Should Yuli Gurriel and José Abreu Be Hall of Famers?

Recently, my colleague Kevin Goldstein shared his experience of scouting José Abreu back in 2013 as a member of Houston’s front office. Kevin suggested that if Abreu had been able to play his entire career in the majors, I would be writing pieces about the slugger’s chances of reaching even bigger milestones. And since I probably would be, why not actually do that?

Abreu’s not the first player whose success in a foreign league and long enough career in MLB have compelled us to ask what if? Ichiro Suzuki is another such player, and in 2016, I ran his NPB translations alongside his actual major league statistics. I’ve since added his final MLB numbers to this chart:

Ichiro Suzuki’s Career Numbers w/NPB Translations
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
1992 .228 .245 .272 92 3 21 4 0 0 4 2 12 3
1993 .177 .203 .258 62 3 11 2 0 1 3 2 8 0
1994 .355 .399 .483 358 67 127 22 6 4 31 23 38 18
1995 .313 .377 .441 479 87 150 17 7 10 63 41 53 43
1996 .327 .375 .428 523 92 171 18 7 7 70 36 60 32
1997 .315 .363 .432 518 83 163 23 7 8 76 39 38 36
1998 .328 .368 .443 488 70 160 28 5 6 59 28 37 10
1999 .315 .363 .451 397 68 125 21 3 9 57 28 48 11
2000 .354 .405 .449 381 64 135 17 2 5 61 34 41 19
2001 .350 .381 .457 692 127 242 34 8 8 69 30 53 56
2002 .321 .388 .425 647 111 208 27 8 8 51 68 62 31
2003 .312 .352 .436 679 111 212 29 8 13 62 36 69 34
2004 .372 .414 .455 704 101 262 24 5 8 60 49 63 36
2005 .303 .350 .436 679 111 206 21 12 15 68 48 66 33
2006 .322 .370 .416 695 110 224 20 9 9 49 49 71 45
2007 .351 .396 .431 678 111 238 22 7 6 68 49 77 37
2008 .310 .361 .386 686 103 213 20 7 6 42 51 65 43
2009 .352 .386 .465 639 88 225 31 4 11 46 32 71 26
2010 .315 .359 .394 680 74 214 30 3 6 43 45 86 42
2011 .272 .310 .335 677 80 184 22 3 5 47 39 69 40
2012 .283 .307 .390 629 77 178 28 6 9 55 22 61 29
2013 .262 .297 .342 520 57 136 15 3 7 35 26 63 20
2014 .284 .324 .340 359 45 102 13 2 1 22 21 68 15
2015 .229 .282 .279 398 45 91 5 6 1 21 31 51 11
2016 .291 .354 .376 327 48 95 15 5 1 22 30 42 10
2017 .255 .318 .332 196 19 50 6 0 3 20 17 35 1
2018 .205 .255 .205 144 5 9 0 0 0 0 3 7 0
2019 .000 .167 .000 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Totals .311 .356 .408 13332 1960 4152 514 133 167 1204 880 1415 681

The translations bring him tantalizingly close to Ty Cobb and Pete Rose, giving us an even better understanding of his abilities over his full career. Joining the 4,000-hit club is cool and all, but Ichiro aged so well and continued to play for so long that you don’t really need his NPB career to give him a Cooperstown case. Abreu’s a different story. Unless he proves to be as amazingly durable as Ichiro did and cranks out another six or seven years of 30-plus homers, he’s not going to hit the important thresholds for home run hitters when it comes to Hall voting. ZiPS projects a fairly normal decline path for a mid-30s slugger:

ZiPS Projection – José Abreu
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
2022 .264 .327 .475 549 76 145 30 1 28 116 42 1 116 -2 1.7
2023 .257 .318 .454 498 65 128 27 1 23 98 36 1 108 -3 0.9
2024 .250 .308 .417 448 54 112 22 1 17 79 29 1 96 -4 0.0
2025 .243 .296 .388 345 39 84 15 1 11 55 20 1 85 -4 -0.6
2026 .237 .286 .362 232 24 55 9 1 6 34 12 1 76 -4 -0.8

