White Sox

White Sox: Jose Abreu adjusts to avoid a sophomore slump

jose-abreu-0712.png

White Sox: Jose Abreu adjusts to avoid a sophomore slump

Jose Abreu worked through some second-year turbulence and managed to avoid a dreaded sophomore slump.

The 28-year-old first baseman entered Thursday — he wasn’t in the White Sox matinee lineup against the Oakland Athletics — with 29 home runs, 93 RBIs, an .874 OPS and 3.3 fWAR. His production hasn’t been as good as it was during his 2014 Rookie of the Year season (36 HR, 107 RBIs, .964 OPS, 5.3 WAR) but he’s still hitting at a high level, which is encouraging for the White Sox moving forward with him under contract through 2019.

[MORE: How technology has helped Jose Abreu maintain his swing]

Abreu’s ability to successfully adjust to a league that has more than a full year of scouting reports and video on him means his trajectory hasn’t been thrown off, even if his numbers are merely very good in 2015.

“The first year you’re so excited to be here and that can carry you through a lot of it,” Ventura said. “Then you realize people are making adjustments. They’ve seen you, they’re looking at tapes and they have a plan for you. That really solidifies your place of where you’re at, once people make adjustments and once you’re making adjustments of who you are and how you fit in the game and on your team. He’s done a great job.

Abreu’s walk rate is down from 8.2 percent in 2014 to 5.6 percent in 2015, though there are a few reasons behind that. Early in the year, when nearly everyone in the White Sox lineup was mired in a slump, opposing pitchers didn’t give Abreu much to hit. He chased plenty of those pitches, and also dealt with a sore finger that limited him to 14 home runs and an .835 OPS in 81 first-half games.

But since the All-Star break Abreu has been more selective, especially on fastballs and sliders.

The results since that mid-July breather have represented Abreu’s return to being a middle-of-the-order force: .297/.367/.560 with 15 home runs and a 7.3 percent walk rate in 58 games, all of which are much more in line with his 2014 full-season numbers.

“I don’t think he quite had the power that he’s used to or accustomed to so part of that is an adjustment of finding a way to get through that (finger injury), fighting through it until you get healthy enough to take your own swing and pull the ball the right way,” Ventura said. “He’s done a great job of fighting through that and getting to where he is now. Last year people were talking about how he dropped off in the second half where now it’s turned around. That’s just experience, learning how they’re pitching you, learning the league and being healthy.”

[MORE: Trayce Thompson out of White Sox lineup, but not 2016 plans]

If Abreu hits one more home run and drives in seven more runs, he’ll join Albert Pujols as the only players with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in their first two major league seasons. He’s a power hitter in his prime at a time when power isn’t easy to come by — entering Thursday, only 16 players had 30 or more home runs.

And with the Year 2 test successfully passed, the White Sox can move forward with little doubt about Abreu’s place in their lineup for the rest of the decade.

“For him he’s able to make adjustments himself, confidence-wise of going through it seeing how people are going to do that, the second year is really an indicator of where you’re at, what your possibilities are,” Ventura said. “I think he can get better.”

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Four numbers that sum up a scorching hot month of September for the White Sox offense

Even as the White Sox finish up the final stretch of their seventh consecutive losing season, the games they are playing aren’t meaningless -- Jose Abreu acknowledged as much when he said that the 2020 season “starts in September”. Key contributors in the White Sox lineup have clearly taken that to heart, as the Sox offense has been one of the best in baseball in the month of September. 

Here are four numbers* that reflect what has been a torrid stretch for the Sox offense to close the season:

*All stats as of the morning of September 21

Three

Three has been a magical number for the White Sox in September. For one, going into play Saturday, the Sox boast the top three leaders in hits for the month: Tim Anderson (32), Yoan Moncada (29) and Eloy Jimenez (28). The team as a whole is also third in baseball in total bases (319) and OPS (.832) in September -- only trailing the Astros and Yankees in both categories, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. 

