To recognize the careers of two retiring veterans, we're publishing all the BP Annual comments for Bobby Abreu and Josh Willingham. They chart nearly two decades of Abreu's life, as he went from expansion draft pick to near Hall of Famer, as well as the decade that saw Josh Willingham bloom late but end up with a better career True Average than Paul Molitor.

Year Comment
2013 Released by the Angels on April 28 to make room for Mike Trout, Abreu quickly found work with the Dodgers and carved a niche as their regular left fielder with a hot May (.318/.430/.424 in 79 PA). The returns diminished predictably enough. Shane Victorino's late-July arrival cost Abreu his roster spot, and he spent August cooling his heels—and a sprained ankle—in Albuquerque before returning as a pinch-hitter in September. Even with his fading power, his keen plate discipline and remaining speed could find him continued employment in a reserve role, extending the coda on a criminally underappreciated career.
2012 In 2011 the Angels finally cleared the designated hitter role for Abreu, immediately improving their run prevention by 20 or so just by getting him out of the outfield. But Abreu had trouble with the new job description, slugging 70 points lower than his previous worst. In his favor was the timeliness of his hits: six of his eight home runs tied the game or gave the Angels a lead, and his 3.66 Win Probability Added was the Angels' best by two wins. The Angels will pay him $9 million in 2012, so they'll have to choose between keeping Mike Trout in Triple-A or platooning $30 million of veteran lacklusterness at DH.
2011 Abreu punched yet another ticket to the 20/20 club—the ninth such season of his career, leaving him only one short of joint record-holders Bobby and Barry Bonds—but it came at the price of the worst full-season batting average and on-base percentage of his career. The decline was almost entirely BABIP-driven; were Abreu a younger man, we’d probably dismiss the drop-off as a one-year blip, but the outfielder’s advancing age increases the odds that his depressed BABIP reflected an erosion of skills, rather than a shift in luck. Still, his highest doubles total since 2006 and a home run-fly ball percentage that remained robust by his recent standards suggest that there’s still some pop in his bat, and his usual allotment of steals revealed a continued spring in his step. Even if Abreu’s BABIP doesn’t rebound, he should merit his $9 million for a second straight season. He needs just 433 plate appearances—a mark he’s never come close to missing—to put the Angels on the hook for an identical amount in 2012.
2010 Blanching at the prospect of upping his $16 million salary of 2008, the Yankees declined to offer Abreu arbitration, and the buyer's market for corner outfielders forced him to wait until February to receive a one-year deal with a $5 million base salary from the Angels. They got more than they bargained for, as Abreu provided a much-needed dash of plate discipline, posting his highest OBP since 2006 and the team's second-highest walk total since 2001; Chone Figgins walked even more often, and the two tablesetters helped the team set a franchise record for runs scored. Alas, Abreu offset his keen batting eye with a career low in isolated power, and his defense remained rather ghastly, though FRAA holds him in higher esteem than other systems. Unless one of those two areas improves, his two-year, $19 million extension isn't much better than a break-even proposition, with the potential to look worse if the third year vests amid further decline.
2009 Abreu's peculiar brand of defense might score well in our translations, but it sounds like a children's book: The Outfielder Who Feared the Wall. Abreu simply will not fade back on the ball, with the result that anything not hit directly at him or in front of him goes over his head. You know those long drives that seem like home runs, only to die on the warning track? Abreu watches them bounce. Ultimate Zone Rating, the Plus/Minus System, and the Probabilistic Model of Range all judge Abreu a major detriment. As a hitter, Abreu can still hit, though he has become less selective in recent years, with his 2008 walk rate being the lowest of his career. A team employing him as a DH should still get good value.
2008 Abreu endured a miserable first two months last season. The lingering effects of the strained oblique muscle that sidelined him in spring training might have played a part, but that doesn't account for the way he lost control of the strike zone in May, walking just once in 81 plate appearances from April 28 to May 19 despite a career rate of 6.3 PA/BB. By the end of that month, Abreu was hitting .228/.313/.289 with just two home runs. He turned things around thereafter, batting .309/.396/.520 with 14 homers after May 31 and convincing the Yankees to pick up his 2008 option. Still, Abreu registered the lowest full-season on-base and slugging percentages of his career and managed just one home run off a left-handed pitcher all year. As a defender, he goes back on the ball with all the enthusiasm of a Roman convict being herded towards the lions' den. Given the thin winter market, re-upping Abreu was the right thing to do, but next winter's bidders might want to think of him as a platoon DH rather than a starting right fielder.
2007 Abreu seemed lethargic in Philly–always a selective hitter, he was looking at more pitches than ever before, leading the majors with 4.45 pitches per plate appearance in the first half. The deep counts led to lots of walks (his Philadelphia rate of .208 walks per plate appearance would have led the majors over the full season), but not much else. Abreu was just as selective in New York, but once in a while he took the bat off his shoulder and swung. The results of the changed approach speak for themselves. Asked to explain the decline of his power numbers a year after winning the All-Star Game Home Run Derby, Abreu said, `I don`t ever get any elevation on the ball.` But he did get some in New York, hitting more flies and line drives than he had as a Phillie. The Gotham Abreu was reminiscent of his mid-twenties incarnation, a big change from the month before his arrival, when some pundits were speculating he was done.
2006 Abreu`s fireworks at Comerica Park during the Home Run Derby finally gave him the national recognition he deserved. Then a relatively weak second half (.260/.376/.411) caused a lot of sniping from the press box and the cheap seats, with Abreu being blamed for the Phillies falling short again. Though still more than respectable, Abreu had his worst year with the bat since he became a Phillies regular in 1998. Only the third player (after Bonds pere and fils) to ever post seven consecutive 20-20 (HR/SB) seasons, Abreu is also the only Phillies player ever to post seven consecutive 100-walk seasons. Despite these marks, the club actively tried to move him in the offseason.
2005 Back when BP was a fledgling publication with a circulation the size of the waiting list at your neighborhood Outback Steakhouse, we had a favorite one-word sentence that would get thrown around in a few player comments each year: "Ballplayer". We used it so often that it became a cliché, and hence was retired, but if there were ever a guy who deserves the tag, it is Abreu, who does just about everything that you'd want a ballplayer to do, and does it exceedingly well. It's amazing that Abreu made his first All-Star team this year. If he ages well—and players with this type of skill set usually do—he'll have a viable case for the Hall of Fame come 2018 or so.
2003 Abreu is the same player he’s been for several years. He hits for average, knows the strike zone, has good power, and can gain a few runs with his speed on the basepaths. In short, exactly the sort of player who can help a team a lot more than is commonly realized. After the Scott Rolen fiasco, the Phillies wised up and signed Abreu to a lucrative five-year extension. He’s worth it.
2002 Just about the perfect ballplayer, Abreu brings every hitting skill that really matters—power, average, and plate discipline—to the plate, making him a near lock for a .400 OBP. He has good speed and runs the bases well. He’s an above-average outfielder. And the Phillies, God love ‘em, waited too long to sign him to a long-term deal. Abreu will be expensive and will probably still be among the best investments in baseball.
2001 Bobby Abreu has been getting sniped at by some teammates for supposedly being a little too laid back and not working as hard as he could. Given that Abreu was far and away the most productive member of the Phillies’ lineup last year, that criticism seems somewhat misplaced. He was our first choice for a cover boy this year, but circumstances intervened.
2000 If there was any thought that 1998 was a career year, 1999 put an end to it. Abreu is probably the best player you hear nothing about. He hits for a very high average, knows the difference between a ball and a strike, has good power and uses his speed intelligently. The poor defensive numbers this year may just be a fluke, since he looks solid but not spectacular, in line with the numbers from previous years.
1999 I'm sure the Devil Rays are happy with the way this one turned out. Of course, they do have the great Mike Kelly, so I'm sure they don't miss Abreu and his .400 OBA one bit. Given the Phils' current roster, Abreu should be leading off or hitting second, so that he could be on base for Rolen and Estalella. Very good and likely to get better.
1998 Abreu has shown good plate discipline and flashes of power. He was taken in the expansion draft by Tampa Bay, a great move, and subsequently traded to Philadelphia for Kevin Stocker, a horrible move. He deserves a chance to play regularly this year, but may have to fight Billy McMillon for a spot.
1997 Abreu is exactly what the Astros need, a left-handed hitting corner outfielder. His real-life numbers, and his rep, have been inflated by his parks, but he’s very patient, good defensively and has shown improvement—better walk rates, better stolen base rates—every year. He didn’t hit as well in 1996, but I doubt it’s anything but a blip. He’ll play left if Bell is around, right if he isn’t, but only until Hidalgo comes up.
1996 Abreu has been pushed through the Astros system at a very young age, and as you can see, at age 18 he could out-hit many major league shortstops. Needs to return to Tucson for more seasoning, but he should claim the Astros' left-field position by September. Could turn into Dave Justice in a few years.


Year Comment
2014 No one expected Willingham to duplicate his 2012 career year, but few thought his power would dry up faster than a Death Valley downpour. Injury may have played a part, as Willingham aggravated his oft-tender knee during an awkward slide in late April and soldiered on for two months before finally going under the knife. His batting eye and walk rate remain solid, but he struggled to make solid contact and balls that had once been bleacher souvenirs started dying at the track. Whether this was due to age or injury is an open question, but Willingham has been beating the odds his entire career, so we’re betting his bat bounces back. However, his defense in left remains spottier and covers less ground than a Twister mat, so he’ll have to rake to make himself worthy of a prospect or two at the deadline.
2013 The poor man's Michael Cuddyer ended up being the Michael Cuddyer of Michael Cuddyer's dreams. Coming to Minnesota on an eminently reasonable three-year, $21 million deal to replace the departing Cuddyer (or Jason Kubel), Willingham found that the right-handed-pull-hitter-friendly Target Field suited his right-handed, pull-hitting tendencies. He set career highs in WARP, VORP, TAv, games, plate appearances, runs, home runs, RBIs, and walks, and even managed his second career FRAA above zero. At 34, it's all downhill from here, but the Twins can reasonably hope that for the next two years, the downward slope will be a slight one.
