Why Jose Abreu Is Worthy of a First-Round Pick in Fantasy Baseball Drafts
Last year, Jose Abreu burst on the scene and brought grown men (or me, at least) to tears with his majestic mashing abilities. The dude made the transition from Cuba's Serie Nacional to Major League Baseball with frightening ease.
Now, we are ready for the second year of this beautiful beast. He has an additional year of experience under his belt, but pitchers have an additional year of scouting reports. What does this all mean for his 2015 outlook?
Most fantasy baseball rankings for this year are yet to come out, but both ESPN's Top 250 and Fantasy Pros' rankings list Abreu as a guy worthy of a first-round pick. This is all for a guy who hadn't even made his major league debut 10 months ago. Is Abreu a safe pick at the bottom of the first round this year? Let's find out.
How Good Was Abreu's 2014?
Before we even start this discussion, it seems important to illustrate just how sickly this man was last year. Rain coats are encouraged for the amount of drool that is about to flow.
Abreu finished tied for fourth in the league in home runs with 36. He slashed .317/.383/.581, besting Mike Trout in every single category. His .411 weighted on-base average (wOBA) was tied for the second-highest in the league, and his .581 slugging percentage was topped by nobody.
This translated over to numberFire's metrics, too. He finished the season with the fifth highest nERD score of any batter in the league. This measures the number of runs a player is worth relative to a league-average player if he were to record every at-bat in a game. Abreu's 3.51 nERD means a team filled with nine Jose Abreu's (also known as my recurring fantasy) would score 3.51 runs more than a team that had nine league-average players. That's quite tasty.
This all led to a finish as the 12th-highest scoring batter in ESPN standard leagues (in which receive one point per total base, run scored, run batted in, walk and stolen base and lose one per strikeout). He was fifth among first basemen. If we were to just use the 2014 rankings to make decisions about 2015, then Abreu would be on the outside looking in for being a first-rounder. But there's a reason that's the dumbest strategy on the planet. So what puts Abreu over the top in most rankings?
The Appeal of Abreu's Consistency
One thing many people will point to when evaluating Abreu is his power decline in the second half of the season. This is not untrue as he hit 29 of his 36 home runs prior to the All-Star break. But I actually think this strengthens Abreu's case.
Although his power did decrease, his effectiveness did nothing of the sort. Abreu actually had a higher wOBA in the second half of the season (.413) than he did in the first half (.410).
This was coupled with a marked increase in his walk rate. Abreu started his big league career with a 7.0 walk percentage in the first month. That number dipped to a concerning 1.6 percent in May. But, from that month on, Abreu's walk percentage increased every month until it climbed all the way to 11.3 percent in September. His strikeout percentage decreased to 18.1 in the second half from 23.4 percent in the first half. He became a complete hitter.
This is all encouraging because it means your fantasy team isn't likely to tank totally when Abreu experiences a power outage. He is still going to contribute positively to your point totals even when he's not mashing taters left and right. Can you say the same about other power-hitters that might go off the board in the first round?
Then you must take into consideration the line-up around Abreu. While this won't affect his individual performance, it will affect his fantasy stats as both runs and runs batted in drive up point totals.
Abreu was forced to hit in front of some serious flaming dog poo last year. As much as I love Adam Dunn, 2014 wasn't his best year, and he hit fourth for the White Sox 60 times. Dayan Viciedo did so 38 times, and he had a .231/.281/.405 slash last year. While they weren't always hitting behind Abreu, this is an illustration of just how bad the line-up was immediately behind Abreu.
On the season, the White Sox's clean-up spot slogged to a .242/.307/.462 slash. That includes the .303/.356/.648 slash Abreu posted in the 31 games he played there. If you were to omit that... you know, let's just not do that. This is a family website.
Insert Adam LaRoche. Sure, he's 35, but he's still a highly effective hitter. LaRoche, who is expected to be the every-day designated hitter, slashed .259/.362/.455 for the Nationals last year. That would be a major improvement over what followed Abreu last year, which should, in turn, at least give him a slight bump in the runs scored category.
Then there are the guys in front of Abreu. Adam Eaton was super in his first campaign on the South Side, but he also only played in 123 games. His .362 on-base percentage two spots in front of Abreu for potentially 30 additional games would help out in the RBI category as well. They'll need to find someone to replace Gordon Beckham in the two-hole, but the infrastructure is in place for those around Abreu to help him boost his fantasy production in 2015.
The Case for Concern
All of the mushiness aside, there is still a reason to think twice before spending such a high pick on Abreu. This even includes that ridiculous second half I just gushed over for four paragraphs.
Although Abreu's real-world value was still astronomical in that second half, his fantasy numbers did take a slight dive. And by slight, I mean less than slight. In his 351 plate appearances prior to the All-Star break, Abreu averaged .758 fantasy points per plate appearance, which is un-freaking-believable. In the second half, though, when the home runs were down and the walks and singles shot up, Abreu averaged only .609 fantasy points per plate appearance. This is still stupidly good, but is it enough to warrant a top-10 pick?
Then there's the whole batting average on balls in play (BABIP) issue. Abreu's was at .356 last year, the fourth highest in the entire league. The only people ahead of him and most of the ones within striking distance behind him had a little ol' thing he doesn't necessarily possess: blazing speed.
If he were to keep his batted ball stats stagnant, Abreu would most likely still have an above-average BABIP. Abreu finished with a line-drive percentage of 23.3, a ground-ball percentage of 45.5, and a fly-ball percentage of 31.2. The league-averages are 20.8, 44.8 and 34.4 percent respectively. So, yes, Abreu's BABIP is going to be above average as fly balls murder your BABIP and line drives fluff it up.
The problem is that it would be hard to see his BABIP staying as much above average as it is. The league-average BABIP was .299. Steamer projects his BABIP to sag to .310, bringing his slashes down to .283/.355/.540 with a .380 wOBA and 34 home runs.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections see Abreu in a more positive light with a slash of .292/.371/.544 with a .389 wOBA and 33 home runs. ZiPS sees Abreu's runs scored increasing by three, but his RBI total decreasing. Basically, all projection systems see a regression from Abreu.
If Abreu scored outside of the top 10 batters last year and is expected to regress, why should we make him a first round pick? I, personally, am still willing to do so, largely because of the reasons discussed at the end of the previous section.
Although Abreu's fantasy production went down in the second half of the season, those results should be the minimum expectation for him. That's a perfectly delectable floor for a guy to have as a fantasy asset. When you add in the tremendous ceiling he has if he were to re-gain the power-hitting prowess he had early on, he would have the potential to be one of the highest scorers in the league.
That mix of high floor, high ceiling is what makes Abreu a first-round pick for me. Either way, I've already properly prepped my tear ducts for Opening Day as another year of Abreu is reason enough for a celebratory sob-fest.