Just last week, R.J. Anderson took a look at Bobby Abreu from a real-life standpoint. He asked for a reason why the Angels outfielder had a low BABIP to right field this year, suggesting perhaps a drop in speed, a change in the defense, issues at the plate or normal variance for Abreu as possible reasons for this aberration. We’ll get into these a little bit, while trying to focus primarily on the meaning for Abreu’s fantasy keeper and 2011 draft value.
First, Anderson basically discounted a change in defenses, so let’s leave that off the table. Second, a random variance is certainly possible, as BABIP doesn’t even normalize over one season and can be unpredictable from year to year, but is less interesting for our purposes, so let’s see if we can find something to sink our teeth into. That leaves us with power and speed as possible culprits for Abreu’s meh season – and it’s about as meh as a 20/20 season can be.
At first blush, Abreu is enjoying a power resurgence. He has his best ISO in five years and should hit 20 home runs for the second time in those five years. But not all power spikes are built equally. This one seems to be attributable to the second-best flyball rate of his career (36.4% this year, 31.9% career). It’s not built on his line drive rate (17.% this year, 22.3% career), and in fact you can see from his line drive rate that he’s not centering the ball like he used to. While it’s possible that the stringers in the Angels park are more cynical than his former venues, Abreu has seen his line drive rate drop below 20% the last two years after consistently living above that threshold for most of his career (and over 24% for most of his peak). Two below-average line drive rates in row would be less worrisome if he didn’t have a bit of a bad body and wasn’t 36 years old.
The second component of his decline is also in a non-obvious slide. A back of the baseball card glance might produce Abreu’s 19 steals and an affirmation that he’s the same old big man with passable wheels. But then you might notice that he’s been caught ten times this year, that his 65.5% success rate is the worst of his career, and that the second-worst success rate of his career was in 2008 (66%). His 2010 Bill James’ four-component speed score is also the second-worst of his career. Add in some subjective reports of slowing foot-speed and the fact that he’s been poor in the field, and it’s reasonable to wonder if the end is nigh for the outfielder-slash-DH.
If the speed is waning, and the power (as represented by his line-drive percentage) is also iffy – and hasn’t been plus since his peak – Abreu’s fantasy stock is on the decline. We can say this even if some parts of this decline may be random variation, and we could probably use his age as an ersatz single stat anyway. A big-bellied 36 year old who derives much of his fantasy value from steals is an iffy proposition – you can probably pencil him in for fewer than 20 stolen bases next year, even if it would be the first time in twelve years that he didn’t hit that benchmark in the category. Give Abreu a slight tick down on your 2011 cheat sheets and think hard before keeping him this offseason.
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