Smackdown: Damon vs. Abreu
October, 21, 2009
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com
|Who has a better chance at the Hall of Fame: the Angels’ Bobby Abreu or the Yankees’ Johnny Damon?|
While twittering during Game 4, I was inspired by Johnny Damon's long home run to fire this off:
Who's the better Hall of Fame candidate? Johnny Damon, or Bobby Abreu? Discuss ...
One of the most common answers in the ensuing discussion was "Neither" ... but that's cheating. I wasn't asking which of them is going to be elected; I was asking which is more likely to be elected. You might not think Joakim Soria or Jamey Wright is going to wind up in Cooperstown, but I think you'll have to agree that Soria's got the better shot.
So who's got a better shot?
Abreu and Damon are both 35; Damon turns 36 in three weeks, Abreu roughly four months later.
Both have been relatively speedy: Damon has stolen 374 bases, Abreu 348 (and both have rarely been caught).
Abreu's got a Gold Glove and Damon doesn't, but Damon's been the better, more valuable defender over the course of his career.
And Damon needs that edge, because Abreu's got a huge edge when it comes to the quality of his hitting. Damon's .288/.355/.439 career line pales next to Abreu's .299/.404/.493. Yes, Damon has scored 100 or more runs in 10 different seasons ... but Abreu has done that eight times and he's driven in 100 or more runs in eight seasons; Damon hasn't done that even once.
As a few tweets noted, neither player has even been considered among the very best players in his league. Abreu's never finished higher than 14th in the MVP balloting. He'll probably do better than that this year, but Hall of Fame voters don't really pay attention to anything but No. 1 finishes. Damon's highest finish was 13th. Both players have been All-Stars just twice.
Based on all of that, neither sure does seem like the correct answer ... But let's not completely dismiss what's still to come. Because it sure looks like both Damon and Abreu have plenty of good baseball to play. Abreu drove in 103 runs this season and stole 30 bases, while Damon posted the highest OPS+ of his career.
In then end, though, I think it'll be defense that kills them both.
Abreu's been a poor fielder for some time, and facts like that are getting harder and harder to hide. He's still playable in the outfield, but will that still be true three years from now? And if not, will he still hit enough to serve as a full-time DH? I've got my doubts. Similarly, as Damon has bulked up, his range in left field has dropped. And that noodle arm isn't getting any stronger.
On balance, while Abreu probably will wind up with the better career, I believe that Damon's got a better shot at the Hall of Fame. To have more than a sliver of a chance, these guys need to do something that's superficially impressive, and I believe that Damon's the one who's got that in his sights: 3,000 hits. Over the last four seasons, he's averaged 159 hits per season. If he averages just 144 hits over the next four seasons, he's got 3,000. The key is holding on to an every-day job, and his performance these last two seasons suggests that he may actually do that.
According to Scott Boras, if Damon reaches 3,000 hits, he'll get "the red carpet" into the Hall of Fame. I'm not at all sure if that rule will apply here, because I think the voters of today -- or more to the point, the voters of 2020 -- will be less impressed by 3,000 hits than they used to be. But if I have to bet on one of these guys, it's Damon and it's not really close.