How do you follow up an MVP season? In the majority of cases with regression. When you win the award as a 33 year old and effectively put up the same counting numbers two years later in approximately 2.5 times the number of at bats it is fair to question if the end is near. Time is undefeated and baseball is increasingly a young man’s game, but if we look at José Abreu 2022 is he approaching the end?
I personally like to use Baseball Reference’s 162 Game Avg. as a baseline for a player. Of course few players play a full 162. When the numbers are similar to my perception of that player or their peak it is an easy point of reference though. His per 162 averages are .292/.354/.506 with 31 Home Runs and 110 RBI. To me, those numbers seem pretty accurate to his actual production. It helps that Abreu has played roughly 150 games per season as well. For the near decade he has played stateside he has been consistent in his approach and his production. His peak is not far beyond that level. His lows are in small enough sample not to bog the line down.
The 60 game 2020 season in which he won the American League MVP is hard to grade. If we extrapolate that season based on his average 151 games played we see that he arrives at 47 Home Runs and 147 RBIs. Both of those numbers represent career highs. I can see where hitting just 15 round trippers and knocking in 75 runs just two years later could lead some to think the decline is here. Speculated to be Included in that group is the White Sox Front office.
- Is that a mistake?
- Is there reason to believe a bounce back is possible?
- Does Abreu provide enough value even on the downside?
- Does all of this negate his leadership and how important he has been in the White Sox Cuban pipeline?
Abreu has been the best and most consistent hitter for the White Sox during his time in the Windy City. Unfortunately on the field success hasn’t followed. The Pale Hose qualified for the playoffs in back to back season for the first time in the teams history in 2020 and 2021 though. Entering 2022 expectations were high for that to be a third season. The White Sox may have been the most disappointing team in baseball in 2022. If you’re the face of a team, you have to assume at least some of that responsibility. However was it Abreu’s fault or did the overall underachievement infect his season if not performance?
A look at José Abreu 2022 batted ball profile doesn’t suggest massive changes. His exit velocity ticked up by 0.2 MPH. His launch angle did drop by 2.4% resulting in his fly ball percentage dropping by close to 3% but his ground ball rate stayed with in 1 percent of previous seasons. In fact his line drive percentage increased. Does the White Sox inability to put runners on base in front of him and his actual home run total halving explain his career low full season RBI total? As a team the White Sox scored 110 fewer runs in 2022.
The White Sox struggled with roster construction and injuries all year long. This resulted in clunky defensive alignments, stripped down batting orders and shockingly low offensive production versus projections. Of note Andrew Vaughn who many are calling to take over at 1st base played a suspect Right Field. Vaughn led the team with a .271/.321/.429 17 HR 76 RBI line in 134 games played.
José Abreu may be blocking Vaughn at first base. To José’s credit he played 157 games and hit .304/.378/.446 with the previously mentioned 15 HR and 75 RBI. This came in about 100 more at bats than Vaughn. His OBP was his highest since Abreu’s rookie season. He eclipsed 40 doubles for only the second time in his career. Only 11 qualified batters, Abreu being one, hit above .300 in 2022. In fact his season looks incredibly similar to young Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts. It is likely foolish to try and compare a first baseman to a young short stop but the batting numbers mirror one another.
In a vacuum like the rest of the White Sox Abreu’s season is a disappointment. However there is evidence there that he is still a professional hitter and one that got better as the season progressed. A slow start such as Abreu’s .217 average with just 6 RBI in the month of April can often set a narrative for the season. Improvement in May led to June’s break out hitting .345 with a modest 4 HR but a solid 15 RBI. July and August saw this become a bit of the baseline as he put up similar effective numbers in each.
Back to Vaughn and the Sox aspirations. Moving on from Abreu might be the easiest solution or give the most flexibility to fix a defence that struggled. In that scenario Vaughn could move to his natural first base, the Sox could give young Cuban Prospects Oscar Colas and Yoelkis Céspedes a chance to win corner outfield spots and Eloy Jimenez could slot in as the DH. These moves would make them younger, and more athletic. Is a Sox team without Jose Abreu better though?
The Sox cohort of Cuban and Latin youngsters such as Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez have indicated Abreu is important as a leader on and off the field. Each of those players failed to meet expectations in 2022. That group likely holds the team’s future in their hands. Which is to say, is the concept of leadership over rated if you don’t hit and catch baseball’s? The experiment of bringing Tony Larussa out of retirement to coach a young squad is apparently over after two years. Many think his old school style of managing and in game decisions are as responsible for the poor performance as anything. Would a clean slate with a new Manager and new team leader result in the White Sox getting back on track?
If this is the end for José Abreu on The South Side his individual performance will at least continue the Sox legacy of strong first base play of the past 30 seasons. Abreu doesn’t rank above Frank Thomas or Paul Konerko in output or impact on the franchise but deserves be held in similar esteem. His days as a 30 home run and 100 RBI middle of the order bat may be over. I do believe that any team that signs him to be a positive influence that has competitive at bats and is a clutch run producer down in the order is going to get a great value though. The White Sox have a tough decision on Abreu which will create an easy decision for another team should he reach free agency.