Good morning Fackers. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 allowed for far easier and faster transportation from the East Coast to the West Coast than had previously existed. Yet, from what I've been hearing and reading over the past several months, the concepts of the base on balls and working the pitch count still did not make its way west until some 140 years later when Bobby Abreu signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Don't get me wrong, Bobby Abreu is a very good baseball player. Depending upon how the Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui situations work out this off-season, he might be a good option for the 2010 Yankees to explore. He was initially acquired in one of the best deals Brian Cashman has made and provided the Yankees with two and a half years of good to excellent offensive production, even if his phobia of outfield walls was downright comical by the end of his tenure in the Bronx. The Yankees rightly refused to offer him arbitration following last season, as the $16M he earned in 2008 would have made his 2009 arbitration figure far more than what he's worth. That coupled with the collapse of the free agent market last off-season in light of both the U.S. economy and the ever changing landscape of baseball economics allowed the Angels to sign Abreu for the bottom basement price of $5M for 2009.
While the prevaling narrative is that Abreu enjoyed something of a comeback season, the reality is that his OPS+ of 115 this year is worse than last year (120), essentially equal to his 2007 (114), and the second lowest total of his career since becoming an everyday player in 1998. Some of that can be attributed to the continued diminishing of his power late in his career. But while his OBP of .390 and his BB% of 14.1 are improvements on 2007 and 2008, they still rank as his third lowest marks since 1998.
Yet if you were to listen to the announcers during ALDS or any other nationally televised Angels' game this year, or if you were to google "Bobby Abreu influence on Angels", you would be subjected to scores of hyperbolic statements crediting Abreu with teaching the Angels, who have made the playoffs three straight seasons and six of the last eight, how to finally work a pitch count and take a walk. Nevermind that as recently as 2007 the Angels finished third in the AL in OBP, just as they did this year, with a mark .345, just a half percent lower than this year's .350.
In this post yesterday, Rob Neyer, vamping on Tyler Kepner's piece in The Times, pointed out that the Angels walked 66 more times this year than last, boosting their walk rate from 7.8% to 8.7% and rising from 11th in the AL in OBP back to third, where they had finished in 2007. Yet Neyer also notes that the difference can be entirely attributed to the performance of Abreu alone, who had 65 more walks than the man he replaced - Garrett Anderson, a notorious free swinger whose career high in walks is a whopping 38. In addition to Abreu, Chone Figgins walked 39 more times this year than in 2008. So outside of Figgins and swapping Anderson for Abreu, the rest of the Angels walked 38 fewer times than they did in 2008.
While their average pitches per plate appearance increased from 3.65 to 3.88, that only equates to about 12.5 extra pitches per game, of which about 5.5 can be attributed to Abreu and Figgins. So the rest of the line up saw, on average, one extra pitch each over the course of a game. And while the team's walk rate did increase by 0.9% this year, their IsoD is consisent with last year (.065 this year as opposed to .062 last year). Their 20 point boost in on base percentage is just as much due to a 17 point jump in batting average, which in turn can be attributed to a 23 point jump in team BABIP despite just a one percent increase in LD%. So much for Abreu's influence; it appears luck has far more to do with the Angels' surge in OBP than Abreu does.
Bobby Abreu was the best bargain of the 2008-2009 Crazy Eddie style off-season. You don't need FanGraphs to tell you that Abreu was a steal $6M ($5M base plus $1M incentives), but just to put a number on it, FanGraphs places Abreu's worth at $11.8M this year, nearly twice his salary. That's one helluva deal the Angels got for themselves, but it doesn't mean that Abreu, as one of the most selective hitters in the game, has bestowed his patience upon the rest of the lineup through his mere presence. Keep that in mind as Joe Buck, Tim McCarver, Ken Rosenthal, and the print media try to beat that story line into our head over the course of the ALCS.