Eighty-nine additional homers (85 in those projections and four more in 2021) get Abreu to 316 MLB home runs, and I don’t think that quite does it, leaving him in the mythical Hall of Very Good along with sluggers like Joe Adcock and Torii Hunter. But what if? We have Abreu’s stats from his time in Cuba and a history of players who have gone from Cuba to other professional leagues, so we can at least estimate what his performance would have looked like in the majors:

ZiPS Translations – José Abreu
Year AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
2003-2004 262 22 57 5 0 3 21 7 77 1 .218 .247 .271
2004-2005 173 16 30 5 1 3 12 12 67 0 .173 .243 .266
2005-2006 324 43 90 15 3 8 39 22 83 1 .278 .349 .417
2006-2007 293 33 65 8 2 6 26 16 64 0 .222 .295 .324
2007-2008 249 35 61 17 0 9 31 19 58 1 .245 .330 .422
2008-2009 302 44 75 17 1 13 42 15 94 0 .248 .327 .440
2009-2010 307 61 89 20 2 19 54 42 67 1 .290 .409 .554
2010-2011 229 54 70 11 0 21 51 37 44 1 .306 .433 .629
2011-2012 301 58 88 14 1 22 58 42 55 1 .292 .402 .565
2012-2013 280 46 74 11 0 13 38 34 54 1 .264 .367 .443
Totals 2720 412 699 123 10 117 372 246 663 7 .257 .362 .439

Even with the Serie Nacional de Béisbol playing just over half the games per season as MLB when Abreu was playing there and some pretty steep adjustment factors, the translations still add another 117 homers to the tally. While this is speculative, it feels right for Abreu, given that he basically played at the level of his final Cuban two-year average in the US. His projections at that point look like a typical Abreu season:

ZiPS Projection – José Abreu (Pre-2014)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2014 .272 .376 .473 486 82 132 21 1 25 74 57 105 2 140 -1 4.2
2015 .272 .377 .484 467 79 127 22 1 25 72 56 104 2 143 -1 4.1
2016 .271 .378 .481 457 77 124 22 1 24 70 56 99 2 143 -2 3.9
2017 .270 .375 .477 444 74 120 21 1 23 67 53 93 2 141 -2 3.6
2018 .264 .369 .460 428 69 113 19 1 21 62 50 88 2 135 -2 3.1
2019 .259 .365 .440 409 63 106 18 1 18 56 47 82 2 128 -3 2.5
2020 .254 .355 .415 390 57 99 16 1 15 50 42 73 1 118 -3 1.8
2021 .248 .346 .398 367 51 91 14 1 13 44 37 65 1 111 -3 1.1
2022 .241 .334 .372 344 44 83 12 0 11 38 31 56 1 101 -4 0.4
2023 .234 .321 .339 274 33 64 8 0 7 28 22 40 1 88 -4 -0.4

Abreu has actually been a little better than ZiPS expected, so it’s hard to say the translations overrate him. ZiPS had him at 24.3 WAR through 2021, which is pretty darned close to the 23.1 he is at now (and ZiPS didn’t know about COVID in 2014!):

José Abreu Career Numbers + Translations and Projections
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
2003-2004 71 262 22 57 5 0 3 21 7 77 1 .218 .247 .271
2004-2005 37 173 16 30 5 1 3 12 12 67 0 .173 .243 .266
2005-2006 84 324 43 90 15 3 8 39 22 83 1 .278 .349 .417
2006-2007 85 293 33 65 8 2 6 26 16 64 0 .222 .295 .324
2007-2008 71 249 35 61 17 0 9 31 19 58 1 .245 .330 .422
2008-2009 81 302 44 75 17 1 13 42 15 94 0 .248 .327 .440
2009-2010 89 307 61 89 20 2 19 54 42 67 1 .290 .409 .554
2010-2011 66 229 54 70 11 0 21 51 37 44 1 .306 .433 .629
2011-2012 87 301 58 88 14 1 22 58 42 55 1 .292 .402 .565
2012-2013 77 280 46 74 11 0 13 38 34 54 1 .264 .367 .443
2014 145 556 80 176 35 2 36 107 51 131 3 .317 .383 .581
2015 154 613 88 178 34 3 30 101 39 140 0 .290 .347 .502
2016 159 624 67 183 32 1 25 100 47 125 0 .293 .353 .468
2017 156 621 95 189 43 6 33 102 35 119 3 .304 .354 .552
2018 128 499 68 132 36 1 22 78 37 109 2 .265 .325 .473
2019 159 634 85 180 38 1 33 123 36 152 2 .284 .330 .503
2020 60 240 43 76 15 0 19 60 18 59 0 .317 .370 .617
2021 153 574 89 150 30 2 33 121 56 148 1 .261 .345 .491
2022 141 549 76 145 30 1 28 116 42 138 1 .264 .327 .475
2023 127 498 65 128 27 1 23 98 36 119 1 .257 .318 .454
2024 114 448 54 112 22 1 17 79 29 99 1 .250 .308 .417
2025 87 345 39 84 15 1 11 55 20 70 1 .243 .296 .388
2026 58 232 24 55 9 1 6 34 12 43 1 .237 .286 .362
Totals 2390 9153 1285 2487 489 31 433 1546 704 2115 23 .272 .340 .474

Combined, while I’m still not sure I’d vote for José Abreu for the Hall — his is a career that looks like Jim Rice’s, who also a very borderline candidate for me — it’s a case I’d have to seriously consider before not ticking the box next his name. With an excellent reputation both generally and for mentoring other Cuban players specifically, and with no suspensions for PEDs hanging over his head, I think this version of Abreu gets into the Hall of Fame.

Along those same lines, we talked a bit about Yuli Gurriel on our Twitch watch-along of last week’s Mariners-Astros game. Gurriel didn’t even get the advantage of playing his late 20s in the majors; Abreu was in his sixth season of MLB play at the same age Yuli debuted with the Astros. He’s proven to be amazingly resilient to the vagaries of aging, showing little indication of decline, and at 37, Gurriel is arguably having his best season in the majors, hitting .315/.385/.467 in 125 games for 3.3 WAR. ZiPS has regularly been low on his projection for the simple reason that the computer doesn’t understand why the fourth dimension doesn’t apply to him!

Given that we know he could play in MLB, and that he was already a legend in Cuba by the time he came to the US, it makes sense to give his Cuban numbers the same treatment. With his translations, ZiPS projects another 317 hits from Gurriel, putting him at 1,028 hits starting at age 32:

Yuli Gurriel Career Numbers + Translations and Projections
Year G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB BA OBP SLG
2001-2002 89 357 39 92 19 3 5 35 6 45 5 .258 .275 .370
2002-2003 87 346 45 85 15 2 11 41 33 55 8 .246 .315 .396
2003-2004 56 222 32 67 11 4 6 29 14 34 5 .302 .353 .468
2004-2005 95 380 55 108 12 4 16 53 21 63 8 .284 .328 .463
2005-2006 89 334 36 84 10 3 6 34 17 32 1 .251 .294 .353
2006-2007 88 363 52 109 21 0 9 39 33 31 9 .300 .370 .433
2007-2008 79 309 48 79 11 1 15 44 31 27 2 .256 .330 .443
2008-2009 84 340 58 117 17 4 15 56 31 31 8 .344 .397 .550
2009-2010 89 359 63 110 13 1 20 60 36 39 4 .306 .374 .515
2010-2011 87 342 54 100 16 1 14 49 31 23 2 .292 .362 .468
2011-2012 89 338 50 92 14 0 15 49 40 46 10 .272 .353 .447
2012-2013 79 292 39 82 14 2 5 32 28 27 6 .281 .350 .394
2013-2014 89 327 47 86 19 2 11 44 36 43 8 .263 .341 .434
2014 121 469 75 147 41 2 19 70 26 68 14 .313 .351 .531
2015-2016 54 206 40 70 17 0 10 35 26 5 3 .340 .419 .568
2016 36 130 13 34 7 0 3 15 5 12 1 .262 .292 .385
2017 139 529 69 158 43 1 18 75 22 62 3 .299 .332 .486
2018 139 537 70 156 33 1 13 85 23 63 5 .291 .323 .428
2019 144 564 85 168 40 2 31 104 37 65 5 .298 .343 .541
2020 157 211 27 49 12 1 6 22 12 27 0 .232 .274 .384
2021 141 525 81 164 32 0 16 83 60 68 1 .312 .380 .465
2022 129 480 62 129 26 1 14 69 40 56 1 .269 .327 .415
2023 100 377 45 98 19 1 10 50 28 41 1 .260 .314 .395
2024 76 287 32 72 12 1 6 35 19 29 1 .251 .300 .362
Totals 2336 8624 1217 2456 474 37 294 1208 655 992 111 .285 .339 .451

Even with the huge hit in the numbers from a translation, Gurriel still ends up with just under 2,500 hits despite never getting to a play in a 100-game season until he was in his 30s.

