Abreu is a positive influence
He is the anti-Vladdy, a picture of patience and plate discipline who has imposed his will on the Angels in the six months he has been here, so much so that it is not only the young players who flock to him for advice and guidance.
Even Torii Hunter, an old dog in his 12th major league season, has learned some new tricks from Bobby Abreu, the veteran right fielder who has helped transform the Angels into one of baseball’s most prolific offensive clubs.
“I’ve been an aggressive swinger my whole career -- I still put up pretty good numbers -- but I always wanted to hit .300 in the big leagues, at least once,” Hunter said.
“Bobby has helped me out mentally just by talking about baseball, talking about situations. I think I’m mature enough to listen and understand what he’s talking about.”
The best piece of Abreu advice?
“Swing at more pitches in the strike zone, and you have a better chance of getting hits,” Hunter said. “I’ve been doing that.”
Hunter, a career .272 hitter whose best average was .289 in 2002, is batting .310 with 19 home runs and 74 runs batted in entering tonight’s game in Kansas City.
The center fielder had a career on-base percentage of .326 entering 2009. His on-base percentage this season: .380. He averaged 3.53 pitches per plate appearance in 2008. He is averaging 3.74 this season.
“The only guys who never swing at pitches out of the strike zone are Barry Bonds and Joe Mauer, and I’m not Barry Bonds or Joe Mauer,” said Hunter, 34.
“Those guys are great. I’m going to make mistakes in this game. But I’m better, and next year, I’ll be better than this year. I’m going to keep working on it. I’m getting better with age.”
Kendry Morales, Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar have gotten better -- much better -- with youth, and Abreu, who is batting .296 with a .392 on-base percentage, 12 homers, 86 RBIs and 77 walks, has been a huge influence on their development.
“They see how I handle situations, how I prepare, how I stay focused on the game, and I think the young guys have picked it up by watching, following the example,” said Abreu, who ranks eighth in the AL with an average of 4.15 pitches per plate appearance.
“We have some talks too. They come to me in situations during a game to talk about pitchers, about how and when to take more pitches. They’ve been doing good.”
Morales, in his first full big league season, has emerged as a most-valuable-player candidate, with a .313 average, .357 on-base percentage, 30 homers, 94 RBIs, a .594 slugging percentage and a .336 average with runners in scoring position.
Izturis, a utility player for much of his career, has thrived as a regular, batting .298 with a .358 on-base percentage, eight homers, 55 RBIs and a .314 average with runners in scoring position.
“He helps with my preparation for the game -- when I go to the plate, I have a plan,” Izturis said of Abreu. “I try to prepare for situations in the game and have good at-bats.”
Aybar, a .237 hitter as a rookie in 2007 and a .277 hitter last season, is batting .301 with a .341 on-base percentage, 19 doubles, six triples, five homers and 49 RBIs.
“He’s always talking about pitchers and what they do in certain situations, when to take more pitches to try to get the pitcher into a long inning,” Aybar said. “That helps.”
It also helps that Abreu, a native of Venezuela, can speak to Morales (Cuba), Aybar (Dominican Republic) and Izturis (Venezuela) in their native language.
“He can explain to me better, and we can understand better,” Izturis said. “I understand English too, but Spanish is the language we speak, and he has a lot of experience in the big leagues.”
All three players have become more patient -- Morales improved his average pitches per plate appearance from 3.47 in 2008 to 3.97 this season, Aybar has jumped from 3.26 to 3.48, and Izturis has improved slightly, from 3.76 to 3.82.
In each of the previous five seasons, the Angels averaged 3.65 pitches per plate appearance, ranking 12th, 13th or last in the league each year.
This season, the Angels rank fourth in the AL with an average of 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, and, despite cooling off in Seattle this week -- they have one run and 10 hits in their last 18 innings -- they still lead the AL in average (.288) and hits (1,325) and rank second in runs (747) and on-base percentage (.353).
Leadoff batter Chone Figgins has set the tone -- he ranks fourth in the league in pitches per plate appearance (4.21) and third in walks (82) and on-base percentage (.404).
But Abreu, with his refusal to chase pitches out of the strike zone, his ability to string together quality at-bat after quality at-bat, and his veteran leadership, has provided more of a mentoring role and an antidote to Vladimir Guerrero, whose hacking ways may have rubbed off on some young players.
“I don’t think we were slashing because Vlad was here,” Manager Mike Scioscia said, when asked if one player can affect the personality of a lineup. “Maybe that was the perception because Vlad was such a free swinger that he set a tone, but I don’t know.”
Abreu, 35, has set a different tone. He won AL player of the month honors in July, when he hit .380 with 28 RBIs in 26 games. Though he hit only .217 in August, he still scored 20 runs, hit four homers and had 14 RBIs in the month.
Throw in his 27 stolen bases on the season, and Abreu, who signed a one-year, $5-million contract on the eve of spring training after spending the last 2 1/2 seasons with the Yankees, may be the best bargain in baseball.
The Angels would like to retain Abreu in 2010, but it will probably take more than $5 million.
“Things are going good here, the chemistry of the team is outstanding -- I definitely want to come back,” Abreu said. “I think people are going to appreciate the things I do more after showing another year of consistency.”