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Bobby Abreu has a better Hall of Fame case than you think

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The 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was revealed earlier today. Derek Jeter, of course, headlined the group, but also found on the list was outfielder Bobby Abreu. As Craig mentioned, Abreu spent much of his career being underrated and though baseball fans and writers have become a lot more stats-savvy since his retirement, it is hard to see him getting the groundswell of support necessary to earn induction in Cooperstown.

Abreu, now 45 years old, retired with exactly 60 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Among Hall of Famers who played at least 50 percent of their games in the outfield, Abreu is in the same neighborhood as Andre Dawson (64.8 WAR), Dave Winfield (64.2), Vladimir Guerrero (59.4), Willie Stargell (57.5), and is substantially ahead of Kirby Puckett (51.1).

During his prime, 1998-2004, Abreu accrued 41.5 WAR, per FanGraphs. The only outfielders with more WAR in that span of time were Barry Bonds (66.8) and Andruw Jones (43.4). He should have been a perennial All-Star but, through no fault of his own, he wouldn’t get his first All-Star nod until 2004. He would repeat in 2005. Similarly, Abreu won just one Gold Glove and one Silver Slugger, again through no fault of his own.

Abreu retired with terrific counting stats as well. He racked up 2,470 hits including 574 doubles, 59 triples, and 288 home runs. He stole 400 bases and drew 1,476 walks. There are 28 players in baseball history who have drawn 1,400-plus walks. The 500-doubles club is similarly exclusive, boasting only 63 members. Of those 63 players, 12 — including Abreu, of course — also stole 400-plus bases. Of those 12 players, four swatted at least 250 homers additionally: Abreu, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, and Rickey Henderson. Abreu had a very unique and elite offensive skillset, one matched by a handful of legendary players throughout baseball history.

Abreu’s candidacy is hurt by a few factors. The lack of hardware, as mentioned, which isn’t his fault. Secondly, Abreu he didn’t get a real shot in the postseason until 2006 with the Yankees and while his overall playoff numbers are solid, he didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy like, say, Jack Morris. For some people, the postseason résumé matters. Abreu rarely led the league in any one category, doing so only in 1999 with 11 triples and in 2002 when he led the NL with 50 doubles. Lastly, Abreu didn’t have a particularly high peak. His best year was 2004, when he posted 6.6 WAR. He actually had seven seasons of at least five WAR. His former teammate Scott Rolen, by comparison, peaked at 9.2 WAR in ’04. Abreu was extremely consistent but he never had a year in the forefront of the MVP Award conversation; his highest finish was 12th place in ’09 with the Angels when he was given two of 30 fifth-place votes.

There are more deserving players on the ballot, for sure. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramírez would be slam dunk Hall of Famers if not for the specter of performance-enhancing drugs surrounding them. Larry Walker has been more criminally underrated than Abreu, and one could say the same of Rolen. Curt Schilling has some extracurricular activities hurting his candidacy, otherwise he’d be a shoo-in. Abreu is right up there in that second tier of players on the ballot. Voters who are being stingy with their votes ought to consider Abreu’s case deeply.

MLB report blames seam height, not juiced balls, for 2019 home run surge

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SAN DIEGO — This morning Major League Baseball released a report from a committee of scientists tasked with studying baseballs and the home run surge from 2019. Their verdict: that manufacturing variation leading to inconsistent seam height — not any intentional act taken to “juice” baseballs — is the reason for last year’s power explosion.

There were 6,776 home runs hit during the regular season, which shattered the previous record, set in 2017, by nearly 11 percent. Numerous players around the league suspected or assumed that the league, which owns the ball manufacturer, Rawlings, had intentionally juiced the baseball to promote offense. The committee concluded in the report that “no evidence was found that changes in baseball performance were due to anything intentional on the part of Rawlings or MLB and were likely due to manufacturing variability.”

That conclusion would appear to only be partially accurate.

Dr. Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist who has been conducting her own research on baseballs and the home run explosion, published her own work on all of this in The Athletic last June. Wills concluded that, based on her examination of baseball seams and seam height, a key part of the manufacturing process — the drying of damp, finished baseballs after assembly is complete — likely did change.

Specifically, she concluded that seam height and decreased bulging of baseballs which led to less aerodynamic drag and farther ball flight was likely the result of Rawlings using heaters to dry balls, as opposed to the traditional air-drying, allowing them to produce more balls in a shorter period of time. Wills told NBC Sports this morning that she suspects Rawlings did this because many more balls were needed due to Major League Baseball mandating that Triple-A adopt the major league ball for the 2019 season.

As such, the key word in this morning’s report is “intentional.” Wills:

“The decrease in drag was very likely unintentional, but the change in the drying process would be intentional. No, they didn’t intend to juice the ball, but yes, they did make an intentional change to the manufacturing process. It was not ‘manufacturing variability’ it was deliberate process improvement to accommodate higher demand. ‘Variability’ makes it sound like it’s random or a mistake. It was not.”

There is also the matter of the decrease in ball flight and home runs observed — and confirmed by today’s report — in the 2019 postseason.

MLB’s expert panel basically punts on any explanations for the variation, noting small sample size and no other apparent explanation. As such, the matter for the immediate change in the home run rate and fly ball distance the moment we moved from September to October baseball is not clear. Wills is continuing her research on 2019 postseason game balls — a matter about which there has already been no small amount of controversy of late — and expects to publish her results soon.

There will be a press conference regarding the study here at the Winter Meetings at 1PM Eastern time today. NBC Sports will be at that press conference. NBC Sports has a good number of followup questions.