Jose Abreu: Now a Complete Hitter

You might not have heard, but Jose Abreu is a pretty good hitter.

Who am I kidding, you’ve heard about that by now. You also probably heard he just wrapped up a 21-game hitting streak. That’s the second-longest streak in the majors this season. You might have heard it was the second time this year he’s had a hitting streak of at least 18 games. He’s a rookie. Rookies don’t really do that. Then you might have heard that those two hitting streaks were separated by just one game. That means you probably heard, or at this point just deduced yourself, that Jose Abreu recorded a hit in 39 of 40 consecutive games. During that second hitting streak, you might have heard he had a stretch of 10 consecutive plate appearances in which a pitcher failed to get him out. These are all really good things to say about a hitter.

Prior to Abreu reaching base in 39 of 40 games, he had reached base in 7 of his last 10. Prior to that, he was on the disabled list with a foot injury. That stint on the DL serves as a pretty convenient place to split Abreu’s season into two halves. What you see looks like two different hitters:

First version 189 .269 .312 .595 .335 5.3% 26.5% 15 143
Second version 235 .346 .404 .654 .308 8.5% 19.1% 16 185

That first version of Jose Abreu made sense. That’s pretty close to what most people thought Abreu would be in his rookie season after defecting from Cuba. He was hitting .269 with a low OBP and a ton of power. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick talked to a bunch of scouts about Abreu before the season and came up with this:

“One talent evaluator said Abreu could step into a big league lineup tomorrow and hit .260 with 25 home runs,” Crasnick said. “That’s not far from what Cespedes is doing in Oakland this season. Another expressed concern that Abreu looks ‘confused’ against breaking balls and thought he could benefit from a little seasoning in the upper minors. Once Abreu gets the hang of major league pitching, the consensus is that he has the strength to hit 30 homers by accident.”

So, .260’s with a ton of power. Abreu broke into the majors and started doing what he was expected to do right off the bat. Seems about right.

Now he’s Miguel Cabrera.

But how? How did this happen? Rookies – guys that have never before seen major league-caliber pitching – are supposed to go through pretty lengthy adjustment periods. Those adjustment periods are not supposed to last just 44 games. Jose Abreu’s did.

Looking at the numbers of those two different versions of Jose Abreu and several things immediately jump out to me. Plate discipline is kind of like the foundation for a hitter’s profile, so let’s start there.

In that Crasnick quote, he mentions that scouts expressed concern that Abreu might look lost against breaking balls. This was a concern echoed in other publications. When he was striking out in over a quarter of his plate appearances, Abreu swung and missed 26% of the time and hit .179 against breaking and offspeed pitches. This new version of Abreu has cut that whiff rate to just 19% and raised the average to .278. That’s a good way to turn your strikeout and walk rates from negatives to positives. (And it’s still all good).

Besides discipline and the ability to make contact with breaking pitches, the other big red flag raised by scouts prior to Abreu’s arrival focused on the subject of his bat speed. Going back to that Crasnick piece:

“Multiple scouts used the term ‘slider-speed bat’ in reference to Abreu,” Crasnick said. “Translation: He might be challenged against pitchers who can crowd him with fastballs on the inner half of the plate.”

The first version of Abreu hit .275 against fastballs on the inner-third of the strike zone, with a matching .275 ISO. This new version of Abreu is hitting inside fastballs at a .447 clip with a .342 ISO.

Abreu’s average since coming off the disabled list is nearly 100 points higher than it was before he got hurt. One explanation for that could be simple, random BABIP fluctuation. It happens all the time. Another is that he’s just crushing the baseball. Here’s Abreu’s monthly line drive rates since the start of the year, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 2.42.34 AM

All trending upward. Good sign. Here are plots of his spray charts, thanks to BaseballSavant, before and after his trip to the disabled list:


Line drive rate is bound to a bit of random fluctuation as well, but there appear to be changes in Abreu’s approach that bode well for this second version of himself being at least somewhat sustainable. We know the power is there. That’s a given. But now he’s chasing fewer offspeed pitches, striking out less and keeping himself in counts. That makes pitchers have to throw more fastballs. When those fastballs come inside – where Abreu’s weakness was supposed to be – he’s turning on them and smoking them for line drives. You can see the gradual shift of his balls in play going more towards left field. Notably, a lot more doubles to left and left-center. That all jibes with Abreu turning on more inside heaters and punishing them.