This kind of exercise brings up some philosophical issues with our conception of the Hall of Fame. We wouldn’t put Mark Prior in Cooperstown for projections, but projections and translations aren’t really the same thing. Translations just try to adjust for context, no different than park-adjusting or league-adjusting stats, even though the calculations are trickier. A career projection for Prior involves giving him credit for seasons he never played, but Abreu and Gurriel actually played those years of baseball; through little fault of their own, that play just happened to be in leagues that MLB does not consider to be major leagues.

But when you examine MLB’s history, what constitutes a major league is quite gray, especially in the early years. While we can say that today’s Triple-A leagues are not the majors, I’d argue that from a competitive standpoint, 19th-century baseball didn’t consist of major leagues either, a state of affairs even perhaps stretching into the 1910s and ’20s. The standard deviations of numbers for starters around the league didn’t start to resemble those of modern baseball until the mid-1920s (you expect more competitive leagues to have tighter spreads of ability than less competitive leagues do). And even if we say “No, the American League from 1901 and the National League before that are still major leagues,” MLB gives credit for stats from the Players League, the Union League, and the Federal League, all extremely uneven leagues, with the first two also being very unstable (as was the early American League).

If we have a good faith basis to believe that Yuli Gurriel and José Abreu didn’t suddenly become awesome baseball players the minute they were able to play in the US, why should the performances that pre-date their debuts here be summarily ignored when bestowing baseball’s highest honor? I’m not sure either Gurriel or Abreu have the career numbers to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but let’s make sure we’re considering all the times they played this grand game. It’s messy to estimate what could have been, but just because answering a question is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

125
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
newest oldest most voted
jamesdakrn
Member
Member
jamesdakrn

As an Asian American, hell no on Yuli

Chris
Member
Member
Chris

Agreed. Also, note that the racist gesture he made to Yu Darvish was only the second most offensive thing he did that World Series!

viceroy
Member
Member
viceroy

what was the first?

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

He went 6/29 with a .241 obp in 7 games that series.

Chris
Member
Member
Chris

Look, if you guys want to support a grown man who makes grade-school racist gestures at people and at a minimum sits by and does nothing while teammates engage in an historically egregious cheating scheme, that’s fine. I choose not to. Everyone’s entitled to have their own opinion of baseball players.

mbs2001
Member
mbs2001

The baseball hall of fame is not exactly made up of model citizens. People are dumb, say stupid things, and make mistakes every day but unfortunatly for all of us forgiveness is no longer considered a virtue. Teaching moments are not as fun as dunking on someone via social media and who doesn’t want to attend the ensuing party of righteousness?

jamesdakrn
Member
Member
jamesdakrn

Forgiveness requires that the offending party

1. is punished

2. truly has asked for forgiveness and wants redemption

He hasn’t really had either. A statement isn’t enough, nor is a BS 5 game suspension from MLB

I’m not calling for his head on a rhetorical pike. But that incident by a 33 year old man who should know better is a black stain in my book that should bar him from the Hall

airforce21one
Member
airforce21one

Since when does forgiveness require punishment?

sogoodlooking
Member
sogoodlooking

@jamesdakrn As someone who figured it out sooner than I did said, “You don’t forgive them for their sake, you forgive them for your sake.”

chisoxmatt
Member
Member
chisoxmatt

I agree and truly believe the entire Cleveland organization should apologize for feeding into marxist political correctness.

Spahn_and_Sain
Member
Spahn_and_Sain

Wait, the Dolan family turned over the team assets and control to a collective ownership by the entire organization, distributing the surplus income equally to all the workers??
I’m surprised I haven’t read more about that in the news!
I bet that gets awkward at the next Owners Meeting.

Scott Moorhouse
Member
Member
Scott Moorhouse

“marxist political correctness”
Did you type this with a straight face? I know I couldn’t. Can you now explain what it means?

chisoxmatt
Member
Member
chisoxmatt

You know what it means. The changing of the teams name. Indians was an honorable team name, always has been and always will be.

