This was going to be a follow-up article from my piece on Detroit Tigers that killed the Cleveland Indians in their career that was to be focused on the Chicago White Sox. In doing my research, a name that didn’t appear on the list was Jose Abreu, mainly because he’s only been in the United States for three years. well below the 400 plate appearance threshold I looked for.
My recent memories of Abreu (best nickname in baseball candidate with El Canon, even if only Hawk Harrelson uses it) are him just destroying Cleveland pitching, and the numbers back it up. Specifically, the .966 OPS with 14 home runs and 13 doubles in 54 games against Cleveland. But that’s not even close to the most domination he’s wrought against an AL Central opponent. After studying his career numbers, I am firm in the belief that Jose Abreu should never leave the division.
There’s a decent chance he does leave the White Sox. They’re headed toward a hard reset and rebuild, moving their cheap and dominant ace and their cheap and excellent outfielder, along with being in talks to ship off Jose Quintana. But Abreu is a target too. He’s obviously talented, worth 12.1 Wins Above Replacement over the last three years, and even after opting out of the last year of his contract will certainly be cheaper relatively speaking in his arbitration years.
Abreu won’t be bargain basement, but he’s not going to get $25 million-plus that the free agency market would net him. By the time the White Sox are good again he'll be long gone. It would be a good idea for Chicago to get some future value out of him. Combine that with the murmured worries that he may have peaked in his rookie year (which year-to-year WAR totals attest to as they've dropped from 5.5 to 3.8 to 2,8 since 2014, along with every other stat we keep) and making a move now might be best for everyone.
Abreu is a very good hitter, the career 143 OPS+ attests to that. But he truly feasts on the AL Central. At least, for the most part. Here’s his OPS and tOPS (measures a player’s numbers against one team against his general average, higher is better) for all Central teams:
Obviously, the Royals ate him up. Part of that has to be that he happened to come along just as Kansas City was hitting its apex, though. He’s always had a very high batting average on balls in play which works to buoy his numbers, and the Royals’ defensive-centric team and incredible bullpen worked in tandem to heavily suppress BABIP. Think of all the low-scoring grind fests they won the last few years. Abreu’s career 1.43 groundball to flyball ratio means the excellent infield defense of the Royals stole hits from him too. We’ve all seen it happen to our favorite players against Kansas City. That's all just as much a commentary on the underrated greatness of the Royals as it is on Abreu as a hitter. That seems like the exception, not the rule.
He simply crushes the other teams. Okay, the Twins do alright, keeping him to just being his normal excellent self. But it seems like the better the pitching, the better he hits them. These are good staffs, too. Even the Twins had a couple good arms the last few years. The Indians have been sending Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar out there for his entire career, and in particular he destroys Kluber. They’ve faced each other 35 times, the most Abreu has seen any pitcher, and he’s got a 1.097 OPS against him. This is the best pitcher on the Indians and one of the two best in the division at this point, and Abreu creams him. He’s faced Justin Verlander, the other best pitcher in the division, 32 times and gets him even better - 1.265 OPS. Good hitters get hits, but the way he makes elite pitchers look like fools is incredible.
The only team he doesn’t have numbers against is the White Sox, because cloning humans is still officially illegal. But if he were to theoretically leave but stay in the division, he’d have the double whammy of getting to face a rebuilding team with bad pitching and defense in a park where he’s hit .315/.388/.532 over three years and more than 200 games. That’s against the often superior pitching of White Sox opponents. Imagine the damage he’d wreak against a White Sox team committed to dwelling in the cellar for a couple years.
It’s probably not going to happen. The only team that might need him and want him would be the Twins at this point since the Tigers are tied to Miguel Cabrera, the Indians just spent $65 million and the Royals are probably going to hold on to Eric Hosmer. If they don’t, they’re going to go full rebuild themselves. He’s more likely to leave for another division and likely another league, and have to find his own way there. It’d be neat if he’d stick around though, if only for the narrative. As much as it hurts to see him crush the Tribe, I just like the idea that he’s so devoted to killing the AL Central that he commands his agent to get him to only one of those five teams.
Why a Cuban who has been in the US for less than four years would have it out for the Rust Belt, I have no idea. Maybe one of those preserved 1950’s Chevy’s we see driving around Havana stole his girlfriend or something, or he hates large bodies of freshwater but loves unpredictable weather patterns. I don’t know. I don’t know the guy. I just know he dominates Midwestern baseball teams. It'd be a shame to let that disappear.