After a Tough Season, José Abreu Got here Up Big within the Division Sequence


Jose Abreu
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports activities

José Abreu didn’t have season. Signed to a three-year deal by the Astros final November, the 36-year-old first baseman turned within the worst marketing campaign of his 10-year main league profession, and even after digging out of a deep early-season droop, he ended up because the least helpful common at his place. Even so, Abreu has been capable of flip the web page because the begin of the playoffs, and his three house runs towards the Twins have been a serious motive the Astros received the Division Sequence.

Abreu went simply 1-for-7 within the first two video games towards Minnesota, although his lone hit, a fifth-inning single off Kenta Maeda in Recreation 1, drove in Houston’s fourth run in what ended up as a 6–4 victory. His three-run first-inning homer to left subject off Sonny Grey — a monster shot estimated at 442 toes — broke Recreation 3 open, turning a 1–0 lead right into a 4–0 lead earlier than Astros starter Cristian Javier even threw a pitch; it was most likely the turning level of the sequence. For good measure, Abreu capped the scoring within the 9–1 rout with a two-run homer into the higher deck in left middle off Bailey Ober within the ninth inning, this one estimated at 440 toes. On Wednesday evening, he struck once more, clubbing a 424-foot opposite-field two-run homer off Caleb Thielbar within the fourth inning of a 1–1 sport. The Astros didn’t rating once more however held on for a series-clinching 3–2 victory.

Abreu hit .313/.353/.875 in 16 plate appearances agains the Twins. By Win Chance Added, his homers off Grey and Theilbar rated as the 2 greatest performs of the entire sequence:

High Performs by Win Chance Added in Astros-Twins Division Sequence

By Baseball Reference’s championship WPA (cwPA), the Recreation 4 homer had the sting over the primary one in Recreation 3, 2.44% to 2.03%, however both method, these have been the 2 greatest performs of the sequence.

Moments like these are what the Astros little question envisioned after they signed Abreu to a $58.5 million deal. He was coming off an excellent however considerably uneven season with the White Sox, throughout which he overcame a chilly April and traded energy for contact en path to a .304/.378/.446 (137 wRC+) displaying with 18 homers and three.8 WAR. Even with a little bit of regression, he figured to offer a considerable improve on departing free agent Yuli Gurriel’s sub-replacement stage manufacturing (.242/.288/.360, 85 wRC+, -0.9 WAR). As an alternative, he roughly replicated it.

For pretty much as good as Abreu’s 2022 season was, it ended on a curious word. After he homered in back-to-back video games on August 2 and three towards the Royals, he added only one extra over the ultimate two months of the season, hitting .310/.372/.386 in 234 PA from August 4 onward. That efficiency carried over into 2023… form of. He started his Astros profession with a 10-game hitting streak, although simply a type of went for additional bases; to that time, he was hitting .317/.364/.341.

Then the underside dropped out. By the top of Might, Abreu was hitting .211/.276/.260 (50 wRC+), although he had lastly gotten on the board with a homer on Might 28 towards Oakland’s Sam Lengthy, that on a day the place the Astros homered seven instances. That ended a 67-game streak with no homer, relationship again to September 14 of final yr — not solely the longest of his profession but additionally almost so long as his second- and third-longest streaks mixed.

As soon as the calendar flipped to June, the work that Abreu was placing in with hitting coach Alex Cintrón started to repay. He collected hits in eight of his first 9 video games that month, together with homers towards the Guardians on June 9 and 10, and added three extra by the top of the month. His 11 extra-base hits in June outdid his eight by means of the top of Might.

The mechanical tweaks Abreu made with Cintrón’s assist didn’t instantaneously enhance his manufacturing. The Athletic‘s Chandler Rome wrote about them in mid-June, when he first acquired scorching, and the Houston Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara did so a pair weeks later, after Abreu cooled off after which sat for a pair video games to reset. Right here’s Kawahara describing the modifications:

An emphasis was Abreu being extra “behind the ball” to drive it higher. Abreu tweaked his stance to maintain extra weight on his again leg. Abreu incorporates a toe-tap when he hundreds, and Cintrón mentioned he famous a distinction early this season in comparison with Abreu’s time in Chicago.

“His higher physique was too ahead to start out,” Cintrón mentioned. “Which triggered him, when he’d do his toe-tap, to be late. He was going ahead, then again, then ahead. Three actions as an alternative of two. We talked about being extra within the center along with his physique, taller. So when he does his toe-tap, it’s one transfer to the ball. It’s shorter.”

Additionally they checked out Abreu’s palms. Cintrón mentioned Abreu was “chopping off” some swings along with his prime hand and labored on protecting a flatter bat path by means of the zone. Cintrón mentioned the 2 changes in idea would go away Abreu staying again higher and being “on time and direct to the ball.”

Abreu hit .253/.309/.458 (109 wRC+) with 17 homers from June 1 to the top of the season, ending at .237/.296/.383 (86 wRC+), and even inside his improved efficiency, he slipped to a 57 wRC+ in August amid months of 119 (June), 110 (July), and 123 (September). That 86 wRC+ was the bottom mark of any participant who took not less than 400 PA as a primary baseman, and likewise for his cringeworthy -0.6 WAR. Among the many first basemen who had decrease marks in both or each classes in much less enjoying time was Gurriel, who hit for a 77 wRC+ with -0.5 WAR in simply 329 PA for the Marlins. Whereas the Astros dodged that mess, his alternative was just about the definition of a Alternative Stage Killer; had he turned in a extra productive season, Houston would have simply received the AL West as an alternative of doing so through a head-to-head tiebreaker.

