Pondering Bobby Abreu

abreu las vegasThe 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.

staub (50)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.

Smoky Burgess

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 Zigging and ZaggingAbreu. 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.

Freddy_KruegerLeatherface1974

Abreu

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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18 comments

  1. I like the idea of him being brought on board strictly as a pinch-hitter. You know, Sandy Alderson is old enough to have collected baseball cards back when Smoky Burgess was playing, so maybe he’ll bring back the old full-time pinch-hitter role that was once so common. Start a new (old) trend.

    • wkkortas says:

      But Smoky was playing when pitching staffs had nine or ten guys, and you had room for a third catcher/pinch hitter type. Now if Sandy thinks he can go back to a ten or possibly even eleven man staff, I suppose there may be a case for it–but if you’re keeping twelve ptichers….well, it’s not like the Met bench has a shortage of immobile left-handed hitters.

      • DD says:

        Okay, buckle up.

        Here is what the Mets could do:

        -promote Raphael Montero, put him in the rotation. In a month’s time he will be pitching to a 3.25 ERA, to the gratification of all hands;

        -move Bartolo Colon to the bullpen. He can be the Mets’ Bob Stanley, circa 1982-1983, pitching 150-160 innings, absorbing the innings of the two or three worst arms currently out there. Hey, it’s not demotion if you sell it right; in those years Stanley made a All Star team, placed 7th in a Cy Young balloting, figured in both MVP votings.

        -Then, with your new trimmed-down bullpen, you add a bat. I would go with Zack Luz myself. The Mets don’t need another lefthander off the bench.

        This would address one of the team’s biggest flaws, and, I believe allocate the available talent to optimize good results. You know, more wins.

  2. Glenn says:

    If Moneyball is all about the notion of finding inefficiencies in the modern day MLB model and exploiting them, I can think of a few examples similar to the one you identified here with the 12th pitcher versus a pinch hitting specialist. For example, the evolution of the modern day closer is one ridiculous example. In past days, the best reliever in the bullpen was called the fireman – because Gossage, Sutter, Fingers, etc would be called on during high leverage situations in the late innings to end opposing rallies (not just in the 9th). I recall during our collapse in 2007 – a late season game against the Phillies where Howard hit a grand slam in the 7th or 8th off Feliciano when our best reliever,Billy Wagner, who also happened to be a lefty, waited for a “save” opportunity that never came. Another example would be imploring lefty power hitters to hunt toward the 3rd base line when teams over shift. Carlos Delgado did this a few times an had a near perfect success rate. Yet another creative example would be to employ what Davey Johnson used to do on occasion when he’d play Orosco or McDowell in a corner OF spot so he could alternate righty/lefty without taking them out of the game. Nowadays, teams would be too scared of exposing players to injury but relievers don’t make that much anyway and some of these guys are real athletes who played other positions in high school or college. Alderson should be trying to think of innovative new strategies like this to exploit the rest of the league.

    • Patrick Boegel says:

      Couple of things there, yes the closer role has changed, but also the effectiveness of other relievers and their usage has evolved it is not closers in a vacuum. The idea of when a save actually occurs surely could be revisited that much I would not dispute. There were a million and one ways the Mets choked away 2007, notwithstanding had replay been in effect at that time, an absolutely terrible interference call against Marlon Anderson may have been avoided.

      Davey Johnson only used McDowell and Orosco in the that capacity a single time. A large chunk of the team had been ejected from the game including Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry, during the brawl.

      That was a wise move more out of necessity than intrigue.

  3. Raff says:

    The Phils gave an old friend a little break, and they invited him to spring training. I saw him a couple times on MLB, and I must say he looked fit, and he was swinging the bat well. I would think that he could have some value as a DH in the American League. I can’t imagine him on a National League Roster, which means he will probably be immediately called up, due to the Met’s lacking a 4th 1st baseman

  4. IB says:

    They bring up Abreu, I’m guessing either Davis or Duda is gone one way or another. Abreu PH’s and Lefty DH’s. I don’t have a problem with this and it clears up a big problem…sorta

  5. Reese Kaplan says:

    Hey, Raul Ibañez is getting regular playing time and he’s even older. Anything’s possible.

