Should You Doubt Jose Abreu?

I get in a lot of trouble shooting off my mouth at times. Let me take that back. I never shoot my mouth off, unless it's at a bar after too many Vodkatinis (it's so damn hard to balance that glass when you're a wee bit tipsy). I almost always have a valid reason for the position I hold, so when I say to be wary of Jose Abreu, you should take heed. Before the negative, the positive.

Abreu won the ROY award in 2014, unanimously. Abreu led the majors in SLG (.581). Abreu hit 36 homers, the most by an AL rookie since Mark McGwire hit 49 in 1987. He hit .317. He also drove in 107 runs. He was an elite performer. Jose Abreu. Rookie of the Year, secret agent, fantasy star. 

Abreu won't sustain the level of success he had last season. History suggests this. A review of his performance in 2014 does as well. Strap in, get ready to be amazed and make sure to leave your mind open to consider that I might, just might, be right. 


Abreu hit .317 in 2014 as a 27-year-old. No one thought he would bat that high as a big leaguer. How did he get there? Month by month follows:

.270 April
.241 May
.313 June
.374 July
.376 August
.298 September

Did you notice what stands out? Critically re-read those numbers. I will wait. See it?

Though Abreu hit .317 last season, he actually had only two months in which he matched his season long batting average. In fact, Abreu had as many months under .275 in 2014 as he did months in which he matched his season-long batting average. Put another way: for two months he was Nick Castellanos and for two months he was Ty Cobb. Nervous yet? 

Abreu had a .356 BABIP in 2014. Could he sustain that level moving forward? Possible but unlikely. Over the last five seasons there are only six men in baseball with a .356 BABIP (minimum 1,000 plate appearances). If we up that mark to 2,000 plate appearances, a mere 400 a year, only three men in the group that remain: Mike Trout (.363), Chris Johnson (.359) and Joey Votto (.359). The odds of Abreu repeating his +.350 mark aren't high. Nervous yet?

Abreu walked 51 times in 2014. That's a bit deceiving. Remove the 15 intentional walks he picked up and he had just 36 unintentional walks all season long. That's six a month folks, or roughly once every four games played. That's terrible. It's also an approach that makes it difficult to sustain an elite batting average. It can be done - Josh Harrison and Ben Revere hit over .300 with fewer than 25 walks - but it's not an easy thing to do consistently. And that's the key point here. Anything can happen once or infrequently, but what about the repeatability factor? How repeatable is a .300+ batting average with this approach? The fact is it's really not. Here are the number of batters the last five years that hit .300 and those with fewer than 50 walks in that season (notice I'm using .300 and not the .317 mark Abreu had last season):

2010: 22 and 11
2011: 26 and 11
2012: 25 and nine
2013: 24 and five
2014: 16 and seven

Taking the five years as a whole... 

There have been 113 seasons with a batter hitting .300 (minimum 502 plate appearances).
There have been 43 seasons with a .300 average and less than 50 walks.

That's roughly one in three. It happens, but not that frequently.

What about the punchout? Oh Abreu, vex us...

For a guy that hit 36 homers, I'm not going to say that 131 strikeouts is crazy bad—it's not. In fact, five of the 11 men who hit 30 homers in 2014 had more punchouts than Abreu. But we're talking about batting average for now (the power situation will be addressed below). Of the 16 men who hit .300 in 2014, how many struck out more often than Abreu? The answer would be the same number as the times I've been the Playgirl centerfold (a quick Google search says the answer is zero - unfortunately). Not just that, only two others who hit .300 struck out even 85 times in 2014: Miguel Cabrera and Andrew McCutchen. The last five years, here are the number of players that hit .300 while striking out at least 131 times:

2010: one
2011: two
2012: four
2013: three
2014: one (Abreu)

Of the 113 seasons of a .300 average, the past five years only 7.7 percent of batters were able to hit .300 when they had 131 or more strikeouts. It's just not easy to do, simple as that.

For Abreu to hit .317 again, he will have to be the rarest of rare hitters unless he alters his approach, which seems unlikely. In fact, even another run at a .300 season seems a stretch at this point, given his overall game. 


As a home run hitter, the 6'3", 250 lbs. slugger delivered in spades with 36 big flies in his first season in the majors. Can he repeat that number in 2015? Yes. Could he improve upon that number in 2015? Yes. Is he likely to repeat/improve upon that number? Well...

