At his current pace, Jose Abreu won’t equal the 36 home runs he blasted en route to winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. His solo home run Friday, which turned out to be the game-winner in a 1-0 White Sox victory, was No. 14 in game No. 73. Through the same number of games last year, Abreu had 27 home runs.
That’s not to say Abreu is having a bad 2015 season — he still has an .836 OPS, which in a power-starved landscape ranks 32nd among qualified MLB hitters. But his production nonetheless has dropped off, which manager Robin Ventura believes is due to a few factors.
“I think (pitchers) are more careful,” Ventura said. “… It also goes with offensively the way it has been going. If we have a better offensive group going at one time, people are going to pitch to him more. That’s the same for us going against other teams. If somebody is not surrounding (Miguel Cabrera) very good, then we are going to pitch around him and be careful.”
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Abreu spent most of the season hitting behind the struggling Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, and in front of Adam LaRoche, who entered Saturday with a .395 slugging percentage. Ventura bumped Abreu to the No. 2 hole in the lineup in Detroit and plans on sticking with him there for now to get him more at-bats.
But pitchers have been a little more careful with Abreu, and he hasn’t necessarily adapted well to it. He’s seeing first-pitch strikes in 54 percent of his plate appearances, the 18th-lowest percentage among qualified hitters and down five percent from 2014.
Pitchers are throwing inside on him less and getting him to swing at more pitches low and away than he did last year, according to BrooksBaseball.net. But Abreu isn’t swinging and missing at those pitches low and off the plate — instead, he’s putting them into play for weaker contact, which shows as his ground ball and popup rates are slightly up from 2014.
Abreu’s 13 double plays are the most in the American League and he’s not drawing many walks (15 in 289 plate appearances), either.
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“I haven’t been able to adjust to the pitches,” Abreu said through a translator. “It’s all on me. Sometimes I have to do a better job in my at-bats.”
Figuring out how to adjust to the league’s adjustments is part of the process for Abreu to regain his elite level of offensive production in Year 2. Plenty of power hitters have been pitched around, and it’s on Abreu and the White Sox to figure out how to deal with it.
“For him, he just has to be able to adapt to that and realize he’s not going to get as many strikes as last year, maybe,” Ventura said. “It can be tough to go through that. (Barry) Bonds had that when he was in his hot streak. … When he got his one pitch they were going to give him, he didn’t miss.
“For Jose, being able to battle through it and grind it out. Last night was no different. When he gets his one pitch, he’ll be able to do something with it.”