    However, in all seriousness, shouldn’t they be looking to cultivate someone like Eric Campbell or Zach Lutz whose prospect windows have closed but who can do the same job for more than just a single year? Hell, even Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis are no longer “kids” by baseball age.

  6. IB says:

    Mets have had pretty good luck with old guys the last few years. My money would go on Abreu to handle a limited role better than the AAAA guys, if that’s management’s intent.

  7. Patrick Boegel says:

    Can he play short?

  8. Michael Geus says:

    Another thing about the change, and this is not a point technically in favor of “the old way,” just a fans observation. It might be smarter to go with the 12th pitcher, but it is not more fun for fans. I went to over 60 games in 1984 and 1985, and when Rusty was deployed fans got excited. His appearance brought big cheers.
    Bringing in John Lannan elicits dread. I’ve never seen a LOOGY get a standing ovation.

    In the end it’s all about winning and if the current roster construction is a better mousetrap then it is the right move. The LOOGY might be smarter, but I am confident it is less fun.

  9. Eraff says:

    The Mets do not have a single Bench player who can Hit and Stay in The Game!….unless you’re hitting Q….and who would Q Hit For? Every PH they make is a 2-3 player move…ridiculous! If ANY of the 3 of Satin, Duda or IKE were the ONLY one of their kind, it might work….but Abreu is YET ANOTHER of the same kind.

    Den Decker and Campbell make more sense on this bench. Flores as well—they can sub and hit and switch positions.

    • Michael Geus says:

      Yes, I am not advocating Abreu as a good move right now. I’m pretty sure we will always carry 12 pitchers, and on a nightly basis we already are stuck with one specialist (Duda or Davis.)

      I just have found it interesting how much the idea of Abreu has people mortified. It shows how much the game has changed. Hey, if it was thirty years ago there is no way Bobby would be a thought right now for the Mets.

      He would be on the Phillies bench, the returning old hero, as they would also have a ten man pitching staff

      They would have never cut him.

      • James Preller says:

        I am typing this poolside in San Antonio, TX. (Just thought you all should know that.) anyway, I have long been amazed by the groupthink in MLB. Everybody uses 12 pitchers, regardless of personnel, regardless of the offensive advantages in having an extra reserve. You’d think somebody would lop off their worst pitcher in favor of an offensive weapon. It’s bizarre. I mean, everyone agrees that those are critically important ABs, the high-leverage moments in the game, but no one tips the scale toward offense. Or, for that matter, attempts to stretch out some of those borderline relief pitchers to absorb the 50 shitty innings that the #12 guy throws.

        Conventional wisdom is, sometimes, the last refuge of cowards.

        • Michael Geus says:

          Actually, there are some things I don’t need to know.

        • wkkortas says:

          I wouldn’t argue that point at all–as Michael said, John Lannan isn’t providing the club any value; losing is bad enough, but losing with John Lannan wasting a roster spot is ridiculous. You have to think that Lutz or damn near anybody can provide more actual usefulness than Lannan. Still, that involves selling new roles to six pitchers, defending it to the media, and embracing something that represents innovation and actually doing something, and there’s no evidence that this front office can actually accomplish that, plus given their ability to construct a roster, I’m not sure how they would not bumble the process spectacularly.

          • And again, this isn’t an attack on Sandy, per say, it’s just that all of MLB has bought into this new way of doing things, the GroupThink, and Sandy is just another guy doing what every other guy does.

            The ’86 Mets used 8 pitchers in 7 WS games.

            It’s strange that nobody tries something different, since clearly not every team is enjoying the same level of success.

  10. Michael Geus says:

    Well, an extra bat to hit for Tejada would have been nice tonight.

    Oh well.

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