Red-hot Abreu making 29 teams look foolish

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The faltering economy didn’t take much of a toll on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett last winter, thanks to the Yankees’ lavish buyout plan, but those unwanted by the Bombers had to scramble to find refuge and many remained unemployed until February. Take Bobby Abreu, for instance. Too many quality GMs believed they were already set at the outfield corners and too many lousy ones weren’t bright enough to see that he was still a fine player. After talking with the A’s and White Sox, Abreu ended up accepting $5 million from the Angels just days before camp opened. It was an $11 million paycut.
Of course, Abreu has proven to be a bargain, even if he didn’t hit his first homer until May 26. He’s currently batting .322/.417/.455 with 22 steals in 27 attempts. He ranks sixth in the AL in average, third in OBP, tied for fifth in steals and 11th in runs created. He was just named the AL’s player of the month for July, mainly because he led the circuit with 28 RBI. His defense, much maligned during his final season in New York, has graded out as practically average this year.
Abreu is on pace to play in 150 games and post an 800 OPS for the 12th straight seasons. With one more homer, he’ll join Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Willie Mays as the only players with 250 homers, 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBI, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases.
Unlike those five guys, Abreu hasn’t quite performed at a Hall of Fame level. He’s never led the league in average, OBP, slugging, homers, runs, RBI or steals. His only “black ink” comes from when he led the NL in doubles in 2002 and tied for the lead in Triple-A in 1999. He actually led the majors in walks in 2006, but that was the year he was traded from the Phillies to the Yankees at midseason. His highest ever finish in the MVP balloting was 14th place in 2005, which actually was pretty far down the list of his best seasons. He’s appeared in just two All-Star Games.
Abreu deserves much better treatment than he’s deserved through the years. He’s not one of the game’s greats, but he’s been awfully effective for a long time. Worse players have been enshrined in Cooperstown. It’s going to be very interesting to see how he’s treated when he’s a free agent again this winter. Abreu will turn 36 next spring, and he’s not known for his conditioning. Still, the remarkable durability should make him a candidate for one more multiyear deal, likely at significantly more than the $5 million he’s earning this season.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.