Unrelated to the number three, but also worth noting, the team is leading the majors in batting average this month:

 

10

Ok, we cheated a little bit here -- 10 makes this list as a reference to Yoan Moncada’s jersey number, but in fairness, we needed a full section to highlight all Yo-Yo has done at the plate this month. He enters play Saturday as the major league leader in batting average (.444) and WAR (1.6) in September, and is currently working on a streak of five consecutive multi-hit games (he has 12 since the start of the month). 

To give even more of an idea of how scalding hot of a stretch it has been for Moncada, here is a side-by-side of his full-season slash-line on September 1 compared to September 21 (a stretch in which he has played 16 games):

  • September 1: .288/.342/.518 (.860 OPS)

  • September 21: .314/.368/.547 (.915 OPS)

Oh, and that .314 batting average? As of Saturday, that's only one point behind Michael Brantley for third in the AL. If Moncada can usurp Brantley, him and Anderson would make up two-thirds of the best three batting averages in the AL. *In best Larry David voice* Preeeeetty, pretty good.

27

“When I feel good, I don’t know, it’s just reaction. I don’t try to do too much and [I] just try to hit it on the barrel,” Eloy Jimenez said post-game last night, in reference to his grand slam against the Tigers. 

The Sox as a team are certainly employing that mentality this month, and the data reflects it. According to Baseball Savant, the White Sox lead baseball in balls batted with an exit velocity of greater-than-or-equal to 108 mph in September with 27 (the next closest team is the Yankees, with 20). Three such instances occurred in last night’s 10-1 rout in Detroit, including Moncada’s 24th home run of the season:

 

118

wRC+ is a weighted, park-controlled measure of a player’s ‘runs created’ wherein the league average is 100 and a player’s proximity to 100 determines how above or below average they register (if you’re curious, there is a great explainer of wRC+ on Fangraphs).

The White Sox have struggled in this metric for most of the season -- their wRC+ as a team is 92 (eight percent below league average), which ranks 20th in baseball. However, in September, the Sox collectively have a wRC+ of 118 -- a whopping 18 percent better than league average -- which ranks fourth in MLB for the month. It’s over a small sample size, as all of these stats are, but it remains an encouraging indicator that the offense is ending the year on a strong note. 

The offseason will officially be upon us soon enough, but if the Sox continue to rake, as they have been all month, there’s still time for a couple exciting moments and performances before the long wait for 2020.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season

palka-920.jpg
USA TODAY

Daniel Palka finally has a good game in the middle of his nightmare season

In the second inning Daniel Palka solidly lined a ball up the middle that looked like a sure hit off the bat. The problem? The Tigers defense was shifted perfectly to that spot for a lineout.

MLB Statcast gave Palka’s lineout an expected batting average of .650. It seemed like just another night like the rest of them have gone for Palka in the majors in 2019.

He entered Friday with a .034 batting average (2-for-59). After hitting 27 home runs with 45 extra base hits and a .778 OPS as a rookie in 2018, Palka hasn’t been able to do much of anything in a White Sox uniform.

That lineout appeared to be another “nothing can go right” moment. However, Palka’s Friday turned around.

His next time up, he pounded a ground ball that found a hole. Statcast gave that one a 31 percent chance of getting a hit, so he broke even after getting robbed earlier. The amusing thing is that Palka’s groundball single had an exit velocity of 108.9 mph, which was the second hardest hit ball of the game.

Palka later added a bloop single in the seventh and a line drive hit in the ninth to finish with a three hit day. Palka entered the day with two hits in 23 games and got three hits in Friday alone.

Even with the 3-for-5 night, Palka’s batting average is still only .072, but he more than doubled it in one game.

Is this relevant to the future of the White Sox? Almost certainly not, but Palka showed some promise in his rookie season and has been through an absolute nightmare this season. The mental side of going through his 0-for-32 start to the season and the continued struggles since could not have been easy. For at least one night in 2019 Palka had a good game at the plate.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.