- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I admit to being an unabashed fan of what Los Angeles Angels outfielder/designated hitter Bobby Abreu remains able to do at the plate. (In the field, of course, is quite another matter.) Abreu is 37 years old and although he's not nearly as productive as he used to be in his Philadelphia Phillies days, he still walks, still runs and still warrants a place in pretty much every fantasy league. One of the leagues in which I enjoy Abreu uses on-base percentage as a category, and few are as consistent year after year as this fellow.
Abreu drew a pair of walks on Wednesday and scored a run. Although he's clearly in decline, on pace for the worst power and run scoring numbers of his career, and is relatively useless against lefty pitchers, he's also sixth in baseball in walks and should end up with more than 20 stolen bases, which he's done every year since 1999. We pay for consistency, too. In an effort to show blog readers that it's not simply about the home runs -- though we all love Joey Bats -- the fact is Abreu's plate discipline remains outstanding even in advancing years and despite the fact pitchers know he's probably not taking them deep too often. He's fantasy's No. 40 outfielder on the Player Rater. Considering he was a 15th-round choice in ESPN average live drafts, it works for me.
The Angels rank last in baseball in runs scored from their leadoff spot, though part of that problem is the lack of run-producing prowess following them, with Abreu chief among them. The team's leadoff options are 16th in baseball in OPS. Abreu should be leading off. He's 10th in baseball in on-base percentage and the nine guys ahead of him all have considerably more extra base hits. The Angels possess right-handed power lower in the order, with Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Mark Trumbo, and Abreu hits left-handed, but I'd still lead him off.
His ability to see pitches -- only Curtis Granderson draws more pitches per plate attempt -- is extremely valuable, and the Angels should want Abreu coming to the plate more. In June, Abreu boasted a .441 on-base percentage while hitting .325, and he stole five bases. How many runs did he score? An almost embarrassing seven in 23 games.
I like players that walk, not only for my OBP fantasy league but also for simulation leagues and, let's face it, in real life. I'm not saying all good teams are among the league leaders in walks, but check the top 10, for example, and you'll find only the Colorado Rockies with a losing record. Coincidence? I think not!
Anyway, I have some other thoughts about some of the better walkers in the game today.
• Carlos Santana owners probably expected more than a .225 batting average, as did I, but only four players have more walks. This doesn't mean Santana will suddenly hit .325 from here on out, but plate discipline is a terrific harbinger (he's third in P/PA). Santana's .243 BABIP could normalize some, and I doubt he hits .206 against right-handed pitching all season. Bottom line is he is easily a top-5 catcher and well worth the investment. It will get better.
• One might be surprised to see that the only other eligible catcher in the top 47 in walks (Brian McCann is in a nine-player tie for 48th) is Chris Iannetta of the Rockies. Now Iannetta is not likely to hit for a high average -- he and Santana are not similar hitters -- but he can hit the occasional home run and he's available in 88 percent of leagues. In an OBP/walks format, he's a top-five option.
• Kansas City Royals first baseman (but I doubt he'll be eligible there in 2012)/designated hitter Billy Butler is doing his normal thing, hitting for average with an Abreu-like six home runs, but check the walk rate. Butler might walk 100 times; his career high was last season's 69. I remain befuddled why Butler hasn't turned these doubles -- and now his plate discipline -- into more power, but I remind you he's a mere 25 years old. Like Abreu, he might not be what we want statistically, but he's still useful.
• There was a time in May I was concerned about Matt Kemp maintaining his excellent season, because he stopped taking free passes and began whiffing more. Now Kemp is back on track. Incredibly, he should pass his career best in walks in July, and make no mistake, it's a factor in his performance, not only because he's on base more (and he can run) but for power potential. Manager Don Mattingly was never much of a walker, but if he's had a role in Kemp's patience, kudos to him.
• I love the way Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has turned his season around. He's hitting .342 with 26 walks and only 10 strikeouts since June 1, and he's earning the occasional nod in the team's No. 3 spot. Pedroia will also surpass his career best in walks soon. For leagues with walks, note that he, Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist are the only middle infield eligibles among the top 30 in walks. It's a difference maker in those leagues.
• Hey, at least Adam Dunn isn't a total washout in walks-leagues; he's still top 20 in walks despite being benched occasionally. Dunn is fourth in P/PA. A year ago he was 19th, and before I wonder if he's being too patient, I see that he was also fourth in 2009. Look, Dunn's season is unexplainable. On the Fantasy Focus video show on Wednesday, I said I wouldn't be surprised if all of a sudden he started hitting for power, because the signs are there. He's taking walks. He's had decent at-bats. We grasp for hope at this point.
Eric Karabell looks at some notable hitters who could be due for bigger things thanks to the number of walks they draw.