During his years in Philadelphia, Bobby Abreu was a monster offensive player. From the time he became a full-time player, in 1998, until 2005 he posted a wOBA of .380 or better. His walk rate, normally in the 15 percent range, consistently ranked near the top of the league. He even had some power in those days, with an ISO that peaked at .253 in 2001. Phillies fans might not have fully appreciated him, but he was not only one of the best players on the team, but also one of the best hitters in the league during his prime.
In 2006, though, the Phillies gave up on Abreu. They fell out of contention and had a number of big contracts on the books. As they shopped Abreu they insisted that any potential move would not be a salary dump. Then, just before the trade deadline, they traded him, along with Cory Lidle, to the Yankees for an underperforming former first-round pick and three other marginal players (though one, Jesus Sanchez, has converted to pitching and is taking well to his new role). Abreu hit well in his new uniform, though his power strike, which had been declining since 2004, picked up only slightly at Yankee Stadium.
In 2007, however, it appeared that Abreu was no longer the player that the Phillies signed to a five-year, $64 million contract. His walk rate dropped considerably, to 12 percent. That represented his lowest walk rate since 1997, when he was still with the Astros. He still hadn’t rediscovered his power swing, despite the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, posting a .162 ISO, nearly identical to his 2006 mark.
In 2008 Abreu’s power recovered a bit. He slugged .471 with an ISO of .176. That’s only slightly higher than his ISOs from the past two seasons, but an improvement nonetheless. In terms of patience, Abreu’s bread and butter during his previous 10 full-time seasons, fell even further. His walk rate hit 10.7 percent. Then, in 2009, after heading west to Anaheim, his walk rate recovered a bit, to 14.1 percent, which, while not quite the 18.1 percent rate he posted in 2006, was still an improvement over the previous two years. Yet his ISO fell again, this time to .142, his lowest mark since, again, 1997.
We can’t glean much from this three-year trend, where Abreu’s ISO rose then fell while his walk rate fell then rose. It’s not worth much at this point, considering he’s played in only eight games, but Abreu’s ISO on the young season is .235 while his walk rate is just 2.9 percent. Clearly, those numbers will change as the season progresses. It will be interesting, though, to see where Abreu ends up this season. Will he hit for more power at the sacrifice of his walk rate? Or will his power drop to its 2009 level while his walk rate picks up a bit? I doubt we’ll see either increase over the past few seasons, but a player like Abreu might be able to draw walks in 14.1 percent of his plate appearances while slugging somewhere around .450. That, I think, would make the Angels feel good about handing him that new contract in November.
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