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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.