There’s also that big cluster of singles that’s popped up in shallow right field. I have no evidence to prove causation, but we know Abreu is making contact on more breaking balls and we know pitchers like to throw breaking balls low and away, especially to Abreu. Seems like that cluster of singles that wasn’t there before could be a result of his successful adjustments against breaking pitches.

Concerns over Jose Abreu’s plate discipline are gone. Concerns over his bat speed are gone. Concerns over him being able to hit a major league breaking ball are gone. Jose Abreu came into the big leagues touted as a high-power, low-OBP type hitter and that’s exactly what he was for the first two months of his career. Then he went on the disabled list and seemingly fixed every flaw in his game way faster than a rookie should be able to, and turned himself into one of the game’s most complete all-around hitters in the blink of an eye. His batting average and isolated slugging percentage are each over .300. Nobody has done that since Jose Bautista in 2011. His OPS+ is currently 171 and he’s projected to finish the year at 165. Here’s a complete list of players from the last 100 years who posted an OPS+ of 165 or higher in their rookie season:

Lower that bar to 160 and here’s what you get:

Sure, Jose Abreu at age 27 isn’t necessarily your typical rookie, but he’s had just as much time to adjust to major league pitching as the rest of those guys. And he’s putting together one of the greatest offensive rookie performances in MLB history.

With all his other concerns already put to rest, the only concern at this point is whether or not Jose Abreu is going to win the Triple Crown. Abreu currently leads the American League in both homers (31) and RBI (86) and is 11th in batting average at .307. He trails Jose Altuve by 32 points in the lattermost category, so it’s probably unlikely that he’ll earn a batting title to complete the Triple Crown. But then again, Abreu has been hitting .350 for nearly two months now and anyone who says they have any idea what Jose Abreu is going to do next is lying.

The big question left is, if Jose Abreu does somehow win the Triple Crown this year – does he win the MVP on the basement-dwelling White Sox, too?

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August used to cover the Indians for MLB and, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at

69 Responses to “Jose Abreu: Now a Complete Hitter”

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  1. fred says:

    No chance he wins the triple crown.

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    • Mike says:

      “But then again, Abreu has been hitting .350 for nearly two months now and anyone who says they have any idea what Jose Abreu is going to do next is lying.”


      +61 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Anthony Dedousis says:

    If anything, I underrated Jose Abreu when I wrote about him a few months ago for Batting Leadoff.

    Also, fantastic Notorious B.I.G. reference.

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  3. Yinka Double Dare says:

    If he somehow managed to win the triple crown the White Sox won’t be in the basement (they’re actually not in last now either). Not his fault that the 2014 White Sox Bullpen is brought to you by Royal Dutch Shell, Citgo and BP.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Anon says:

    Pujols rookie year is a good comparison as well, but it just missed your cutoff (159 wRC+, 157 OPS+).

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    • BRH says:

      There’s a lot of baseball left to play. Abreu is having a ridiculous hot streak, and so it is very tempting to conclude that he’s figured it all out. However, a slump could be just around the corner. One should be cautious to rely too heavily on peaks (or valleys) in support of a statement like, “Now he’s Miguel Cabrera” (use of hyperbole is acknowledged).

      By way of example, take Justin Upton’s 2011 “breakout” season. On May 29, Upton’s line was .242/.326/.455 – not bad, but nothing to dream on. And I recall vividly how restless the natives were about Upton, spouting the common complaint that he was never going to be the star the D-Backs had hoped for. Two games later, Upton’s line jumped to .266/.343/.502. This was the start of a hot streak where Upton played like he had no peers. By the end of June his line was .304/.385/.518.

      Then he went cold. By July 18, Upton’s line dropped to .281/.362/.485. But this two-week slump was followed by another hot streak, only even better than before: By August 18, his line had improved to .306/.379/.564. He was a front-runner for the NL MVP award.

