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The End of Bobby Abreu or Just a Time Out?

For the first time in 14 seasons, Bobby Abreu failed to record double-digit totals in both home runs and stolen bases.  He picked up 21 steals this season, but his power fell off considerably as he only hit 8 home runs and posted his lowest ISO (.112) since his very first cup of coffee with the Astros in 1996.  And for the second consecutive season, he posted a batting average in the .250’s, also reminiscent of his late 90’s time in Houston.  Now, no one wants to be the one left holding the bag when the bottom falls out on a star player, so the question that fantasy owners must ask themselves on Draft Day 2012 is, “Is he done or can we squeeze one more productive season out of him?”

Well he ain’t gettin’ any younger; that’s first and foremost.  2012 will be Abreu’s 15 season and he will turn 38 years old before the end of spring training.  After playing 134 games in the outfield in 2010, he played just 28 this year, while the remaining 108 games he played were as a DH.  Age is catching up to him and his defensive skills are neither what they were or would be an improvement over some of the younger players with whom he is competing.

Offensively though, it’s a bit of a different story.  Well, yes, age is catching up to him there as well.  His K% has now stayed above 19% these past two seasons, his batting average down in the .250’s and his BABIP below .320 for the first time since that stint in ’96.  That’s not luck going against him, that’s just age slowing a guy down.  He’s been an outstanding hitter his entire career and we’re just at the tail end right now.  But that’s not to say that he’s done, nor does it mean that you should start ignoring him in fantasy.

While all of the above indicates decline, there are still several things about Abreu’s game that haven’t diminished and would indicate that he’s not quite done yet as a fantasy commodity.  Number one is that the minimum plate appearances clause in his contract kicked in and now the Angels are on the hook for $9M in 2012.  Maybe he doesn’t start in the outfield, but they’re not going to pay him and not DH him like they did this season.  For fantasy purposes, his 28 games played in the outfield qualifies him at the position, so whether he ever makes an appearance in the outfield or not, he’s locked in.  That’s full-time at bats for what…your fourth or fifth outfielder.  That’s not too shabby.

Next, there’s the BB% and OBP.  True, they aren’t where they were during his peak years, but a walk rate of 13% and a .350+ OBP are still better than what you’ll get out of most hitters today.  His contact rate?  Right on par with his career averages and still above average in the majors.  Batted ball?  Rock solid.  His ground ball rates are the same and while his FB% has dropped (just like his HR total) he is compensating for that with an increased LD%.  As shown by Matt Klassen in a recent post, Abreu is still one of the peskiest hitters in baseball and therefore might not be done altogether.  We’ve all seen hitters struggle when they make the transition to DH, so perhaps that’s an explanation for some of the drop-off as well.  Maybe he doesn’t crack the 20 HR barrier ever again, but 10-15 are not out of his realm.

Obviously, there is enough decline overall to understand that Father Time is putting a damper on Abreu’s final years, but with his approach at the plate, some further adjustments to the DH life, and the reduce of injury risk that comes with the role change, maybe — just maybe — we can squeeze another year or two out of him while also being able to draft him on the cheap.  After all, this is now a contract year for him and if he can prove that he still has value to a team as a DH, someone in the AL is going to be willing to pay for his services.