As you may anticipate, proof of Abreu’s decline may be discovered all through his stats. Relative to 2022, he chased extra pitches exterior the strike zone and had worse strikeout and stroll numbers and a a lot decrease high quality of contact. All of these areas are price a peek, although what I’m most concerned with is whether or not he’s trending in the best course.

Abreu’s 21.9% strikeout price and seven.1% stroll price have been each steps within the improper course from 2022 (a career-low 16.2% and a near-high 9.1%) however properly inside the vary of his profession fluctuations. His 12.1% swinging-strike price matched his 2021 price; he dipped to a career-low 9.8% final yr, however that was his solely time in single digits. His total chase price rose from 33.6% final yr to 38.9% on this one; the previous was his lowest mark since 2017, the latter his highest since ’16, although nearer to his profession mark of 37%. Late final yr and early on this one, he was chasing greater than 40% of pitches exterior the zone in accordance with his rolling charges, one thing Dan Szymborski noticed throughout his April struggles:

You’ll be able to see that the chase price doesn’t line up completely, but it surely does fairly properly. Statcast’s chase numbers differ by a bit from these through Sports activities Information Options driving the graph above, with a 29.8% price final yr, 36.3% this yr, and a profession mark of 33.7%, however they provide us a direct comparability to his postseason numbers, which present that — yikes, small-sample version — he’s swung at 46.4% of pitches exterior the zone; he’s 0-for-6 with two strikeouts, three popups and a grounder on PAs that finish with him chasing. If we mixture these along with his September numbers to beef up the pattern dimension and generalize concerning the pattern, he’s chased 39.1% of pitches exterior the zone since September 1, however with barely improved strikeout and stroll charges (20.2% and seven.3%) and lopsided however sturdy manufacturing (.248/.306/.584 with 10 homers in 124 PA).

When it comes to his high quality of contact, right here’s a take a look at his final three seasons total, alongside along with his stats since September 1, together with the postseason:

José Abreu Statcast Profile

Season Occasions EV LA Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2021 433 92.0 10.4 10.2% 49.0% .261 .252 .481 .457 .354 .349
2022 495 92.2 8.0 9.5% 51.7% .304 .296 .446 .486 .361 .373
2023 416 89.0 10.8 8.7% 41.6% .237 .243 .383 .400 .295 .310
2023 Sept/Oct 89 90.3 15.9 16.9% 46.1% .248 .249 .584 .581 .369 .373

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Abreu set a profession low in common exit velocity, along with his barrel and hard-hit charges his lowest since 2017 and ’16, respectively; by exit velocity, he plummeted from the 93rd percentile to the forty second, although by barrel price it was solely from the 88th to the 67th. He rebounded from final yr’s career-high groundball price (49.7%, mirrored within the single-digit launch angle) but additionally pulled the ball a career-low 33.9%, down from a consultant 38% in 2022. These days he’s been pulling and barreling the ball with a lot higher frequency, fueling an xwOBA that matches his 2022, albeit through a special route, with a lot decrease batting common and better slugging proportion.

A take a look at Abreu’s efficiency towards numerous pitch sorts suggests what you may suspect given an getting older hitter: elevated struggles towards fastballs this yr, with the mechanical changes serving to to enhance his current outcomes. As an alternative of utilizing Statcast’s default aggregations, I’ve eradicated cutters — which he feasts upon whereas seeing about 6% of the time — from the fastball group. This grouping nonetheless accounts for simply over half of the pitches he sees, with breaking balls accounting for a couple of third:

José Abreu by Pitch Kind

Season Kind PA HR AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA EV Whiff%
2021 Fastballs 334 11 .271 .266 .454 .477 .357 .368 93.8 24.4%
2022 Fastballs 333 5 .296 .310 .408 .500 .347 .387 94.1 20.6%
2023 Fastballs 277 5 .250 .258 .371 .408 .318 .340 91.1 20.7%
2023 Sept/Oct Fastballs 54 3 .245 .198 .551 .460 .363 .314 90.4 19.0%
2021 Breaking 206 11 .200 .219 .433 .419 .308 .318 90.9 35.5%
2022 Breaking 244 5 .290 .271 .415 .443 .342 .345 89.0 28.3%
2023 Breaking 223 9 .207 .211 .366 .355 .253 .258 86.5 34.3%
2023 Sept/Oct Breaking 50 5 .255 .283 .574 .602 .366 .389 90.1 33.0%

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Fastballs embody four-seamers and sinkers (however not cutters).

Once more, we’re seeing substantial falloffs from final yr with each teams of pitches but additionally a current rebound. He’s dealing with breaking pitches higher than at any time within the current previous (moreso with sliders than curves, eyeballing the granular information), and he’s getting good outcomes towards fastballs, albeit ones that don’t align along with his anticipated stats — not stunning on condition that we’re coping with samples under the purpose of stabilization. For what it’s price from among the many Division Sequence homers, the Grey shot was off a sweeper, the opposite two through four-seamers.

All advised, I believe it’s truthful to say that Abreu isn’t all the way in which again to type, no matter type we’re speaking about in his mid-30s evolution. Given his age and wild in-season fluctuations, I’m by no means optimistic concerning the the rest of his contract, however his changes not less than have him thumping the ball these days. For the Astros’ possibilities this October, that’s most likely sufficient.

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