and seeing how Dave is the boss of me, I guess it makes sense to drop this record.

Rather than look at the match-ups per se, I thought it might be interesting to look at a player who’s played for both teams: Bobby Abreu.

In particular, I’d like to try and answer a question that has been bothering me a little since these playoffs began.

The question: Is Bobby Abreu fast?

The answer: It’s hard to tell.

At first glance, you might say, no. Bobby Abreu doesn’t look fast. Or, at least he doesn’t fit our image of a speed merchant. He’s got a thick trunk, thick legs, and — not that it’s entirely relevant — a little bit of a pudgy face. Who among the games bona fide base stealers has Bobby Abreu’s body? Matt Kemp is bigger (6-foot-3, 226) and he stole 34 bases this year, but he’s also Abreu’s junior by 10 years. Hanley Ramirez? David Wright? Brandon Phillips? Mark Reynolds? They’re all near the same size, but all are at least five years younger and all stole fewer bases at lower success rates.

Abreu’s basic counting stats are those of a legitimate stolen base threat. Abreu stole 30 bases this year and has averaged 28.4 SB since 1998, when he became a full-timer with the Phillies. Over the same span, he’s averaged only 9.1 CS, good for a 75.8% success rate — above any break-even point you’d care to use.

Like Linear Weights? Using Tom Tango’s Custom Linear Weights matrix and supposing a league average run environment for every player (not ideal, but much easier for me), Abreu comes away with 1.96 SB Runs, good for 18th among 154 qualified batters. His SB Runs per attempt comes out to 0.052, good for 30th among the 80 qualified batters with at least 10 attempts. In other words, not elite, but still above average.

What’s another way we might evaluate speed? How about defensive range? Well, this is where it gets ugly for Abreu, who this year posted a -5.2 UZR/150. Not terrible, right? Sure, but that’s only because Abreu’s arm was worth 6.9 runs. His Range Runs above Average (RngR) was -13.8, PLACING HIM BEHIND BEHIND BRAD HAWPE… IN FEWER GAMES. Last year, it was worse: -29.0 RngR. Nor was his arm able to help so much, thus giving him a season-ending -25.3 UZR/150. Ick. That’s disgusting.

Finally, Speed Score might be another way to evaluate Abreu, but I’ll admit, I’m a little suspicious. Consider some of these Spd numbers:

Player		Spd
R. Ibanez	4.8
R. Howard	4.8
F. Gutierrez	4.8
H. Pence	4.5
M. Cameron	4.3

Any measure of speed that ranks Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard either equal to, or above, Franklin Gutierrez, Hunter Pence, and Mike Cameron ought to be approached carefully. For what it’s worth, Abreu finished with a 5.6 Spd, above the league average of 5.0.

Can we conclude anything? Hard to say. The naked eye and some of the numbers suggest a player with average speed at best. The stolen base numbers suggests a talented base stealer. Maybe the reality is that Abreu relies more on guile than pure speed to steal his bases and that, for some reason, said guile doesn’t translate to the field. That’s a strange conclusion, I think, but the most reasonable one considering.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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Matt B.
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Good read. I wonder what team is going to pony up a multi-year deal for Abreu? Hopefully an AL team, the guy is clearly a liability in the field although I would venture to say the mass media would still refer to him as an above average defender.

I was watching a Dodger broadcast and they actually said Ethier was a solid defender.

BATTLETANK
Member
BATTLETANK
6 years 8 months ago

anybody can steal a base if they can read a pitcher right. look at cliff lee stealing off of ubaldo/torreable in the NLDS game 1.

or the fact that utley was PERFECT in stealing bases this year. i wouldn’t considering him “fast.” just know how to steal a bag properly.

don
Guest
don
6 years 8 months ago

I wonder if Utley and Abreau aren’t actually pretty similar in this. They’re both on base all the time, which gives them a whole lot of opportunities to steal against pitchers with slow deliveries and catchers with bad arms.

Utley, at least, seems to only rarely try to steal against pitchers who are even moderately good at controlling the running game.