Abreu doesn't hit the ball in the air. At all. The league average fly ball rate is usually about 35 percent. Abreu's mark was 31.2 percent in 2014. Think about that. Abreu didn't reach the big league average in the fly ball column. Most sluggers hit more fly balls, not less, than the league average (that's the genius sentence of the article). Further data to consider…

11 men hit 30 homers in 2014. Here are their fly ball ratios:

51.4 Chris Carter
49.0 Lucas Duda
47.2 Edwin Encarnacion
47.2 Mike Trout
45.7 David Ortiz
41.8 Anthony Rizzo
41.7 Jose Bautista
41.0 Nelson Cruz
39.1 Giancarlo Stanton
38.1 Victor Martinez
31.2 Jose Abreu

Only three of the 11 had a fly ball rate under 40 percent. Even so, VMart's number was still 19 percent higher than the mark of Abreu (31.2/38.1), Stanton's 20 percent. The fact is that it's rare to see a guy hit 35 homers in a season in which he has a fly ball rate under 35 percent. It's also extremely challenging for a player to hit 35 homers in back-to-back seasons when he has a fly ball rate that low.

So how did Abreu hit so many homers last year? It had everything to do with his home run to fly ball ratio, which was a major league leading 26.9 percent. Here are the league leaders the previous six years in HR/F:

2009: Mark Reynolds 26.0 percent
2010: Joey Votto 25.0
2011: Giancarlo Stanton 24.8
2012: Adam Dunn 29.3
2013: Chris Davis 29.6
2014: Jose Abreu 26.9

Players have obviously bettered the 26.9 percent mark that Abreu posted, but in three of the five years from 2009 to 2013, the league leader was under 26.9 percent. Moreover, take note of this. Dunn never had another season in his career over 26 percent. Davis has never had another season over 26 percent either. Those two sluggers never hit 26 percent, other than their league leading effort. None of this means that Abreu won't be the outlier who does reach that mark again—just note that it's difficult to defend the position that Abreu will replicate his HR/F ratio in 2015. If he doesn’t, he simply must hit more balls into the air, or he won't be able to improve upon his 2014 homer total.

You don't have to take the history of others as your guide. Just look at Abreu's performance in the second half of 2014. In 63 games after the All-Star break, Jose hit seven homers (he hit 29 in 82 games before that). His HR/F percentage was an absurd 34.9 percent in the first half before falling nearly two-thirds down to 13.7 percent in the second half. So which guy is Abreu? The all-time great (first half) or the slightly better than average batter (second half)? I think you can make a strong case that the answer is "neither," but he might just be more likely to come closer to his second half HR/F ratio in 2015 than that stupendous first half rate.

A final note about his ground ball rate. Here are his monthly breakdowns (the league average ground ball rate is about 45 percent):

46.6 April
45.9 May
39.2 June
39.0 July
53.6 August
48.4 September

In 67 percent of the months last season, four of six, Abreu's ground ball rate was above the league average. That's fine if you're Billy Hamilton. Not so much if you're supposed to be a power hitter. Take note that over the last two months, Abreu's ground ball rate was 51.4 percent. Was he tired and dragging his bat through the zone or was something else going on? The bottom line is that for a third of his 2014 season, his ground ball rate was massive and that should be a yellow flag waving to alert you to the perils of counting on a homer repeat in 2015 (that 51.4 percent rate, if kept up all season, would have been the 18th highest mark in baseball last season).


I'll be the first to admit that we need more data to determine what type of hitter Jose Abreu really is. One season of big league action isn't really enough to paint a complete picture of who a player is or what he will be. At the same time, as noted above, you can find nearly as much negative as you can positive for Abreu if we look at his monthly efforts last season. That's why I tried to take a historical look to help to inform us of what to expect from Abreu. Is that fair to do? Sort of. The fact is, someone has to break the mold. Mike Trout is doing things we've never seen on the ball field. Before he did it, I would have said, and in fact I did say, “He’s not going to do that again.” He broke the mold by doing it again. Is Abreu that type of player? Will he be able to do things that players traditionally don't do? We will have to wait and see. Moreover, we will have to give Abreu more time to establish who he is as a big league hitter. 

I'll close this review like this. If you think that Abreu can repeat the .317 batting average and 36 homers he hit last season, a couple of things will have to happen:

(1) Abreu will have to refute history, because his approach isn't that of a .317 hitter.
(2) Abreu will have to maintain an elite BABIP.
(3) Abreu will have to maintain an elite HR/F ratio.
(4) Abreu will have to show more monthly consistency.

If all four of those things happen, a repeat is possible. I, for one, don't think it's reasonable to expect that to occur.