10/10/09 8:30 PM ET
Abreu finally getting credit he deserves
Angels' on-base machine no longer flies below radar
Abreu and his Angels teammates take on the Red Sox on Sunday in Game 3 of an American League Division Series. The Angels are up, 2-0. The Angels enjoyed another division-winning season, their fifth in the last six years. But now, against a Boston team that had beaten them nine times out of 10 in three Division Series, they seem poised for a major breakthrough. And nobody can escape the very prevalent notion that Abreu is one of the main reasons that the Angels may be able to stretch their success well beyond September.Look at Game 1 of this series in Angel Stadium. In a 5-0 Angels victory, the man walked four times in a row. This was like beating the Red Sox at their own game. They're supposed to be the ones with the patent on patience at the plate. They're supposed to be the ones who, seeing the pitch on the corner with a two-strike count, foul it off time after time, until the opposing pitcher either gets tired or loses focus, and misses the zone entirely or grooves one that ends up as an extra-base hit. But here is Bobby Abreu, as selective, as patient as anybody in the game, a man with a masterful sense of where the strike zone begins and ends. He has been like this since 1998. He has a lifetime on-base percentage of over .400. He should have his own "Money Ball" biography. But here is the thing: Abreu is now getting full credit for his work. This is more than just seeing a lot of pitches. He can steal a base, he has more than average power, he seems to be a double waiting to happen. But it is in the area of selectivity at the plate, that Bobby Abreu has become a leader of men. People all over the Angels' roster and clubhouse credit his influence with making the entire lineup more selective. Known for some time as a free-swinging group, the Angels ranked 11th in the AL in on-base percentage in 2008, at .330.
0-2 Division Series deficits
This year, following Abreu's example, the Angels ranked third in the league at .350. That is a major switch, a major change, a major improvement.How does this happen? As the No. 3 hitter in the Angels' lineup, center fielder Torii Hunter gets a very good view of Abreu's work, from the on-deck circle. "It's like a domino effect," Hunter says. "You watch him battle at the plate, put up an eight- or nine-pitch at-bat, and you're like: 'I can't go up there and swing at the first pitch.'" So now Bobby Abreu is a positive influence, a legitimate leader on this ballclub. This was not the rep he carried earlier in his career, even though his numbers were just as good then. He spent the bulk of his career with the Phillies, and there the rap on him was that he didn't have the fire in his belly. He wouldn't run through a wall for you. In fact, he wouldn't even get close to the wall for you. He was a leading player, and yet, he wasn't a leader. When the Phillies improved after he was traded to the Yankees in 2006, his critics were in an I-told-you-so mode. In fact, the Phillies' improvement probably had very little to do with his departure. And his amiable demeanor should not have disqualified him from being seen as an extremely important piece of a winning team. With the Yankees his overall numbers were still fine, but on a team with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, etc., there isn't room to cast too many more people as impact players. So when Abreu was on the open market last winter, there wasn't much of a market for him. Widespread economic difficulty outside the game didn't help, but, despite all those nifty offensive numbers, he was not numbered among the available elite during the offseason.
So he signed a one-year deal with a $5 million base salary. That was a discount by today's standards, and considering the quality of Abreu's work this season, it was also a genuine bargain.Abreu is 35, but he'll do better this offseason. His worth for the Angels is not only recognized, it is extolled. And why not? Abreu has said that he wants to return to the Angels, and that's good, too. The team is having success. He is having success. And he is finally getting the recognition and the credit that his performance has deserved for some time.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.