      But then the grind of the long season caught up with Upton, and he finished the season with a line of .289/.369/.529. Very impressive numbers, but definitely not Miguel Cabrera, who hit .344/.448/.586 the same year.

      I concede that Upton and Abreu are completely different ball players, but Upton’s career has been filled with month-long hot streaks followed by equally long or sometimes longer cold streaks. And so on May 29, 2011, a person could have written an article about why Justin Upton is failing to meet great expectations, and used spray charts and similar data to back it up. By June 30 the same year, a writer could have written an article about how Upton has finally figured it all out by making adjustments, and again cited to data as support. And so on, and so on, to this day.

      I love Abreu’s power (who wouldn’t?), especially his ability to hit with power to center and right-center. But 12 of his 30 walks have been intentional, and the paucity of walks when compared to his strikeout rate belies the idea that he is a patient hitter. Let’s wait for a full season before arguing that he’s solved Major League pitching.

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      • JLRC says:

        Also, it’s August and Abreu has been en fuego since late May. While the point is well taken, we’re talking about larger samples than the ups and downs of that JUpton season.

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  5. joshua says:

    One of the most enjoyable articles I have ever read on fangraphs. I LOVE TO TALK, READ, ABOUT HITTING! Thought it was so funny this statement:Here’s a complete list of players from the last 100 years who posted an OPS+ of 165 or higher in their rookie season:Mike Trout, 2012, 168.

    Another thing, shows you what scouts know. Very very very disrespectful when people say abreu has ‘slider-bat speed’. All they do is just sit down and just watch the game. Have some of those experts even played baseball at the level of abreu?

    Was watching a white sox game and hawk said he will be awesome just awesome when he figures it out. He struck out 3 times at offspeed stuff in the dirt. This was before the dl stint. How right hawk was. How right you are august! Keep on making articles about hitting. I love it!

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    • rustydude says:

      A kind word about Hawk. Whaddayouknow! FYI, if you read FG’s you’re supposed to hate Hawk. And if you really want to earn brownie points you slip in a reference to Vin Scully.

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      • Joe says:

        If you enjoy watching baseball on tv, you’re supposed to hate Hawk.

        +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Joel says:

          If you enjoy doing anything outside of placing a revolver in your mouth you are supposed to hate Hawk.

          “A little duck snort”……BANG!

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      • The Party Bird says:

        You have included Vin Scully’s name in a sentence adjacent to one containing the White Sox lead broadcaster’s name and I am now offended.

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    • Bryz says:

      Ah, the classic “Have you ever played the game?” or “You can’t talk about X because you never did Y” argument. The vast majority of scouts played baseball up to a pretty high level themselves (typically college or minor leagues), just because they weren’t star players in the majors doesn’t mean their ability to judge talent is inferior. I mean, that’s why Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera are all scouts now, right? Oh wait…

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    • TS Flynn says:

      Scouts evaluated what they saw from Abreu before he ever faced MLB pitching. Their job is to evaluate tools with a cold eye, not predict the future with precision. Their reports on Abreu weren’t “very very very disrespectful,” they were accurate at that time. Projecting how quickly a rookie adjusts to MLB isn’t easy to do–that’s why there’s no such thing as a can’t-miss prospect. Abreu’s adjustment to MLB has been exceptional, if not unprecedented. That’s a reason to celebrate Abreu, not chastise scouts.

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      • JLRC says:

        Several pieces have come out since he signed with the Sox where scouts were saying that while it’s true he has a slow bat, many batters do – like Pujols. They basically said that front offices were leaking that to the media, hoping that either his price would go down or their fans would get behind their team missing out on him.

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    • teufelshuffle says:

      Scouts are the ones that sit down and watch the game. You were looking for “Statfrauds with their heads buried in a spreadsheet should sit down and watch the game.”

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      • Jason B says:

        Yep, no one who enjoys stats ever watches baseball! Well said. *rolls eyes*

        (although you forgot to comment about them living in their mom’s basement! That’s comedy GOLD! *giggle snort*)

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  6. Andy says:

    “Then he went on the disabled list and seemingly fixed every flaw in his game way faster than a rookie should be able to, and turned himself into one of the game’s most complete all-around hitters in the blink of an eye.”

