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Providing Protection for Jose Abreu

For the first time since donning a White Sox uniform, Jose Abreu will be in a position to truly succeed.
Jose Abreu COVID

Photo: USA Today

I think we can all say with some level of honesty that Jose Abreu is the face of the Chicago White Sox. I'm not saying he's the team's best player, and despite Yoan Moncada's coming out party in 2019, Abreu is the player that is most identified with our favorite team. Abreu has had the misfortune of carrying the mantle for this organization during one of the least successful periods of its history. Abreu has never been on a winning team since taking his first AB at 35th/Shields in 2014 through no fault of his own. In his 901 career games played with the Sox, he has slashed .293/.349/.513, good for a 132 wRC+. Those are damn solid numbers for a guy that has had a collection of junk, to put it mildly, around him.

During that time, Abreu has hit somewhere between 2-4 in the lineup 893 times. So it feels fairly certain that we will see him hitting there again in 2020, most likely third and occasionally fourth. Looking at his career breakdown by spot in the batting order, we see the following production:

Lineup Spot

Games

wRC+

2nd

43

112

3rd

726

130

4th

124

149

Abreu has seen over 80% of his career PAs come out of the third spot in the lineup, and he has produced admirably. One has to wonder how his production will look in 2020 knowing that for the first time in his career, he will have competent and dangerous hitters surrounding him. During his time in the league, the Sox have ranked at or near the bottom in terms of offensive production out of the #2 and #4 spots in the lineup.

 

#2 Spot - wRC+ (rank)

#4 spot - wRC+ (rank)

2014

77 (26th)

113 (12th)

2015

78 (30th)

104 (24th)

2016

91 (25th)

123 (9th)

2017

82 (29th)

111 (14th)

2018

78 (30th)

95 (24th)

2019

135 (9th)

88 (25th)

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As you can see, the #2 spot had been a complete black hole until last season's breakout campaign from Yoan Moncada, so we should expect to see this remain a strength in the coming seasons. The cleanup spot has similarly been a disaster, ranking in the top ten only once in Abreu's tenure. Interestingly enough, that 2016 season saw Abreu take the greatest number of PAs in the cleanup spot of any player on the roster.

The fact that Abreu has been able to produce at the level he has during his White Sox tenure is truly remarkable when you look at some of this data and realize just how little help he has had surrounding him. He's been flanked throughout his career by the likes of Jimmy Rollins, Tyler Saladino, Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier, Yonder Alonso, and Avisail Garcia just to name a few.

Since the start of the 2018 season, Abreu has taken one plate appearance outside of the #3 spot in the lineup, so it feels pretty safe to assume that this is where Ricky will pencil him in during the 2020 campaign. I would imagine Jose is salivating at the thought of hitting between Yoan Moncada and some combination of Yasmani Grandal/Eloy Jimenez/Edwin Encarnacion more than he was after eating his fake passport on a stateside flight in 2013.

Many of us have been critical of Abreu's apparent decline phase over the last two seasons, myself included. However, when looking at what has surrounded him, I think it's fair to raise the question: is it necessarily his fault? Abreu has admittedly been a player that has placed tremendous pressure on himself to perform, and one can't help but wonder how having Yonder Alonso hit behind him for a good portion of the 2019 season impacted his thought-process from at-bat to at-bat.

For the first time since donning a White Sox uniform, Jose Abreu will be in a position to truly succeed. We've heard countless stories of his leadership and how the young, particularly Latin players, gravitate to him for guidance. I think we will now get the chance to see Abreu truly flourish for his ability in the batter's box. Yes, he took the baseball world by storm in 2014 en route to winning the AL Rookie of the Year, but the league has since made adjustments to him. They have used his aggressiveness against him, largely in part, because opposing pitchers didn't have to fear what surrounded him in the Sox lineup. Pitchers won't have that luxury in 2020, and that could give Abreu the opportunity to feast on fastballs and do damage at a level that could hopefully approach 2014's output. Those fastballs are the pitch that Abreu has hammered the most throughout his career to the tune of a .392 wOBA against. That will definitely play.

For all that Abreu has endured since joining this organization prior to the 2014 season, I know I'm excited to finally see him surrounded by a capable team. He's been a stalwart in the lineup and set a tremendous example on the field, in the clubhouse, and in the community. I can't think of a player that has put on a White Sox uniform that has deserved roster protection more than Jose Abreu. He will now have that and it should be truly enjoyable to see what he will do in 2020.

Given what will be surrounding Abreu in the lineup this coming season, I wouldn't be surprised if we see a record number of A-Bombs from Jose. We've looked so much at projections in recent days and how the Sox stack up to the rest of the division on a position-by-position basis, and I'm now beginning to think we may have undersold Abreu and what he could bring to the 2020 White Sox. A monster season from Jose could be a driving force in leading this team back to the postseason for the first time since 2008. I know one thing is for sure, as much fun as Jose has had playing up until this point, the prospect of seeing him step in the box in a key spot this October would surely bring a smile to his face.