White Sox 2016 Season Review: Grading the Infielders

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Sep 4, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) hits a three run home run during the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins 13-11. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 4, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (79) hits a three run home run during the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Minnesota Twins 13-11. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /
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1B Jose Abreu

Abreu had one of the stranger seasons in recent memory as his first and second halves were about as black and white as Chicago’s uniforms.

In the middle of May when Abreu was cratering, I penned a piece about why he wasn’t nearly as lost as he looked. 

Abreu’s struggles were confounding because he had a lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate than career norms. His batted ball data was almost a carbon copy of his career, still distributing the ball to all fields and holding similar fly ball, line drive, and groundball percentages. The key issue was his hard contact rate was down while his soft contact was trending up.

Almost immediately there were concerns that Abreu’s lower HR/FB ratio, suppressed BABIP, and lack of pop was linked to a decrease in bat speed. The idea was that he was already hitting the point of the aging curve at 29 that most power hitters arrive at in their early to mid thirties.

However, exit velocity data wasn’t very convincing of this and a career low whiff percentage wasn’t substantive of it either.

There was also a misconception that the league had adapted to Abreu and he was receiving a lion share of pitches on the inner third. This was only partially true. He was seeing a few more fastballs in, but not to a discernible difference. The disparity was Abreu simply wasn’t squaring anything up, even balls in his historic wheelhouse on the outer third.

This wasn’t Austin Jackson, who could crank a pitch but only produce warning track power. This was also the main reason I wasn’t too concerned about the corner infielder. Sure enough, all it took to for Abreu to get back to his old self was a swing adjustment.

Abreu credited assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks with precipitating a change in his approach that saw him use his hands more and quiet down the noise in his pre-swing body movement.

The results were nothing short of damning.

His .272/.326/.430 (.759 OPS) first half line was quickly overshadowed by a robust .319/.384/.514 line after the All-Star break. His August in particular was eye-popping, where the Cuban native looked like the MVP-level slugger from 2014.

That .362/.414/.648 (1.061 OPS) August showed just the magnitude of damage he’s still capable of.

The final .293/.353/.468 slash line was close to his career norms, with the main disparity being a .172 ISO vs. one firmly above .200. His 18.0 percent strikeout rate was beyond encouraging for such a power hitter and also the lowest of his career. His 6.8 percent walk rate was higher than his 2015 campaign, showing an even more refined approach.

The counting stats took a hit though, as Abreu only had 25 bombs. His 1.6 fWAR was a far cry from his 5.3 fWAR of 2014, but a lot of this is couched in defensive metrics as well.

Abreu won’t win a bronze glove but he’s not an albatross at first base either.

Carrying his refined swing into the 2017 season will set Abreu up to be closer to the 3-5 win player White Sox fans have come to expect. Abreu was floundering in May but he was able to kill the finals period. His grade consequently went from the bottom of the class to a more than respectable mark.

Grade: B +

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