Assessing Jose Abreu‘s impact has always been a divide between his positively nutso statistics and scouting reports that have him as a huge power bat that will struggle to cover the inside fastball but possesses decent enough approach to make his raw strength appear in games.
It must be emphasized, however, that the stats are extremely wacky. The pitching in Cuba is disparate in quality and lacking depth, but Abreu has been doing as well as humanly possible against it. According to Clay Davenport’s tracking of Serie Nacional stats, Abreu put up a .453/.597/.986 line in 2011. Those kind of ‘glitch in the system’ type of numbers, far removed from the triumphs of even Yoenis Cespedes or Yasiel Puig, make it hard to bring them back to earth in any reasonable way.
For example, as previously referenced:
Abreu’s in news, so here’s his Davenport Translation (biggest sample): .321/.446/.660. DT for Cespedes .271/.338/.489 (real: 265/.324/.472)
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) October 17, 2013
That’s a very legitimate attempt to translate Abreu’s dominance in Cuba to the unmatched rigors of major league baseball and it has him putting up numbers that would probably allow him to carry the AL MVP trophy around with him for the last month of the season. It’s a possibility that Abreu’s pitch selection and judgment are that otherworldly and inscrutable that he’ll be unfazed by major league pitching, but it’s hard to buy-in to a projection that doesn’t align to his market value.
That’s why this from The Hardball Times Brian Cartwright has a bit more appeal (in a way, obviously’s Davenport’s has more appeal):
Just got a *touch* more reasonable MLE for Abreu from @blcartwright : 275/335/485. Still decent, but more Morales than Bonds.
— Eno Sarris (@enosarris) October 23, 2013
Colin from South Side Sox actually went through the leg work of following up with Cartwright and drilling down the details, the most important of which being that this figure is expressed in terms of total MLB average, and not yet factoring in U.S. Cellular Field park factors. Logically, that should bring those numbers a tick up, but the Sox have struggled to come across hitters who seem like they’re benefitting.
Other details worth noting is that there are over 50(!) Cuban ballparks to factor in, the sample size for games is smaller and a possible ball change might have taken place. Also, the Cuban league is not meticulously tiered like MLB, meaning All-Star level talents are regularly drilling dingers off non-prospects, so while each projection has its share of successes to boast, the difficulty of the work is incredible.
That more conservative triple-slash would constitute a 116 OPS+ in last year’s conditions, which would easily be the best on the team, but also resides a several touches below stardom or offensive cornerstone status. The projections put the Sox at getting a fine starting first basemen for an average first basemen’s price, but since statistical production was the primary source of hope that Abreu was a dominant player lying in wait, this hacks away at the most delirious notions at what he might do. Admittedly, that’s the point of the projection, to provide a conservative baseline for his performance that’s immune from personal confidence for skills to translate better than expected.
Most of all, bear in mind that the acceleration of contract values (!!Tim Lincecum!!) means that snagging a slightly above-average first basemen for $11.3 million per season is fine work, and if anything, the Sox ability to land Abreu for that price is reflective of the uncertainty surrounding him. If everyone thought he could be a regular first-basemen, the Sox would probably have to pay him like a fringe All-Star to land him.
This probably hasn’t done much to clear things up, and a clear-up isn’t coming. Abreu is a big old mystery box, but so long as that box isn’t completely empty or filled with spiders, the Sox have been prudent enough to come out okay.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan