He’s not perfect, but the White Sox first baseman is something special
It’s hard to hate really much of anything about Jose Abreu. maybe if you’re Corey Kluber or Jordan Zimmermann you’re tired of being battered and bruised by the big first baseman, but whether you’re a Sox fan or just a neutral, this is the type of player that more of us would love to watch, day in and day out.
He’s good, he’s powerful, and he makes things happen at the plate. It goes without saying that he’s not the perfect player, but sometimes it’s the flaws as much as the facets that make us the person we are. With Abreu it’s what helps separate himself from his peers, and what makes him so watchable.
This year, the league-average walk rate is 8.9 percent. When talking above average hitters, your borderline All-Star types, you generally expect a number comfortably north of 10 or so. Mike Trout walks 21 percent of the time, Cody Bellinger 14.3, Chris Bryant 14.6, you kind of get the idea. Since he debuted in 2014, Abreu – a two-time All-Star himself – owns a 134 wRC+, making him the 23rd most potent hitter over that time period. He’s also walked just 6.6 percent of the time, which ranks 256th among qualified hitters in that stretch. It’s amazing. It flies in the face of what a good offensive player is, and yet here he is.
He’s made improvements in the free pass department of late, this year walking 7.6 percent of the time, but it’s the selective aggression that separates him more than anything. Abreu might not work walks, but he works counts pretty well:
It’s not explosive information or anything, but the fact that he strikes out looking so little compared to the league is part of what makes him special, different. He plays the game, thinks about it in a way that the modern major leaguer doesn’t.
This could be a detriment because he’s up there swinging and grounding into double plays more often than average (doing so in 13.2 percent of opportunities, compared to 10.8 league average) but as the aforementioned neutral fan, it’s something to watch, and double plays are good action. That and his barrelling pitches 20 percent of the time this year means that Abreu is excitement incarnate in the batter’s box.
This is great news for the White Sox, or at least White Sox fans during this rebuild. For one thing he’s a drawing card, something to watch on these long summer evenings while a bullpen ruins a game or some fading pitching prospect tanks it in the first couple innings. At least Abreu is up there crushing it a few times a game, for good or ill.
But more than that, it’s how young players around him are performing. Whether by happenstance or plan, their top young hitters are like young versions of Abreu at the plate. I wrote about Yoan Moncada and his aggression and beauty as a player earlier in the year, and he is holding true, with a 125 wRC+ and just walking 7.4 percent of the time, worse even than Abreu.
I wrote last year about Tim Anderson – never a patient man, and a dynamo on defense – changing his swing and making marginal gains offensively. This year the margins have expanded, and he’s blasting it to the tune of a 127 wRC+ while drawing a walk a spare seven percent of the time. And somehow, with a 147 wRC+ and a mere 5.3 percent walk rate, James McCann leads the White Sox and ranks third among catchers offensively.
All these young players could certainly see their offense crater, seeing how much they’re flying above previous highs. Among those three Moncada packs the lowest BABIP at .358, though it’s just 12 points above his career average. At .367, Anderson is 30 points above his career, but he’s evolved as a hitter too, so who knows.
McCann is most ripe for regression, if only because catchers don’t get cheap hits a lot of times. This is why White Sox fans – optimistic ones at least – should be excited. If this is the core that’s forming for their eventual chase of pennants, it’s like some kind of supercharged 2015 Royals team, which was one of the most fun teams to watch in recent memory.
The leader of this, the role model, is still Abreu. It’s a bit incredible that he’s stuck around during this rebuild, but maybe the ownership likes him as much as the average fan does. After all, they have to watch this team too. These attacking hitters will probably always exist, but as trends go in the direction of the Three True Outcomes, these outliers are always a nice addition, a nice little dash of fun in an increasingly formulaic game. The White Sox are on the right track, and Abreu is leading them, flaws and all.
Merritt Rohlfing writes for Let’s Go Tribe and Beyond the Box Score, and podcasts on Let’s Talk Tribe for the former. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillLunch