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« The Uggla Truth | Main | "Ground Chuck" Getting Pounded »
Wednesday
Aug032011

Bobby Abreu's Option Vests, But Should It Have?

For better or worse, Bobby Abreu is now under contract with the Angels for the 2012 season. Abreu signed a two-year, $19 million extension with L.A. two offseasons ago that included a $9 million option for 2012 that vested with 1,100 total plate appearances over the 2010-2011 seasons.

Abreu, 37, once had a sublime blend of patience and power. But his days of popping 20-30 homers per season are well over, and that $9 million may well be an overpay.

The former Phillie and Yankee still works the count like few others. Abreu has chased only 17.4 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, which is the second-lowest rate among MLB hitters (Kosuke Fukudome has the lowest chase rate). As a result, Abreu has worked a walk in 15.3 percent of his plate appearances. Only Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lance Berkman, Joey Votto and Prince Fielder have taken ball four more often.

In the power department, though, Abreu falls flat. The left-handed hitter has just four home runs this season. His .090 Isolated Power is a full 50 points below the league average and places him in the same company as banjo-hitters like Mark Ellis and Cliff Pennington.  

Abreu hit for modest power during his first two years with the Angels (.161 ISO), at least remaining somewhat dangerous on inside and high pitches:

 Abreu's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2009-2010

In 2011, though, his heat map is ice-cold except for a single spot up and in:

Abreu's in-play slugging percentage by location, 2011

He has yet to hit a homer off a lefty and has a .051 ISO against same-handed pitching.

If Abreu played a premium position on the diamond or was a defensive standout, then his patient, punchless bat would be valuable. But in reality, he's a DH who occasionally plays a poor corner outfield. That means he has to been an offensive standout, not merely an above-average hitter like he has been in 2011, to earn his paycheck.

Most of the other DH-types who hit the free agent market last winter -- Johnny Damon, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Hideki Matsui -- signed deals worth $2 million to $5 million. And Fangraphs shows that Abreu's performance this season has been worth less than $2 million. Unless the Angels have reason to believe that Abreu's power will return, they might have been better off letting him take some nights off against lefties and keeping his plate appearance total under that vesting option. It would be hard to the Players Union to cry foul when it's not clear whether Abreu should be playing every day at this point.

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