    You don’t have to be especially cynical to guess what that suggests he was doing during his down-time. But I know, no way to prove it.

    If Miggy were putting up these numbers (actually he is, wrt BA and RBI, but not the HR), does anyone doubt he would be favored over Trout again? Even though Trout had more offensive runs than Miggy in both the past two years, and has a substantial lead over Abreu this year.

    -38 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • steex says:

      “You don’t have to be especially cynical to guess what that suggests he was doing during his down-time. But I know, no way to prove it.”

      Watching a lot of video to see how pitchers were approaching him and how he could adjust? It’s true, there would be no way to prove it – I mean, even if he were subject to testing (for video watching), I’d still be perfectly justified in raising suspicion since I wasn’t with him 24-7 to see if he did it or not.

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      • rustydude says:

        I heard he was watching a lot of video, but mostly of old 50’s era television like I Love Lucy and the Three Stooges.

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        • Brad Ausmus says:

          No, we were just watching The Honeymooners. I didn’t think it would make him better at hitting baseballs.

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        • That Guy says:

          I would be shocked to hear that Abreu wasn’t bathing himself in I Love Lucy re-runs.

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    • Mike says:

      Watching film and making adjustments in the batting cage?

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    • novaether says:

      “You don’t have to be especially cynical…”

      Yes you do. He didn’t transform from a skinny kid into a home run monster. He transformed from a home run monster to a home run monster with possibly better contact skills.

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      • onedude says:

        The article doesn’t mention that Jose has last around 15 to 20 lbs since the start of the season either.

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    • sam says:

      Did you read the article? He’s become a more patient hitter, made adjustments to breaking balls, is walking more, and striking out less. Find me a PED that can do that. Also his ISO is actually down since coming back. His improvement is much more than a power surge.

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      • PEDs aren't just steroids says:

        Adderall could certainly help with those things.

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      • Jorge Fabregas says:

        I don’t think his walk rate has changed much, if you look at non-intentional walks. His reputation and amazing results are starting to net him some of the ol’ non-intentional intentional walks, though to his credit he has accepted those.

        A lot of the dramatic swing is BABIP (mentioned in the article) and I think he went from a bit of bad BABIP luck to good luck in addition to the increased LD%, etc.

        He does look a little bit slimmer to me than he was in spring training. That’s true for a lot of players, I imagine, but the White Sox did mention that his nutrition had been lacking before he went on a plan.

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        • LHPSU says:

          Just on the final point about nutrition, just shows how shocking it is that teams don’t put a better nutrition program through their minor leagues so that their prospects aren’t living on a diet of P&J sandwiches.

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    • Sandy says:

      explain how, exactly, PEDs affect plate discipline?

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      Yeah, those crazy plate discipline-improving steroids turned him into a monster.

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    • Mark Geoffriau says:

      Ugh. I hate when I have to disagree with both sides of a debate. So messy.

      1. Andy — That’s rather silly. Even if not for all the other mitigating factors (young player, small sample size, first ML exposure, DL trip allowing for video/stat self-analysis, etc.), I would still wonder what kind of PED would make such a dramatic change over the course of a few weeks.

      2. Everyone else — Are you really going to argue that PED use could not affect a player’s contact ability or plate discipline? Even if we assume that the ONLY physical improvement PED’s can offer is increased bat speed, isn’t is possible, and even likely, that this bat speed improvement wouldn’t just mean more and longer home runs (which, by the way, would also increase batting average), but harder hit balls in general? And better bat speed would mean the hitter could reach and make contact on pitches he previously could not? Better bat speed could also allow the hitter to wait longer on pitches, to better gauge balls and strikes. And, as his hitting prowess increases, wouldn’t pitchers tend to pitch more carefully to him, avoiding the heart of the plate and leading to more hitter’s counts and walks?

      Don’t we already have a n=1 case study on this? Barry Bonds didn’t just turn into a HR monster. He also turned into a .350+ hitter with arguably the best plate discipline ever seen.

