In most ways that you can construct a fantasy league, odds are that Bobby Abreu and Jason Bay are going to offer similar attributes and value to that league. Both are outfielders that hit for average, draw a lot of walks, can push 30/30 club membership and are expected to make runs at the century mark in Runs and RBIs. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two is age – Abreu will turn 32 next month, while Bay will play most of this season as a 27-year old.
I've been involved in three experts league "snake" drafts, thus far. Abreu was selected 9, 14 and 12, respectively, in those drafts, for an average draft position of 11.7. As for Bay, he went 11, 9 and 17, for an average of 12.3. As you can see, the so-called experts deem these two to be of near-equal value, as well.
Just 10 spots separated these two on the Yahoo! '05 rank list – Bay at No. 11 and Abreu at No. 21 overall. For Bay, '05 was his true breakout campaign after garnering an NL ROY award the previous season. For Abreu, the '05 campaign represented a small drop-off from his traditional statistical norms. Abreu's precipitous second-half swoon, when his OPS dropped from .955 before the break to .787 after the break, accounted for the sub-norm levels, although he still managed to play all 162 games – the eighth consecutive season with at least 151 games played.
Let's take a look at Bay's numbers last season, his first full "prime" season, compared to Abreu's averages for the past five seasons, the heart of his "prime" range:
Bay: .306, 32 HR, 101 RBI, 110 Runs, 21 SB
Abreu: .297, 25 HR, 101 RBI, 108 Runs, 32 SB
Ok, I'm sure you get it by now: There's a fine line that separates these guys.
So, if you are sitting with a pick somewhere between 9 and 15, and you are targeting an outfielder, which of these two players is the right choice?
Like the previous Draft Day Dilemma (A-Rod vs. Pujols), this battle is going to be won and lost by the supporting cast.
That Bay drove in 101 runs last season was a feat if you consider that Pittsburgh scored the third-fewest runs in the league. Of the bottom four run-scoring squads from last season (Washington, San Francisco, Pirates and San Diego), Bay was the only player to top 100 RBIs. In fact, Brian Giles, with 83, was the next closest.
Taking nothing away from Bay, but it seems luck played a healthy role in his topping the 100 RBI mark. Veteran OF Matt Lawton helped set the table for Bay with 53 runs scored through the first four months of the season, with an OBP above .400 in three of those months. Rookie Chris Duffy stepped in for Lawton atop the lineup in August and overachieved with a .403 OBP before injuring his hamstring. Infielder Freddy Sanchez then played above expectations (often in the leadoff spot) with a .325 BA and 18 Runs, ranking among the top 30 players in the league in Runs for the month of September. Even rookie OF Nate McLouth, who also spent some time in the leadoff role in September, pitched in with a better-than-could-be-expected .290 BA and 15 Runs in the final month.
In '06, the Pirates are banking on Duffy (coming off the hamstring injury) in the leadoff spot and SS Jack Wilson, and his career .304 OBP, back in the No. 2 hole. Bay will have better protection behind him than before as the team brought in first baseman Sean Casey and OF Jeromy Burnitz, who could form a decent platoon with Craig Wilson in right field. All things considered, however, Bay isn't sitting as pretty as Abreu.
Abreu will enjoy SS Jimmy Rollins, OF Aaron Rowand and star-in-the-making Chase Utley (.376 OBP) starting things off for Philly at the top of the order – Only Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon have scored more combined Runs the past two seasons than Rollins. Utley and Rollins combined for 208 Runs last season, helping Philly to the fifth-most Runs in the league. It's hard to argue against the notion that Abreu should see more opportunities to drive in runs than Bay. And I'd bet money that he'll also have more opportunities to score runs with Pat Burrell and young slugger Ryan Howard following him up – Burrell had a .961 OPS hitting fifth in '05, while Howard held a .925 OPS in the No. 6 spot.
Abreu has the stolen base edge on Bay, averaging 11 more SBs per season over his past five years than the somewhat surprising 21 SBs (only caught stealing once) that Bay totaled last season. If Abreu is also the favorite in RBIs and Runs, he deserves the first call on draft day on the expectations that he'll take at least three of the standard five roto categories, especially since batting average and HRs are also such a close call.
The table may very well turn in favor of Bay heading into the 2007 season, but I'm taking Abreu for now.