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Bob Kelly Abreu and the 2009 Yankees

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The other day, the boys over at NoMaas mentioned that Bobby Abreu's declining stats the last three seasons, and especially this season, are cause to avoid resigning El Comedulce; instead, they hope he maintains his type A free agent ranking (he was 7th of 117 OF/1B/DH at the end of last season, type A= top 20%) so the Yanks can snag another draft pick.

While, I acknowledge that Bobby Abreu is declining, I don't think his decline is so precipitous that the Yanks have to let him walk.

Much more after the jump!

Bobby's last three seasons:

 

Abreu BA OBP SLG BB% K% LD% BABIP
2006 .297 .424 .462 18.5 25.2 26.5 .375
2007 .283 .369 .445 12.2 19.0 20.0 .327
2008 .279 .340 .456 8.6 19.1 19.1 .316

 

When I look at these numbers, I don't see a steep decline.  The main thing I see is that Bobby is still trying to live down 2006, when he came to the Yanks at midseason and proceeded to have an August and September for the ages.  He hit everything that year- his LD% and his BABIP were at levels he hadn't approached since he was 25.

I think it's very important that Abreu's LD% and K% stay in line from 2007 to 2008; remember how Bernie had to cheat on the fastballs and then struck out on a lot of breaking pitches?  I see no sign of that from Abreu.

The area there is significant decline is Abreu's BB% and (in close correlation) his OBP.

Over at The Hardball Times, John Brattain just penned an article that perfectly distills his (and my) mixed relationship with sabermetrics, statistics, and the game of baseball.  His thesis:

I don’t believe in doing in-season analysis unless I have a great deal of firsthand observation to supplement the numbers I am using in the column. To me, that’s huge—you cannot analyze something in baseball unless you’ve physically witnessed what you’re studying.

We all know how a small sample size can prevent effective analysis.  Major changes to the player's approach or usage can have a similar distorting effect.

And  I see two potential distortions in Bobby Abreu's season: the weakening of the lineup by injuries to Arod and Posada, and Joe Girardi's usage of Abreu.

1) In the span from April 29th to May 19th when neither Alex Rodriguez nor Jorge Posada were in the lineup, Bobby Abreu went .281/.370/.453.  You could make the case that Abreu was at his best when he had the least protection.

I feel fairly confident saying that Bobby didn't change his approach at the plate this season.

2) Which brings us to General Joe, the Tactical Tyrant, Eliminator of Ice Cream, the Fitness Despot.

Joe Girardi has been (rightly) accused of over-thinking a lot of tactical decisions this season.  My impression is that Joe G. is just smart enough to get in his own way.  He understands more than his predecessor, but he's too steeped in baseball knowledge to properly implement that knowledge.

We've observed that while Abreu doesn't struggle an extraordinary amount against LHP, they do tend to throw him into protracted slumps against both RHP and LHP. His last last three seasons splits:

 

Abreu BA OBP SLG BABIP PA BB BB%
2006 RHP .299 .433 .472 .358 484 93 19.2
2006 LHP .293 .403 .437 .387 202 31 15.3
2007 RHP .289 .382 .476 .325 532 68 12.8
2007 LHP .262 .329 .349 .314 167 16 9.5
2008 RHP .266 .333 .449 .298 228 21 9.2
2008 LHP .308 .357 .473 .357 98 7 7.1

 

While Bobby has been hitting well against lefties so far this season, that seems to be largely luck- conversely, he's been unlucky against righties.  His 2007 splits were the most extreme of his career, particularly that 60 point drop in OBP.

It's those BB% splits that really worry me- he's always had a healthy separation between his lefty and righty totals (a change in approach?) until this season.

I suspect that his overexposure to lefties this season (98 PA and it's not even July yet) has changed his approach to righties, either consciously or subconsciously.  And that high BABIP against lefties has disguised the issue so far.

Which brings us back to my original point: should the Yanks re-sign Bobby.  I think I'll say no, but not because he's declining.  I don't think the Yanks should re-sign Abreu because his skill set requires more specific attention than the manager seems able to give.  In the same way that trading away Scott Proctor was the right move while Torre was in charge, not re-signing Abreu might be the right move because Girardi wants to play him against nearly every lefty (while regularly benching Matsui who has performed against lefties, except in 2006).

But letting Abreu walk depends on a couple of factors as well- if he'll take a Paul O'Neill-esque discount to stay in New York, and if the Yankees can trade for a decent right fielder.  The market isn't exactly overflowing with acceptable replacements.  Mark Kotsay and Raul Ibanez might be the best OFs available since Juan Rivera has been atrocious this season.  This means, I'd want to have a trade in place before letting Abreu go.