White Sox rookie Jose Abreu may have already cemented his status as the best free-agent signing from the past offseason. Through his first 77 games, Abreu has flashed elite power skills, clubbing 27 home runs. Entering the year, there were legitimate questions surrounding whether Abreu could produce in the majors. While he hasn’t completely eradicated those doubts yet, it’s clear the league will have to adjustments in order to slow him down.
The biggest knock on Abreu coming into the season was his “slider bat speed,” as Jerry Crasnick pointed out last September. The thinking here, as Crasnick lays out, was that pitchers with good fastballs would pound Abreu on the inner half of the plate, hoping he wouldn’t be able to catch up to their stuff. That actually has been the case. Pitchers have attempted to pound Abreu inside with hard stuff, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
As the chart shows, the three red boxes on the inside of the plate are where pitchers have tried to beat Abreu with hard stuff the most often. Hard pitches are classified as fourseam fastball, sinkers and cutters by BrooksBaseball.net. The strategy has only partially worked. Relying on BrooksBaseball.net again, we can see Abreu’s slugging percentage for each of those squares. On the inside middle square, Abreu has a .929 slugging percentage thus far. He’s been far worse on fastballs in the other two squares, however.
It’s important to point out, though, that Abreu has been deadly on inside fastballs that remain in the strikezone. On the middle and upper inside squares of the strike zone, Abreu has slugged 1.250 and 1.600 respectively. There’s the famous line in the book Moneyball where Paul DePodesta describes Jason Giambi’s swing to Michael Lewis by saying “His weakness is right next to his greatest strength. If they miss by two inches over the plate, the ball is gone.” While it seems premature to make crazy statements like this about Abreu, especially considering the size of the data, that quote at least rings a little familiar. Miss by a couple of inches, and Abreu will do major damage on the inside. Of the 27 home runs Abreu has hit, 15 have come against hard pitches.
While that aspect of the scouting report hasn’t rung true just yet, another has emerged. In that same article by Crasnick, a scout said Abreu looked confused on breaking pitches. That appears to be true, particularly on breaking pitches below the strike zone. Most of Abreu’s whiffs have come on low pitches, and a large majority have been on breaking or offspeed pitches according to BrooksBaseball.net.
There were also some reports that classified Abreu as a smart hitter who is able to make adjustments, so perhaps there’s time for that. It’s still extremely early in Abreu’s major-league career to think he’s a finished product, no matter what his age suggests. Some struggles were expected, and while things have overall been encouraging, Abreu will still need to make some adjustments to his game if he wants to improve as a hitter.
That’s not to say the scouts were wrong with Abreu either. It’s incredibly difficult to project what players in different leagues will do in the majors. We don’t have adequate data to compile bullet-proof projections, as if that were a thing anyway. The early concerns may have been about his ability to hit the hard stuff, but the slow stuff has really been Abreu’s Achilles’ heel thus far.
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