Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It Isn't Bobby's Fault After All

By Jared Trexler
The Phanatic Magazine

Much like his fellow countryman Ugueth Urbina, Bobby Abreu is donning pinstripes these days.
Urbina's jumpsuit signifies imprisonment for the next 14 years, pending appeal, in Venezuela. Abreu's wardrobe signifies more of a prison escape -- from a city that never truly appreciated his talents and an organization too busy playing the public relations game to worry about what's happening on the field.
In case you missed it, the Phillies are 1-6. And it's no fault of Pat Burrell's despite WIP's ranting diatribe to the contrary. And stunningly, it's no fault of Abreu's, the soft-spoken, sweet-stroking outfielder who fits perfectly in the Yankees All-Star lineup.
Abreu is off to a fast start for the Bronx Bombers in 2007, batting .348 with a .448 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage. Both the batting average and OBP would be Phillies team highs.
But Abreu doesn't play in the City of Brotherly Love any longer, cast off to New York along with the late Cory Lidle for relief pitcher Matt Smith, former No. 1 draft pick C.J. Henry and a pair of lower-level prospects.
Henry spent Monday adjusting to his new position at third base in the minors, Smith spent Monday getting the Phillies into a jam in the seventh inning -- one Geoff Geary got out of thanks to Shane Victorino's great catch before inducing more torture on fans in the Mets' seven-run eighth.
Abreu celebrated baseball's second week with four RBI, his first home run of the season and three runs scored. All in the comfort of New York -- doesn't that sound ironic. Yet, sleeping in Manhattan on home stands probably feels like a soft pillow top compared to his roll away bed existence in Philadelphia.
A first inning home run to give the Phillies the lead was hailed too early by fans and radio pundits. A late-inning bomb to give the club added insurance for a shaky bullpen was defined as "stat padding." And a strikeout with runners on base in the ninth -- however rare it was -- rained a chorus of boos from the cheap seats.
Truth be told, Philadelphia didn't deserve Abreu -- still a better pure hitter on this day than the two new faces of the Phillies franchise (Chase Utley and Ryan Howard). His patience equaled that of Pat Burrell, his power on line with Chase Utley, his speed on the bases just a split second behind Jimmy Rollins, his plate coverage of which the 2007 Phillies have no equal.
Believe it or not, the Phillies 1-6 start -- their second consecutive slow beginning in what has become the typical April showers -- can be as much attributed to Abreu's exodus as the shaky arms at the back end of baseball's worst bullpen.
Abreu's right field replacement, Victorino, had an OBP of .346 last season mostly out of the two hole, a horrid number magnified when considering Abreu's 2005 OBP was .405 and his 2006 on-base percentage reached .424. The fleet-footed Victorino stole just four bases, caught three times, last season while the "lazy" Abreu has swiped 40, 31, and 30 bases in three consecutive years.
Granted, Victorino's stats represent a small sample size, and the former International League Player of the Year could blossom into the top-of-the-order spark plug that allows manager Charlie Manuel to slide Jimmy Rollins and his gap power down in the order.
Yet, Victornio doesn't get on base at a steady enough clip to warrant a move to the lead off position, doesn't run well behind Rollins and in front of Utley and has already struck out seven times in 21-bats. Abreu has punched out three times in 23 at-bats, and how many times have the Phillies failed to make contact with a runner on third and less than two outs?
Too many to count. The club leads baseball in runners left stranded, and is hitting a poultry .188 with runners in scoring position, including the numerous times teams were playing the infield back and conceding runs.
Some will argue Victorino's defense is far superior, and Abreu's 2005 Gold Glove illustrates the laughable nature of the award. Both valid points, considering Victorino has held a 1.000 fielding percentage throughout his major league career.
However, the speedy Victorino's ability to judge balls off the crack of the bat and his uncanny intelligence in taking proper routes leads many baseball scouts to believe he is far better suited for center field.
Cult hero Aaron Rowand, the man who saved a game but not Gavin Floyd's stay in Philadelphia, had a .981 fielding percentage with five errors roaming center last season. Abreu, on the other hand, in 97 games for Philadelphia had a .995 fielding percentage with one error and five outfield assists.
Again a small small size for the stat fanatics, but one baseball source told me that Rowand "plays too shallow," and that he's seen at least three or four balls carry over his head because of it, adding that Victorino probably would have caught every one.
But Aaron Rowand outwardly cares. Bobby Abreu doesn't. And people wonder why Philadelphia hasn't won a championship since 1983. Likely because most of the fan base is so ignorant it doesn't deserve one.
Fans slobber like puppies at David Montgomery et al's PR spin, welcoming then showing unwavering support for the emotional, blue-collar athletes that care when they strike out, slam bats when they ground in double plays, run into walls and almost the franchise's star second baseman.
These players are dubbed clubhouse guys. Yet, unknowing to many the name fits Rowand perfectly. That's where he belongs.
So while the Phillies are well on their way to another depressing April, possibly culminating in good-guy Charlie Manuel's ouster as manager, fans will point to a beleaguered bullpen (rightfully so) but also point the finger at Manuel (what's the guy to do?) and sooner or later Burrell.
You know, the guy who leads the team in many offensive categories during this miserable stretch.
Miles away in the Bronx, New York, Abreu's sweet swing will produce another double, another run, another victory. At least he isn't here anymore -- as painful as that is for the small slice of the fan base that actually understands stats are what baseball's built upon.
This isn't his fault.
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Jared Trexler can be reached at jtrexler@phanaticmag.com
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