Late in the regular season, during a session with local media, Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked who he believed the most valuable player on his team was. He could have said Chone Figgins, who by advanced and strict measures meant more to the Angels than any player. He could have said Torii Hunter, the heart and soul of the team. He could have said Kendry Morales, who was a fair facsimile of Mark Teixeira and carried the team for swaths at a time
Scioscia said Bobby Abreu.
Abreu had a fine season in his own right — 30 stolen bases, a 115 adjusted OPS, 103 RBIs. But without context, no one would study the Angels roster and declare him the most valuable player. Maybe when Scioscia heard “most valuable,” what he was really responding to was “most important.” In his first year with Angels, signed late and cheap, Abreu changed the way the Angels play baseball.
For all the (valid) talk of how much pressure the Angels put on defenses, they for years took a divergent approach at the plate: They made things easy on pitchers. Last season, the Angels walked 481 times and saw 3.65 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 25th and dead last, respectively. The year before, they ranked 21st and 26th. In 2006, they ranked 23d and 29th.
They saw precisely 3.65 pitches per plate appearance for five consecutive seasons. That’s kind of remarkable. In 2003, they saw 3.64. The last time they finished outside the bottom five was 2001. They finished last three times in those seven seasons. Their hack-away style was not a coincidence. It was a culture.
They acquired Mark Teixeira last year, and it seemed like would help cure the Angels of their free swinging. Before he arrived, they saw 3.65 pitchers per plate appearance. From the time he arrived until the end of the season, they saw 3.64.
Abreu has done what Teixeira could not: He made the Angels a patient club. This year, the Angels walked 547 times and saw 3.88 pitches per plate appearance, which ranked 17th and eighth. Overnight, the Angels became a patient team, and that may be the most significant difference between this season and the years the Red Sox thumped them in the playoffs. They are going to make you work.
The reason is Abreu. Abreu is one of the most disciplined hitters in the game. Since 2004, only player — Jayson Werth* — has seen more pitches per plate appearance, and only player — Adam Dunn — has walked more. So it is not a surprise that Abreu was among the game’s most patient players this year.
What is surprising is that he got the Angels to follow his lead. Of the 10 Angels other than Abreu who played at least 100 games, six of them saw more pitches this season than in any other of their career. All of them saw more than their career average.
*Strangely, Werth is playing right field for the Phillies, the same position Abreu once played. What happens to people when they stand in right field in Philly? Also, yes, Youkilis is third.
Somehow, Abreu got the Angels to believe he was doing things the right way and they were doing them the wrong way, and he got them to change.
“The presence of Bobby Abreu, I swear to you, has brought some patience to our lineup and our offense,” Hunter said.