I know that reasoning is a bit circular, since everyone tries to steal against pitchers who don’t control the running game, but a Reyes or Crawford or Ellsbury will try to steal in more difficult situations too.

joser
Guest
joser
6 years 8 months ago

So, that’s kind of interesting: you’re suggesting we should normalize SB attempts (whether successful or not) by OBP, to get a better sense if a guy really is trying to steal whenever he car or if he is just on base so much that a lower SB rate makes it “looks like” he is?

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 8 months ago

To take that to the logical conclusion, wouldn’t we have to normalize it to ‘OBP with second base open?”

don
Guest
don
6 years 8 months ago

I was just sort of thinking out loud another reason why some guys without top end speed might rack up pretty good steal totals. It might be interesting to see who runs the most frequently compared to their opportunities, though.

Pujols went 16/20 this year, he would seem to fit somewhat slower pick your spots well mold too.

RKO36
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

I don’t think he’s really “fast”, Usain Bolt is fast. Maybe it’s just that he’s a good baserunner.

Logan
Guest
Logan
6 years 8 months ago

Great work Carson, keeps getting better.Too bad they don’t have 40 yard dashes in ST, which would let us see the correlation between raw speed and baserunning prowess & defense.

Rob in CT
Guest
Rob in CT
6 years 8 months ago

Yanks fan here…

I think Bobby Abreu has above-average speed (but he’s no burner) coupled with good baserunning technique. The reason his fielding range numbers are so bad, I think, is that he’s unsure of himself out there (particularly anywhere near a wall!), not b/c he’s slow. I think his reaction off the bat is poor. Speed may be less important than instincts, reaction/first step, confidence, and stuff like that. To me, he often looked tentative in the field, and seemed slow to react. That can cancel out above-average running speed.

DavidCEisen
Guest
DavidCEisen
6 years 8 months ago

As a Phillies fan I agree 100%.

Dan
Guest
Dan
6 years 8 months ago

Jacoby Ellsbury stole 70 bases in 82 attempts (great quantity, good quality), and was just as bad as Abreu in the field, RngR (-14.0), UZR (-12.3)making him one of the worst regular defensive centerfielders.

My conclusion: Speed on the bases does not equal quality in the outfield. Second base is always in the same spot when your stealing it. The ball coming off the bat does not always end up in the same spot when you are fielding it.

Xavier
Guest
Xavier
6 years 8 months ago

I’d say 85 percent is pretty great quality no?

In any event, this is why you can’t just put Usain Bolt in center and just let him go at it. Anectdotally, I’ve seen Ellsbury take some pretty bad routes in the field.

Choo
Guest
Choo
6 years 8 months ago

Interesting you should mention Ellsbury. I was looking at EqBRR today and noticed Ellsbury finished 2009 ranked 7th overall. No surprise. However, when I removed SB’s, Ellsbury ranked 406 out of 477 hitters – an absolutely brutal spot for a full time player with his wheels. Does this mean Ellsbury is a fast athlete who has mastered the art of the stolen base but when it comes to making split-second, in-game baseball decisions which require instincts, readability and confidence Ellsbury is a dud?

I don’t know if that assumption can be made by only looking at those numbers, but it sure looks that way. A lot of fast runners and good base stealers who mysteriously register poor UZR’s were there with Ellsbury on the EqBRR minus SB differential list.

Daniel
Guest
Daniel
6 years 8 months ago

It’s strange – Abreu gets great jumps on the bases, which makes up for his lack of top end footspeed (although he’s still above average). Whether this is getting good reads on a pitcher, good reads on they type of pitch, his ability to get to top speed very quickly, or a combination of factors, I don’t know.

But those instincts on the bases do not translate at all in the field. It’s not just balls near the wall he struggles with – he gets some of the worst jumps on soft liners or short fly balls that I’ve ever seen. As an Angels fan, I saw more balls where my first instinct was “Easy popout to right” that wound up dropping for base hits than ever before. And Tim Salmon wasn’t the picture of range out there either. Tough to explain.

Rob in CT
Guest
Rob in CT
6 years 8 months ago

Absolutely. I mentioned the wall thing b/c it tends to be more obvious (it comes later in the play, so the camera is on him by then, whereas first step reaction may be missed). But yeah, I’ve seen the exact same thing from him. He’s really tentative out there, period.

nick
Guest
nick
6 years 8 months ago

well, it SEEMS strange, tough to explain until you stop and consider–the only “reading” a fly ball off the bat and “reading” a pitcher’s move to first have in common is that one can use the loose metaphorical term “reading” for both of them; “instincts” is another problem; surely these are both skills, learned abilities……speed is very easy to see on TV: hence we tend to use it to explain things which are really more complicated.

