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.
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.”
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.”