White Sox

White Sox see Jose Abreu taking the right approach to slump

White Sox see Jose Abreu taking the right approach to slump

Jose Abreu hasn’t had a stretch like this in the major leagues, maybe ever. 

The White Sox first baseman entered Friday night’s game against the Texas Rangers hitting .190 with a .646 OPS, cringe-worthy numbers for a guy who’s made a living mashing baseballs since arriving in the United Stated two and a half years ago. It’s hard to find a stretch nearly this bad in his major league game log; his slumps are often shorter than and not as pronounced as this 16-game malaise.

There was a 26-game stretch from April 26 through May 26 of 2015 that’s probably the worst he’s had, in which he hit .248/.315/.356 with three home runs. But that turned out to be nothing to worry about, as Abreu finished last season with 30 home runs and an .850 OPS.

The White Sox, though, are hardly concerned with Abreu’s slow start to the 2016 season. It’s just 16 games, after all, which represents 5 percent of the major league games in which he’s played. But more importantly, manager Robin Ventura said the 29-year-old Cuban hasn’t changed who he is during this slump.

“I think guys look at it as an anomaly of him going through this,” Ventura said. “I think he's handled it well. You wouldn't really know from day to day because of the way he handles it. He works, he's an over-worker almost, of going in the cage and tinkering with stuff and being able to try and find that feeling.

“Right now, he doesn't have that feeling. but when he gets it he can go on a tear.”

Abreu was seen in the White Sox clubhouse long after Thursday's loss to the Los Angeles Angels dripping with sweat, having taken extra batting practice following his second consecutive 0-4 day at the plate. Ventura said Abreu’s been chasing too many bad pitches lately, though it hasn’t resulted in a noticeable drop in his contact rate. What has dropped, though, is his hard contact percentage, which sits about 7 percent lower than it was last year. 

“Is he better than that? Do we expect more of him? Absolutely,” Ventura said, “and we have confidence he's going to do that. As soon as he stops chasing it he's going to be just fine.”

More than likely, Abreu’s April struggles will become a non-story chalked up to a small sample size. The 66 home runs and .904 OPS he compiled in 2014 and 2015 are better indicators than what he’s done — or hasn’t — in 2016. 

And too, Ventura hasn’t seen anything mentally from Abreu that makes him think this’ll turn into a larger problem. 

“His attitude has always been great and that's the thing that's going to carry him, whether he goes through a slump or whether he doesn’t,” Ventura said. “He's been through a slump, not like this part, but he's been through stuff where he's been able to bounce out of it.”

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.