Tangotiger
Editor
Member
6 years 8 months ago

Fans have him as a bit below average:

http://www.tangotiger.net/scout/index5.php?sortid=12

neuter_your_dogma
Guest
neuter_your_dogma
6 years 8 months ago

Agreed that baseball speed needs to be evaluated for each task – whether it is speed out of the box to first, properly reading a hit and running from first to third, reacting in the field to a hit ball, and yes, stealing a base. So asking whether “Bobby Abreu is fast,” I would respond, “depends on what he is doing”

Kevin S.
Member
Kevin S.
6 years 8 months ago

No, speed is speed. What varies is how well Bobby is at doing things that generally are associated with speed.

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast
6 years 8 months ago

There is a tendency to think speed=range. It does not seem to work that way. Interestingly enough its like base stealing. It helps to be fast but you still have to get the other parts (positioning, reads etc) right to be successful in what we call range.

Jonas
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

why dont we just watch a video and get his home to first time? That’s pretty much the easiest way to judge game speed on the bases. Takes into account how fast he gets out of the box, and his acceleration. If he is below a 4.4 lets say, he is fairly quick.

David Foy
Guest
David Foy
6 years 8 months ago

I think Jonas is on point when it comes to how to measure what we all think of when we think of “speed” or when we say someone is “fast” all this means is how quick they can run and does not include all the other factors that go into base running (reading of the pitcher, of the situation, knowledge of catcher or outfielder’s arm etc…) or into fielding range (postioning, reading of the ball, taking a “good” route to the ball, etc…).

However, what i’m interested in, is that considering that we don’t have access to players home to first base times or their 40 yard dash times what stat do we have that is best at giving a window into who would be the “fastest” in the sense described above?

I personally think that stat would be range. While Ellsbury is a perfect example of a speedster that has a terrible range, I think that it is more likely that someone can be a good base stealer with below average speed (there have been tons of examples of this) than someone with below average speed having a good range.

Top 10 OFs in Range:
-Franklin Gutierrez
-Carl Crawford
-Nyjer Morgan
-Ryan Sweeney
-Randy Winn
-Mike Cameron
-Ichiro Suzuki
-J.D. Drew
-B.J. Upton
-Colby Rasmus

Top 10 OFs Stolen Bases:
-Jacoby Ellsbury
-Michael Bourn
-Carl Crawford
-Nyjer Morgan
-B.J. Upton
-Matt Kemp
-Scott Podsednik
-Bobby Abreu
-Dexter Fowler
-Ichiro Suzuki
-Shane Victorino (i know he’s 11th but he is meant to show how large baseball players can still have good SB #s)

Whereas no one on the range list has below average speed, a couple of the OFs on the stolen base list do (based on my eye, i know, i know, not a good way to decide things but b/c we don’t have the 40 times this is the best I can do). Its not as drastic as I thought it might have been but I think it stills shows that my main point has some backing, to be a good base stealer the most important quality is in the head (to be elite need need that and speed of course), but to have great range you must have above average speed, it doesn’t mean that just because you have speed that you will have range ex. Ellsbury but if you don’t have at least above average speed you are pretty much disqualified from the discussion in terms of range.

Plz rip apart…

Alireza
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Everyone of those OF SB guys is fast. Above average fast or better. Also, Victorino is not a big guy at all. He has some pop, but is not a big guy.

Orangeman94
Guest
Orangeman94
6 years 8 months ago

Yeah, Victorino is listed at 5’9″ 185 lb. Is this meant to be a large baseball player?