      Don’t let your eagerness to shout down Andy lead you to make silly arguments.

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      • AK7007 says:

        Can you provide the plate discipline numbers for pre-2002 bonds for us? Since pitch f/x only started providing us data after “Steroid Barry,” there’s no way to substantiate your claim. Yeah, harder contact could lead to changed approaches for hitter and pitcher, but I’m not sure that it’s really the PEDs that do it, but instead a changed pitcher approach that does it.

        Also, the thought process that leads a person to jump “he’s better, therefore he’s on some sort of PED” is the same one that makes a person hate baseball. Don’t hate baseball.

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        • mgeoffriau says:

          “Yeah, harder contact could lead to changed approaches for hitter and pitcher, but I’m not sure that it’s really the PEDs that do it, but instead a changed pitcher approach that does it.”

          Well sure. That’s how baseball works.

          What if we found out that Abreu had adjusted his swing mechanics, and as a result felt more comfortable getting to pitches he couldn’t before the adjustment? Same thing — the better, stronger contact he makes, the more likely pitchers will pitch more carefully to him, resulting in more walks. Plate discipline isn’t an isolated, individual choice by the batter — it involves how pitchers pitch to him based on the rest of his hitting skills.

          So if PED’s made Bonds a more dangerous HR hitter, and therefore pitchers pitched him more carefully (including a boatload of intentional walks), then we can argue that PED’s improved his plate discipline. The pitchers didn’t just decide to start walking him more — they did it because (right or wrong), it seemed better than going after Bonds.

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        • AK7007 says:

          I guess I need to be more specific. I would not define plate discipline as walks alone. They aren’t really even that great a proxy for plate discipline. Players like Marco Scutaro and Luis Castillo had excellent plate discipline (they never swung at pitches outside the zone), while also never walking because pitchers challenged them. So saying that Bonds’ plate discipline improved after the power spike isn’t really true. His walk rate improved, but that wasn’t a discipline thing. He was likely still swinging at as few balls as before, just that he saw more of them. It’s a vocabulary issue.

          In this case, the writer does not specifically cite Abreu’s plate discipline numbers, but does address contact rate – which could be influenced by increased bat speed and support idle PED claims. However, the Fangraphs splits tool doesn’t include O-swing and Z-swing numbers, so it’s hard to say if he has also improved his plate discipline, or just his contact rates.

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        • AK7007 – little known fact! You actually -can- split plate discipline numbers! You have to go into the player’s game log tab, choose the selected dates you want and then just click the PITCHf/x tab and go to plate discipline.

          I didn’t mention Abreu’s in the article because they didn’t change much.

          Both version have dentical overall swing rates, but O-Swing down from 41.9% to 40.9%. Contact rate was the big boost, going from 71.6% to 75.1%. Mostly from a spike in O-Contact, which is probably reflective of his newfound success against breaking and offspeed pitches.

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        • grandbranyan says:

          Bonds BB% 1986-2000: 16.9%
          Bonds BB% 2001-2007: 29.2%

          The steroids may not have improved his already excellent plate discipline but it did have a noticeable affect on his BB%.

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      • Andy says:

        To your second point, I’ll add that we have documented stories from players who admitted to using PEDs that it helped them hit pitches they couldn’t hit before. Of course, stronger muscles means greater bat speed, which not only means hitting balls harder, and hitting harder to reach balls more often, but also helps discipline when one has greater confidence that one can hit anything in the zone.

        To your first point, it was the author who drew the line in the sand, before and after DL. In fact, he has shown steady improvement since the DL:

        June: .313/.355/.677 .434 wOB, 177 wRC+
        July: .374/.432/.677, .461 wOBA, 196 wRC+

        I’ll just add that I stopped well short of saying I was certain that PEDs were involved, but for many head-in-the-sand types, I know this isn’t enough.

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        • a eskpert says:

          The degree to which strength can affect contact skills would seem to be small. Contact skills would seem to be a simple coordination issue.

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        • JimH says:

          PED talk is absurd. First off, they don’t work their magic in two weeks. It takes months for the size and strength increase. He had a sprained ankle. If anything the pre post injury numbers had more to do,with hitting on one leg for two weeks prior to going on the DL.

