The Mets signed Bobby Abreu last week, and he is already tearing things up in Las Vegas. Everybody does. Although this team needs offense wherever it can find it, the prospect of Abreu in New York has been frightening to most fans. That makes sense, as it is hard to see how Abreu can help. At this point in his career, Bobby’s defense crosses over from questionable to “Duda-like.” So although Abreu might be a nice alternative as a late game bat, it is not worth it when you consider the glove. Abreu is clearly one dimensional these days.
That got me to thinking how much the game has changed. Somehow, it has become unquestionable to fans that keeping Abreu around to perhaps have one at bat, face one pitcher in a tight game, is not a good idea. Yet, it is considered mandatory that a team keep a left-handed pitcher around, sometimes even two, who are useless for more than a batter at a time. The good old LOOGY.
So I wondered, could Abreu actually be more useful in the right role? That role would be like Rusty Staub in 1985, no glove required. That would make him, admittedly, very much a specialist. But that specialist is a weapon, he sits in that dugout ready to be used at the most opportune moment, and just by being there he is useful. And to make the discussion simple, there will be no chance Bobby starts playing ahead of Lagares or anyone else. He is a pinch-hitter deluxe. I’m not trying to add to all the fear mongering.
Let’s contrast this with the incumbent. In an inning Jimmy discussed last week, Scott Rice was scheduled to face one right-handed batter and two lefties. His point of view, which I am agreeing with, is that Rice cannot be used in that situation, that he cannot face any righties. Even one out of three, even when the one is leading off the inning with no one on base. Why is it a given that someone this limited is more worthy of a roster spot than Abreu? Next consider this, Rice is our better LOOGY, we have another one, John Lannan, for less important special circumstances. It was not always this way. Players such as Rusty, Ed Kranepool, Gates Brown, and Smoky Burgess earned their living as pinch-hitter deluxes. During that period, of course, relief pitchers were expected to be able to get out more than one hitter. The roster had 25 men on it then too.
At first glance I can understand the change in philosophy. It lends itself to a belief that in the individual matchup between hitter and pitcher, the pitcher is more important. That is a strong basis, so maybe things are perfect just as they are.
But then I ponder some more. It’s been a strange day, all this thinking about Bobby Abreu. I think there is a fundamental difference between a pinch hitter and a LOOGY. The idea that a pitcher comes to the mound with the same stuff every day does not compute for me. When you look at pitching logs you can see that is not true. When instituting a process where you call for the lefty every time the split dictates it, no matter how the pitcher on the mound has been throwing, this risks breaking something that didn’t need fixing in the first place. The best pitcher might just be the most effective pitcher that day. And if the LOOGY fails, now you immediately need another pitcher. Now, yes, a manager could just ignore who he has in his bullpen but that is tough to do, and when a manager tries that and it fails he is destroyed for not adhering to the percentages.
That same situation does not apply on the offensive side of the ball. If I send up Bobby Abreu to hit for John Lannan, I didn’t really risk anything. And if Abreu fails and strikes out (I know, crazy but it could happen), I don’t have to use another player to bat for the leadoff hitter.
Next came another thought. Every team is carrying all these extra pitchers, say 12 per team, and only 13 position players. This, of course, is why there is now no room for my guy Bobby Abreu. When Rusty was doing his thing, the 10-man staff was more normal. Well, major league players are a limited commodity, and good players are a rarer commodity than bad ones. It’s not logical to assume there are more talented pitchers than hitters. So if a team swapped their worst pitcher for a hitter, and every other team is doing the opposite, doesn’t that also factor into the equation? Wouldn’t the hitter be a relatively superior player? Isn’t that the idea of Moneyball, to zag when everyone else is zigging?
In the end it’s not like I have an opinion on this that I am ready to fight about on either side of the equation. In this case it is more how odd I find it that everything shifted, and all the teams followed each other like sheep. The new way is universal. Maybe it is that obvious and I am not educated enough on the topic, but it’s the natural contrarian in me. I can’t help it, once I see anything that is considered conventional wisdom I start suspecting it.
I suppose I just feel badly for Bobby Abreu. At one time in history he could have become a beloved Met, someone we would all watch during the game, sitting in our dugout, our secret weapon. Instead, the idea of Abreu being promoted to take one of our few bench spots conjures up images of Freddy Krueger and Leatherface.
I was going to conclude that poor Bobby was just born at the wrong time, but then I just remembered what has happened to salaries, and how much money Abreu has already earned.
So, never mind.