It’s been a long time since I’ve been as impressed with a rookie power bat like I was Jose Abreu in 2014. I admit that moments like this one could lead to a little man-crush blindness on my part on a guy. I will not usually do my due diligence on Abreu; entering his age 28 season, rolling up to my fantasy drafts ready to add him to a roster at all costs without any reservations.
Recently, Ray Flowers who is considered by some to be a Fantasy Baseball Expert has taken Abreu’s hype to task by saying things like he’s not a top five fantasy first basemen in 2015, and then tonight this:
— Fantasy Sports Radio (@SiriusXMFantasy) February 10, 2015
What I’m here to do is build a case against Abreu and dig a little deeper before I’m in too deep and have him on four or five rosters just in time for his collapse. It seems Flowers has done a bit more work than I have on the subject, so I’ll begin with reasons why you might want to look away from Abreu on draft day or proceed with caution.
- Abreu had a .356 BABIP in 2014. Alright, this is going to go down. You can theorize a couple things here when a guy has a high BABIP: 1) the guy is so lucky he shits golden eggs; or 2) he hits the ball real hard when it’s in play and it’s past people. I think it was more a combination of the two then simple luck. Fangraphs had this man at 100 line drives even last year. That’s exceptional (23.3%, almost a fourth of the time he hit a line drive).
- Alright, so he’s not going to sustain a .356 average on balls hit in play, what if that number goes to just .300 which is assumed as league average. You’ve still got a monster on your hands who hits .275 or .270 instead of .319, and there’s no reason to think the power numbers decrease based on his fb% and gb/fb ratio. But I’m not building the case against Abreu here, am I?
- Abreu was afflicted with ankle tendinitis in May of last season, landing him on the disabled list and being the sole reason he didn’t hit 40 home runs. In my opinion, this is an injury that has a fair chance of returning at some point. It’s not to say that it’s a chronic problem, but it’s not exactly like a viral infection that needed a few weeks to clear up. For those that have had tendinitis in a joint, these things have a way of flaring up again.
- Abreu’s O-Swing % last season was 41.7%, a full point higher then Josh Hamilton who got himself into a mess of a season by notoriously swinging at too many pitches and namely; too many bad pitches.
- Abreu entered last season with no book on him – seeing a fastball come his way from the opposing pitcher 52.7% of the time. Check this off for reason to be concerned; while this number could see itself decrease, this is well below the 60% that a prime-aged Albert Pujols saw or the 64.2% that Mike Trout saw in 2014. He’s more likely than anything to see more fastballs and unless bat speed decreases, he’ll handle them. But we’re working to build a case against Abreu here.
- Abreu might see some time at designated hitter with Adam LaRoche being added to the White Sox roster in the offseason. Abreu’s zone-rating was -2.4 last season while LaRoche has a career -1.9; including a -5.2% last season. Best guess is two-thirds of the time Abreu will be the positional first basemen while LaRoche DH’s. This would allow for more chance for injury and increase some fatigue but some players admittedly hit better when they’ve brought their glove to the park. At best, this theory is a push.
More or less, I’ve thought of all the angles here. It all adds up to a very low chance of Abreu regressing much – and if he does you have a .270 hitter with 30 home runs and around 100 RBI. That’s close to first round value in today’s MLB and it’s certainly in the top 25 overall players in most fantasy formats.
We will dig this post up after next season and review what went right and what went wrong for Abreu. We’ll go with a bullish projection on him: .285/40 HR/110 RBI and cite increased talent in the lineup and of course the launching pad he plays his home games in while being a year wiser. Now don’t make us look foolish Big Cuban Stud.