Though Jose Abreu’s production decreased from 2014 to 2015, Hawk Harrelson thinks it eventually would go down as one of the first baseman’s best seasons ever.
And with newly acquired third baseman Todd Frazier in the mix, the veteran play-by-play man figures the White Sox slugger is due for an even bigger campaign in 2016.
Despite little stability directly behind him in the lineup, Abreu finished 2015 with a .290/.347/.502 slash line with 30 home runs and 101 RBIs in 668 plate appearances.
Abreu’s success is due in large part to him slugging .560 on pitches out of the strike zone, according to baseballsavant.com (he also hit an absurd .341/.453/.530 with runners in scoring position). But with Frazier — who has 64 homers the past two seasons — behind him, Abreu should benefit, Harrelson said.
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“To have a dangerous hitter behind him, he’s going to have pitches to hit,” Harrelson said. “Abreu’s stock went straight up when we got Frazier.
“People don’t understand what a great season Abreu had. They just don’t understand. There was no protection. Zero.
“The numbers were fantastic when you take into consideration what he had hitting behind him."
Abreu’s .560 slugging percentage on pitches out of the strike zone ranked 18th in the majors. Of his 178 base hits, 76 were on pitches outside of the zone, up 16 from his rookie campaign when Abreu had 60 of 176 hits on similar pitches.
Part of it could also be attributed to opposing pitchers pitching to the scouting report more effectively in Abreu’s second season. Part of the increase also could be due to the fact that the team’s No. 4 hitters — Abreu batted third in 107 games — performed poorly. Minus Abreu’s 13 games batting fourth, White Sox cleanup men combined to hit .241/.334/.400 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs in 634 plate appearances.
As it is, studies have shown the idea of protection rarely results in anything more than fewer intentional walks for the hitter receiving protection. But Harrelson’s point is that having a powerful hitter behind him could benefit Abreu from a psychological standpoint.
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A year earlier, when Adam Dunn posed a much bigger threat than anyone did in 2015, Abreu slugged a major-league best .581.
“A lot of people don’t understand that one guy can change the whole culture of the lineup, either positive or negative,” Harrelson said. “On the positive side, one guy can change it and I think that guy is Todd Frazier. The big thing for me is he can catch the ball at third base. And the next thing is, he’s going to protect the best hitter on our club. It’s contagious.”
ZIPS projects that Frazier will hit .255/.318/.449 with 25 homers and 80 RBIs for the White Sox this season. Harrelson hopes those numbers are on the low end. But even if they are correct, Abreu and the White Sox offense should see a significant increase.
“If he does that, he’s going to make Abreu 10-15 percent better and it’s going to take a lot of heat off (Avisail Garcia),” Harrelson said. “What a great year Abreu had because they had nobody to hit behind him. For him to get 30 and 100 again with no protection, it would be like if they had nobody to protect Miguel Cabrera, he wouldn’t hit anything either because nobody would pitch to him.”