Pat
Guest
6 years 8 months ago

Anyone have an idea what type of defensive leftfielder Abreu would be over a full season? His UZR isn’t too bad in limited time… and there are a lot of bad leftfielders he would be measured against.

aweb
Guest
aweb
6 years 8 months ago

There is widespread access to home-to-first speed – everygame is available to watch/rewatch online for a fee. Hit tracker has gone ahead and tracked all of the home runs, how far/hard they were hit, etc. Obviously more people care about homers, but the same could be done easily enough (conceptually, it would be a lot fo repetitive work) for timing players from contact to first base. If someone really wanted speed measures like that, they are there for the taking. There are software packages (the NFL broadcasts use them now sometimes) that are able to take the images and translate them to mph. Is Abreu fast? Check.

I’d be stunned if teams don’t have a good measure of speed for players, either from timing them on the basepaths or in the outfield when running to a ball. Just because the info isn’t publically available doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Steve
Guest
Steve
6 years 8 months ago

The difference, as some have alluded to, is that speed is a physical attribute that can’t be learned. Base stealing or range, are attributes that can be learned by reading pitchers, or the bat off the ball, picking the right situation to run on, or getting a good first step in the outfield, etc. I’m a Yankee fan, and I’ve talked to a lot of other Yankee fans who believe that signing Chone Figgins in the offseason to play CF would be a good idea citing his speed. This of course fails to address the fact that Figgins has been a below average defender everywhere in the field except third base where speed as no defensive value and the position relies on quick reaction time/reflexes and arm strength.

Also, drawing another Yankee fan comparison, Abreu was a terrible defensive outfielder in his time in pinstripes and his replacement, Nick Swisher has been much better. Swisher isn’t a great defender in his own right, but is atleast slightly above league average despite being slower than Abreu and having a weaker arm. The difference again is the ability to read the ball of the bat, take a good route to the ball, and if necessary sacrifice the body to make the play. Again many Yankee fans try to claim that Abreu is a better defender than Swisher because they either try to draw a correlation between Abreu’s stolen base totals and defense (without looking at defensive metrics) or just because Swisher looks terribly unathletic going after balls giving him the appearance of a poor defender.

Is Abreu fast? He’s probably got above average speed, but knows how to run the bases.

Choo
Guest
Choo
6 years 8 months ago

Every team has a minimum of one coach on the bench who times everything for in-game decision making and a scout or statistician who times everything for record keeping purposes. A grizzled vet of the stopwatch can probably name the five fastest umpires when it comes to retrieving a ball from his bag and getting it to the pitcher. No joke. Everything that can be timed has been timed because calculating speed as it applies to baseball has to be performed on a task by task basis.

For example, home-to-first times are important as they apply to home-to-first, but that’s about it. A left-handed slap hitter with a quick finish has a huge advantage over a right-handed power hitter with a high finish. Their h2f times can help the opposing team position their infield defense, but it says nothing about their ability to steal a base, patrol center field, score from first on a shallow double to the gap, etc.

I like the list of the 10 rangiest OF’s in David Foy’s post above. They aren’t simply the 10 best outfielders at positioning and reading the ball off the bat and they aren’t the 10 most explosive runners, but there is a definite commonality. Eight of the 10 OF’s share the prototype CF body: striders with long levers and lean mass on a rangy 6-1 to 6-4 frame. They look like wide receivers. Covering ground in the outfield requires a specific type of speed and it’s not the same kind of speed that is required for stealing bases. Some players have both kinds of speed. Some don’t.

David
Guest
David
6 years 8 months ago

The anti-Bobby Abreu has to be Felix Pie. Pie is very fast and exhibits great range in the outfield, but his baserunning instincts are awful. He is 1/4 in steals this season – I’m pretty sure that’s 3 pickoffs and 1 lucky botched hit and run. I think if you did a study on “number of times thrown out on the basepaths”, Pie would be at the top.

One question – does Abreu usually hit near the top of the order? If so, maybe he’s going on the back end of double steals frequently. That’s how Nick Markakis has so many steals (in previous years at least); he’s actually one of the slower players on the team.

Choo
Guest
Choo
6 years 8 months ago

Not sure, but all of the steals I saw from Abreu were solo swipes, the majority of which came on breaking balls. Being able to spot those breaking ball situations is a big plus for a base stealer, and typically the best hitters are the ones who possess that skill. Abreu, Utley, Getz, Kinsler, Jeter, Choo, Kennedy, Longoria, A-Rod, etc are successful base stealers despite lacking world class speed. I’m guessing a lot of their steals come on breaking balls as well.

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