Abreu is getting a bad rap by executives who are overemphasizing his defensive slippage. He’s still an adequate right fielder, but his fear of the wall got so much airtime in New York that he has become over-criticized. Abreu, in fact, is fifth in assists among right fielders over the last three years and third in fielding percentage, and while he’s 16th of 27 in range factor, Yankees pitchers had the second highest ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio in the AL. Meanwhile, Raul Ibanez, a below average left fielder who was a chic pick this winter, probably benefited by being hidden in Seattle and signed for $31.5 million over three years with Abreu’s former Phillies team. Any way you compare these two players, Abreu looks better … at least from here.
Abreu’s problems with fielding are more than just being afraid of the wall. He simply doesn’t have any range, especially for a player with decent speed. The whole point of the plus/minus defensive metrics system (which rated Abreu the worst right fielder in baseball) is to pick up on things you might not notice just watching the game. Maybe what looks like a clean hit in front of the right fielder would have been an out by a good right fielder. That’s part of why stats are useful; they allow us to better understand things we might not otherwise see.
Heyman is right though in saying Abreu is a better player than Ibanez. Ibanez is also a terrible fielder and doesn’t see nearly as many pitches as Bobby. Plus Abreu can steal a few bases for you. Any way you look at it, the Ibanez signing has to be the most mystifying one of the offseason.