Jason B
Member
Member
Jason B

So changing a team name to be a little less offensive is somehow Marxist? Can you tease out the (very large) leaps to get from point A to point B?

stan
Member
Member
stan

I agree with all the rest of the complaints against your ignorance, but I think its important that you understand that Marxism is closer to the opposite of political correctness than it is aligned with it. A Marxist state allows less free thought and dissention and would likely have clamped down on people protesting the “Indians” nickname.

mbeckett073
Member
mbeckett073

You have no idea what “forgiveness” actually means and zero power to define it. All you’re doing is getting mad online 4 years later about a Cuban immigrant who didn’t understand that a culturally acceptable gesture in his come country wasn’t PC anymore in America. Would love to see you try to mansplain that to Yuli or any other Hispanic person.

Smiling Politely
Member
Member
Smiling Politely

That’s fine, but Dan specifically wrote “an excellent reputation both generally and for mentoring other Cuban players specifically” would get him over the Jim Rice line, so the OP comment seems both relevant and justified

Left of Centerfield
Member
Left of Centerfield

Except that comment was about Abreu not Yuli so I’m not sure what the relevance is to this discussion.

Smiling Politely
Member
Member
Smiling Politely

uf, my bad on that

iamoninternet
Member
Member
iamoninternet

Just curious if you ever read this take on Yuli’s gesture by Dylan Hernandez https://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-dodgers-hernandez-20171027-story.html

Chad Moriyama
Member
Member

Yeah, I did, and it’s a terrible take that is regrettably cited to make excuses for something that was blatantly racist and shitty.

tomerafan
Member
tomerafan

So you want to disregard someone’s entire life’s work for one incident of several seconds long that may have been awful but appears to have been a one-off regrettable thing rather than an indication of someone’s character? Man, I hope you don’t live in a glass house.

OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

I’m a big no on Yuli, because I think only MLB stats should count for the MLB Hall of Fame, but do keep trying to construct that world where no one who has ever said or done anything upsetting is allowed to have good things happen to them in public ever again, I’m sure it’ll go swell.

CampingJosh
Member
Member
CampingJosh

It’s not the MLB Hall of Fame. It’s the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

SenorGato
Member
SenorGato

Oops

OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

Don’t really care – the Hall of Fame is there to celebrate the greatest players who played the game. I don’t know how you can make assumptions about what players would’ve done if they had played here, or make an apples to apples comparison to players who played against demonstrably lesser competition.

I get that Gurriel is probably inner circle in Cuban baseball history, and celebrate that somewhere in the Hall if you wish, in fact it would tell aa more complete story about the game, but to say he should be inducted sounds a bit like everyone-should-get-prizes-ism. The standards are and should remain high.

Spahn_and_Sain
Member
Spahn_and_Sain

” the Hall of Fame is there to celebrate the greatest players who played the game..
I get that Gurriel is probably inner circle in Cuban baseball history, and celebrate that somewhere in the Hall if you wish, in fact it would tell aa more complete story about the game.”
-OK

“but to say he should be inducted sounds a bit like everyone-should-get-prizes-ism. The standards are and should remain high”
-This seems like a complete contradiction of what you just wrote unless “greatest players who played the game” actually means “greatest playing to take place on American (or Canadian) soil”

Scott Moorhouse
Member
Member
Scott Moorhouse

“I don’t know how you can make assumptions about what players would’ve done if they had played here, or make an apples to apples comparison to players who played against demonstrably lesser competition.”

Should we kick out all the Negro League players in the Hall?

stan
Member
Member
stan

Should we induct Cubans, Koreans and Japanese who never played in the United States at all? You have a point about Negro League players since their stats and accomplishments aren’t exactly on the same playing field either. However, there are some special circumstances going on there too…..

mbeckett073
Member
mbeckett073

There are abusers, drunks, and former KKK guys in the hall, but yeah let’s draw the line at a guy who didn’t understand the cultural context of a gesture he made because he’s a Cuban immigrant who had been in the U.S. for just exactly a year, that makes a lot of sense.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer

As another Asian-American, I’m willing to forgive him for being a nincompoop.

Not sure he’s a HoF’er, but I like the discussion.

Jason B
Member
Member
Jason B

Agree on all counts, Dan. Those numbers (even with the Cuban-league contributions added) fall far short of a 1B HOF in my eyes.