If there was a "last guy on" to the ballot, for me, it was Abreu. I spent a lot of time looking at his numbers and trying to compare them to other RFs, OFs, and hitters who I have voted for. I wanted to be consistent, and if Abreu came up nearby Sheffield or ahead of Sheffield then was it consistent to vote for one and not the other?
You're right, Abreu does not sing out at first glance. He rarely got support for the MVP. Compared to his peers, he wasn't a regular in the All-Star Game. And there's this anecdotal sense that he was a power hitter or had good power numbers because he once dramatically won a Home Run Derby.
I went looking for how often Abreu was one of the best offensive players in baseball, and compared that to Sheffield.
In Sheffield's 16-year stretch as a force, he was top 25 in WAR four times. Abreu, by the same measure, was top 25 in WAR six times, and he was 26th time, and those all came in the first seven of the 13 years I considered the heart of his career as a regular. Defense helped, and defense curiously skewers Sheffield. Something seems off there, but that's another conversation.
Sheffield was a top 30 offensive player in 12 of those 16 years.
By the same measure, Abreu was top 30 six times in the selected 13.
Sheffield was a ferocious offensive player, and stands above Abreu. It was at that time that I felt, OK, I've got a good sense of the distinction between the two. So then I started looking around at Abreu's total career, and right before leaving him off the ballot, I considered two things:
-- His rare blend of doubles, homers, steals, and other offensive numbers that make him a rarity alongside other Hall of Famers like Biggio and Rickey Henderson, and, yes, Bonds. The same names kept coming up, and while Abreu was behind them -- far behind in several cases -- it was hard to ignore how far ahead Abreu was in this jumbalaya of offensive numbers than his peers.
-- And, lastly, I didn't want to see his name drop off the ballot. I checked the ballot tracker and it seemed like that's possible, and more and more as I walked around my neighborhood I didn't want his name to drop off, not this year. I wanted to buy more time for my own thinking, and could do that with a vote.
That was the thought process. Not the obvious candidate, but by peeling the onion and then recognizing the 5-percent threat, it seemed like a vote I could defend.