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        • brad says:

          And his ISO went down from June to July.

          Keep flailing.

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    • JLRC says:

      He was playing through an injured ankle and I would venture to guess that his “light switch” improvement had more to do with his leg feeling better than anything more nefarious than that.

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  7. ivdown says:

    Poor Trout, it’s happening again, lol

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  8. gm says:

    Puig had a 160 wRC+ last/his rookie year.

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  9. Shout Out says:

    Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead broke man I couldn’t picture this!

    Nice homage to Biggie!

    Also, great article!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Guy says:

    This has been ‘Inserting Dick Allen’s Name into Lists of Rookies with OPS+ over 160 in the Last 100 Years’

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. DB says:

    Jose Abreu is a good hitter. The question is how good? Lot of adjustments still going on Hope he doesn’t take a page from Benito Santiago’s “playbook” and peak in his first year. Santiago as a rookie hit.300 and set a rookie and Catcher record by hitting in 34 consecutive games. Benito never approached these figures the rest of his career.

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  12. Hurtlocker says:

    Abreu is 27 y/o. (like Ichiro when he was a “rookie”) There is a big difference between his accomplishments and a player like Trout who seemingly hit out of the cradle.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yup, this is covered in the article.

      “Sure, Jose Abreu at age 27 isn’t necessarily your typical rookie, but he’s had just as much time to adjust to major league pitching as the rest of those guys. And he’s putting together one of the greatest offensive rookie performances in MLB history.”

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  13. Tom says:

    Yeah, remember when Yoenis Cespedes “figured it out” kept putting up 130 wRC+ seasons after his rookie year? Oh…

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      The only similarity between the two being that they are from Cuba. Which means absolutely nothing.

      BTW — Abreu is currently at 164 wRC+, which isn’t even in the same ZIP CODE as 130 wRC+. Abreu is on a completely different level.

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      • Jason B says:

        I like when someone’s point is just totally demolished, and all they can manage is…abject silence. Well done.

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        • Tom says:

          I like when someone replies 15 hours after I post and when I don’t respond within 10 minutes it’s considered abject silence. Moron.

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      • Tom says:

        You’re right, there aren’t many similarities. For one thing, Cespedes actually brings some value outside of his bat. Abreu is a 1B who should be a DH. Cespedes is also extremely athletic and likely to age better, as opposed to Abreu who will be an immobile blob when he’s 30.

        So when he suffers a similar offensive drop off from year 1 to year 2 as Cespedes did, he’ll be a 125 wRC+ or so DH or negative defensive 1B. Nice little player. Good contract. Nothing to get excited about.

        I’m being ridiculous, right? Almost as ridiculous as anointing the guy Miguel Cabrera because he had a nice BABIP month.

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        • WSoxFan22 says:

          Yeah, it was just a lucky BABIP month and all Cubans are the same.

          Abreu has shown increased abilities throughout his rookie year and is on pace to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. abreu moves quiet well and from everything said he has about as good of work ethic as humanly possible. Enjoy talking out of your ass though comparing two guys with entirely different offensive games.

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  14. Given Her The High Hard One says:

    Heat maps say otherwise.

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  15. Aj Grands says:

    Thing is, I remember Cespedes making similar adjustments his rookie year, and those don’t seem to have stuck. Maybe the league adjusts back?

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  16. Jose Abreu Does Steroids says:

    No comment.

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  17. vince says:

    This is a nice exercise in, scouts generally don’t know what they are talking about. They just repeat what their colleagues say and speak in generic, vague terms. Any real analysis would not yield the terms which were used to describe him. #oldBoyClub

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  18. Fidel says:

    No PEDS, just all the sudden all the Cuban players are the best in baseball as a coincidence (Chapman, Puig, Abreu) Small group out of a country that would do anything to enhance young players like the DR churning out the best.

    The new false heroes…

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  19. William says:

    I was not aware cuban players were exempt from PED testing….

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  20. Tom says:

    “on pace to have one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. ”

    It’s cute that you embrace the stats that tell you this but ignore the ones that say he’s a train wreck at first base.

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