It's apparent how valuable José Abreu is to the White Sox every time you see him play first base.
It's perhaps more apparent when you don't see him out there.
This is not to bury Jake Lamb, who tried his darndest during a rare start in Thursday's series finale against the Minnesota Twins. But with the White Sox opting to offer Abreu, the reigning MVP and most important batter in their lineup, a form of a day off by DH'ing him, Lamb was at first base, and it did not go well.
Lamb was charged with an error for dropping a throw. He failed to complete a double play. He couldn't corral a low throw from Lance Lynn that went down as an error on the pitcher.
And the reason all those tough plays looked so ugly Thursday is because Abreu probably would have made them.
"I think it's a common practice, even with people in uniform, much less fans, to think that first base is where you put the power hitter, just catch the ball when they throw it and make a play here or there," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Friday. "The fact is, if you excel at that position, it's a tremendous advantage to your defense. The guys throwing the ball, especially from the left side, throwing that direction, (know) the guy's going to pick it.
"(Abreu is) a special defender. ... His excellence on defense just inspires confidence in the infield, plus it saves runs."
Abreu was voted the American League MVP last year because of his sensational season at the dish, with his oft-discussed clubhouse contributions likely present in the minds of voters. Less well known is Abreu's defensive play, which has gone from a weak spot in the early part of his big league career to an eye-popping strength the last couple years.
One night prior to his day of rest as the DH, Abreu put on a defensive clinic at first base, a cavalcade of plays that made any viewer take note. He contorted his body to catch a throw, he made a diving stop on the infield, he started a critical double play, and he made an over-the-shoulder catch on a pop up in shallow right field.
"He's definitely a Gold Glover," La Russa said Thursday. "I see the work ethic. ... You can work hard and go in the game and fall asleep. It's just the way he takes the work ethic into the game. And he plays the scoreboard, which is one of the classic things that winning players are taught: play the scoreboard."
The glowing review from La Russa, managing Abreu for the first time in 2021, is right in line with comments from those who have been around the first baseman for his entire major league career. And talk of Abreu playing Gold Glove-caliber defense is not new to this season. Last year, when Abreu was firmly a part of the MVP conversation, general manager Rick Hahn tried to drum up Gold Glove consideration for Abreu, as well.
That didn't materialize, though perhaps it's no one's fault. Gold Gloves are determined solely by numbers these days, and the numbers varied wildly on whether Abreu was a "good" defender or not in 2020. Only two AL first basemen had a lower defensive WAR, according to Fangraphs, than Abreu's minus-4.7 mark. Meanwhile, he ranked third among AL first baseman with five Defensive Runs Saved.
But folks who watch the White Sox every day don't need an award to let them know what kind of defender Abreu is or how important his defense is to a team with realistic championship expectations.
Add it to the prolific production at the plate and the leadership he brings to the clubhouse, and it's just another example of just how valuable the game's Most Valuable Player is on the South Side.
"He's a beautiful guy," La Russa said, "beautiful in every way."