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February 25, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Bobby Abreu
by SG

Gary Sheffield got injured on April 29 in a collision with Shea Hillenbrand. Sheffield sat out a few games, tried to play a couple of games through the injury, went on the DL, was re-activated and played another six games, then was shut down for the bulk of the season. This pressed Bernie Williams into a full-time role. From the time when Sheffield underwent wrist surgery, Bernie managed to hit .292/.347/.485. Unfortunately it came with subpar defense, and it also pressed Andy Phillips into a full-time role which he was not equipped to handle, hitting .251/.294/.426 from the time of Sheffield's wrist surgery to the end of the season.

The hole in the lineup was something Brian Cashman made a move to fill, and he did it in fine fashion, using the Yankees' financial advantage to provide salary relief for Philadelphia and acquiring Bobby Abreu and the late Cory Lidle for three minor leaguers and lefty reliever Matt Smith.

Abreu had become the object of scorn by a vocal group of fans in Philadelphia despite putting up good numbers, as he was deemed as unclutch and other things (sound familiar to anyone?). However, Abreu arrived in the Bronx and seamlessly integrated himself into the third spot in the lineup.

The Yankees averaged 5.6 runs a game prior to Abreu's arrival. From Abreu's first game August 1 on, they averaged 6.1 runs a game. This doesn't mean that Abreu himself was responsible for adding .5 runs a game to the Yankee offense. However, by adding Abreu, the Yankees created fewer outs per plate appearances and saw a few more pitches every game, which had a cascading effect on the rest of the lineup.

Pre-Abreu, the Yankees saw 159 pitches a game. Post-Abreu, they saw 166. That's seven extra pitches a game. The average relief outing in the AL last season was 19 pitches, so that's an extra inning from a reliever every three games. Assuming those innings are pitched by lesser pitchers, it helps explain at least part of the offensive spike.

The other benefit of acquiring Abreu was that it freed up the Yankees to pick up Gary Sheffield's option and then trade him for some good arms, while improving their likely overall output in RF.

Here's how Sheffield and Abreu project in 2007.

At a salary difference of about $3 million, the Yankees project to be about one win better offensively next season by swapping out Abreu for Sheffield. If you factor in the expected playing time, it's closer to two wins, although that's skewed by Sheffield's injury last year.

One concern I have is that in adding Abreu, the Yankees have made themselves heavily left-handed. While they still have Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter as righties/switch hitters, the bulk of their power comes from lefties. Abreu historically loses a lot of his value against lefties.

Career vs RHP: .312/.426/.549
Career vs LHP: .277/.376/.399

Thankfully there aren't many good lefties in the AL East. The Yankees can probably use this to rest Abreu against some lefties and get Melky Cabrera a little bit more playing time.

Abreu also projects better than Sheffield defensively, although he was pretty bad during his Yankee tenure.

Another knock on Abreu is that he is tentative against the wall. With Yankee Stadium's short right field and close fence, this could be an issue. His Yankee performance in 57 games is certainly a little scary, and could be an indicator of his reputed wall-shyness. Given that it's only a third of a season's worth of innings, it could also just as easily be a small sample size blip.

For comparison, Sheffield projects around a -8 this season. So add another half win to Abreu's value relative to Sheffield.

Abreu brings the Yankees OBP and long at bats in the third spot. Having him on base for Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi is going to drive the offense this season. Even if CJ Henry or any of the others traded end up developing into good players, this was a smart trade at the time, and it looks even better now.