2012 Traded to the A's in December 2010 for Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez, Willingham had a fine year for the green and gold, ranking 14th in the league in True Average (right between Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia) and setting career highs in homers and RBI (the latter no small trick among a decrepit offense). Despite drops in batting average and on-base percentage, the notion that Willingham was hurt by the Mausoleum is incorrect. He hit .260/.350/.523 at home, but just .233/.315/.435 away, including—small sample size alert—.172/.269/.241 in 67 PA in AL Central ballparks. Signed by the Twins to a three-year, $21 million deal, he'll get plenty of chances to improve that line. He rates as a bargain relative to Jason Kubel and the departed Michael Cuddyer. He's been worth 9.0 WARP over the past three years, almost as much as the two of them put together, and he'll earn less than either through the life of the deal.
2011 If you haven't already figured out that Willingham is older than you thought, it's epiphany time: the guy is entering his age-32 season in his last campaign before free agency. With age comes infirmity, and he hobbled all year on a bad knee before it got worse in August, necessitating his abdication from baseball duties seven weeks before season's end. The knee was at least partially to blame for his ugly fielding stats last season, but the expectation is that he'll be healthy enough to man left field for Oakland—he was traded to the A's for Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez in a nifty bit of converting two seasons of value into prospects worthy of the name, unlike the junk sent to the Marlins to obtain Willingham and Scott Olsen. Having freed Willi to help address a belated realization that power is closer to a necessity than an option, the A's will have to see if his fly-ball stroke will play well in the Coliseum, still one of the league's toughest home-run parks.
2010 As any bluegrass musician can attest, there ain’t no ham like Willingham. The Marlins sent him north to DC on the Orange Blossom Special prior to the 2009 season, and the slugging outfielder provided his new employers with exactly the solid season we’ve come to expect from him, with a dash of power, a dollop of patience, and a smattering of subpar defense. Willingham seems like a late bloomer, but as with so many, being associated with the Marlins obscured his fundamental goodness; entering 2009 he was a career .280/.373/.510 hitter on the road. Washington was little more to his liking, as he hit just .233/.347/.406 at home, and .284/.384/.578 with 17 of his 24 home runs in other places. Still two years from free agency, Willingham’s consistent production should be especially valuable in an outfield set to rely on the more speculative feats of Nyjer Morgan and Elijah Dukes, but as he’s on the verge of becoming expensive the Nationals have been shopping him—a decision they would likely regret. He’s not a star, but players like Willingham are often harder to replace than you’d think.
2009 Willingham has never been a great bat, but he's a very good one that can take a walk, hit the occasional homer, and get in the way of a pitch. This knocked him out of the Marlins price range this winter, and they sent their arbitration-eligible left fielder packing to the Nationals. At least the Nats know they are getting a good player, as Willingham has always been hampered by playing in Florida (.280/.373/.514 on the road, 2006-08) and is not in need of a platoon mate. His lower back was a cause for concern, with Willingham missing most of May and June because of it, but there is no reason to believe that the injury is chronic.
2008 Like Jacobs, Willingham is a fair complementary player for a team that gets plenty of production from its stars. Unfortunately, that team is not the Marlins. Willingham was a little more interesting as a part-time catcher, but he hasn't gone behind the plate since April of 2006. His defense in left field isn't good, but it seems like our system is blaming him for all the plays Cabrera and Uggla didn't make.
2007 On the whole it was a very satisfying year for Josh Willingham. He endured a long May slump and a brief stay on the DL with a sore left hand in June, but he slugged over .500 in April and from July to the end of the season. His home park didn`t help him much–holding him to .243/.321/.425 with a home run every 22.5 AB–but he countered by being a force on the road, hitting .310/.389/.565 with a home run every 17 AB, and mashing lefties to the tune of .299/.411/.619. It`s too late for him to have much of a real career, so this may be as good as it gets with him, but he can hit, draw a walk, and stand around in left field.
2006 Like a character in an Agatha Christie novel, Willingham watched the bad guys kill off all the other possible catchers until he was the only one left. Then they went out and acquired Jacobs and Olivo, and now he`s probably wishing that they would kill him off, too. Willingham is a bit old as prospects go, due to injuries and his indeterminate position. When and if he finally gets to play, he won`t set the world on fire with his batting average, but will give the Marlins solid power and patience. Defense is another matter; if the Fish used Willingham at all three of his positions (C/1B/LF) they would make a virtue out of his shortcomings.
2005 Willingham would be enormously valuable if there was more confidence that he'll be a catcher. He's played behind the plate for just two years, and his defense is a work in progress at best. As well as he's hit at Carolina, and as much as PECOTA likes him, he's 26 and has just 25 at-bats above Double-A, and all of his good hitting has come as an overaged player. He has to do something at Triple-A or the majors to justify the buzz.

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While I think he probably will retire, Josh Willingham states that reports he has made the decision to do so are incorrect and premature.
Does that mean he might accept an NRI?