Saturday evening, the Philadelphia Phillies inducted the late Roy Halladay and Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick onto their Wall of Fame in a beautiful ceremony at Citizens Bank Park. In the coming years, a slew of 2008 Phillies – Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Shane Victorino – will join Pat Burrell and Charlie Manuel on the Wall of Fame. But in 2019, Bobby Abreu deserves to be honored for his time in red pinstripes.
In parts of nine seasons with the Phillies, the Venezuelan icon hit .303, while recording 1,474 hits, hitting 195 home runs, stealing 254 bases and posting an fWAR of over 45. During that same timespan, Abreu made two All-Star Game appearances and won a Silver Slugger Award as well.
Is it fair to scoff at the Gold Glove Award that Abreu won in 2005? Sure, the -141.3 career defensive WAR that he posted backs the conclusion that most came away with from watching him field – he wasn’t very good at it.
But many of those same advanced metrics, which weren’t publicly available during Abreu’s time with the Phillies, suggest that he was an event better player than we realized during his career.
FanGraphs says that between 2000 and 2018, only three right fielders have been better than Abreu; Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki and Curtis Granderson. Beltran and Suzuki are expected be elected to the Hall of Fame when they become eligible. Granderson has had an excellent career, but much of his peak was spent in center field, not right field. (The same is true for Beltran, to be fair.)
WAR 7, according to Baseball Reference, is “the sum of the seven best WAR seasons for a player.” The seasons don’t necessarily have to be consecutive, though in Abreu’s case they were, coming from 1998-2004, his first seven seasons with the Phillies. Abreu’s WAR 7 was 41.6. Here’s a list of right fielders who that War 7 tops: Tony Gwynn, Vladimir Guerrero, Elmer Flick, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonds, Dave Winfield, Darryl Strawberry and Jose Bautista. And remember, all seven of his highest bWAR totals came while he was wearing a Phillies jersey.
JAWS, created by Jay Jaffe of FanGraphs, has become one of the most trusted ways to gauge a candidate’s worthiness for induction to the Hall of Fame. Jaws is “a means to measure a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness by comparing him to the players at his position who are already enshrined, using advanced metrics to account for the wide variations in offensive levels that have occurred throughout the game’s history.”
This isn’t an article about Abreu’s Hall of Fame case – we’ll get there soon enough, as he’ll become eligible in 2020. But he has a higher JAWS than quite a few Hall of Fame right fielders: Winfield, Guerrero, Flick, Chuck Klein, Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler and Sam Rice. That’s just some of the Hall of Famers he tops in that category, to be clear.
Unfortunately for Abreu, he played for the Phillies from 1998 until he was traded to the New York Yankees in July of 2006. During that time, the Phillies didn’t make the playoffs once. Larry Bowa’s 2001 Phillies went 86-76 in one of the more surprising seasons in franchise history, but finished two games behind Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves in the National League East. In Bowa’s final season as the Phillies manager in 2005, the Phillies again finished two games behind the Braves in their division. Like Charlie Manuel’s squad would do in 2006, the Phillies finished second in the National League Wild Card race. Baseball didn’t add a second Wild Card spot until 2012.
Abreu gained a reputation among some in Philadelphia as not being a winning player. Much of that had to do with him just being in the right place at the wrong time. Like Eagles legend Donovan McNabb, he had an infectious smile that was a blessing and a curse. When he hit a walk-off inside-the-park-home run on Aug. 27, 2000 his smile represented a great player enjoying an incredible moment. When he smiled while the team was losing or after making a bad play, it meant that he was a talented player that lacked killer instinct.
The truth is, while Abreu may have rubbed some fans and pundits the wrong way, he was one of the greatest hitters in Phillies history. His teammates liked him too. Former Phillies closer Billy Wagner told PhilliesNation.com that Abreu was “definitely one of his favorites.” Phillies all-time hits leader Jimmy Rollins called Abreu his “favorite teammate ever.” And in recent years, there’s been a realization among some of just how good Abreu was. He was back in a Phillies uniform this past Spring Training as a guest instructor. And in August of 2019, he should be back in a Phillies uniform as the latest inductee onto the Wall of Fame.
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