Reading Room: April is Jose Abreu Awareness Month

David Banks

Hitting 10 homers in your first month as a big leaguer will make plenty of people want to write about you. Who knew?

Coming off an American League Co-Player of the Week Award and closing out one of the all-time great Aprils for rookies, Jose Abreu is commanding a ton of attention, and rightfully so.

People want to know how he and the White Sox met, and Daryl Van Schouwen came away with a great story from Kenny Williams:

When Reinsdorf asked Williams before negotiations to place a value on Abreu, Williams said four years, $40 million. When the numbers escalated during talks, "Jerry, the lawyer that he is, asked, ‘If you’re comfortable at 40, why not another year at 50?’ And then it kept going higher and higher. Understand that the higher it gets … the greater you have to put your butt on the line. It began to get uncomfortable.’’

Reinsdorf then wanted to know if Abreu would be an every-day player his first year. Williams said he was 100 percent certain if Abreu stayed healthy.

"What people don’t know about Jerry and Rick — and Jerry in particular — they were never on the field, but the competitiveness they have behind the scenes is as intense as any player that has been on that field. So they were on it, man. Next thing I know I’m getting calls at midnight. At one point I got off the phone and turned to [my fiancée] and said, ‘I have never been in the position where Jerry is trying to talk me into raising an offer. This is really bizarre.’ ’’

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Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon got a good look at Abreu over the last four days -- probably too good for his liking. Abreu went 7-for-17 with three homers, one walk and 11 RBIs over the series, and that was enough for Maddon to call him the biggest catalyst of the Sox's unexpected turnaround.

"When (Alexei) Ramirez hits sixth, that says something," Maddon said. "And (Adam) Eaton gives you a component at the top of the lineup that you haven't had in a while with that kind of eagerness and speed. It's definitely different.

"He's definitely a high-energy guy. (Tyler) Flowers, to me looks like a different player. Looks like he lost some weight, is in better shape, he's got a better approach at the plate. (Dayan) Viciedo … (Adam) Dunn looks good.

"But saying all that, that first baseman makes all the difference in the world. One guy can make that kind of impact on a team."

And Maddon goes on to rave about Abreu's presence. That's also worth a read.

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Friend of South Side Sox Jonah Keri shares an Abreu anecdote from the set of Baseball Tonight:

On Friday night, I was sitting with Baseball Tonight analysts Eduardo Perez and Doug Glanville, watching the ninth inning of the Rays–White Sox game.3 Rays closer Grant Balfour began melting down, allowing a double, then two walks, then nearly getting into a fight with Paul Konerko. Perez started shouting at the TV, "Don’t let this get to Abreu! You’d better get out of this before getting to Abreu!" The next batter, Adam Eaton, hit what looked like a game-ending double play to second, but a slightly botched relay between Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar allowed Eaton to beat the ball by a hair. Rays manager Joe Maddon challenged the call, causing Perez to jump out of his chair. "You’re messing with Balfour’s timing now! Abreu’s going to go yard if he comes up, watch out!" Facing rookie Marcus Semien, with Abreu on deck, Balfour inexcusably started nibbling, throwing a 2-1 slider that missed the strike zone by a mile, and ultimately issuing the walk. Up strode Abreu, the 255-pound, 27-year-old rookie with light-tower power. "Game over right here!" yelled Perez. And he was right: On an 0-1 count, Balfour threw a fastball, middle-out and thigh-high. Abreu crushed it to deep right, into the Chicago night and over the wall.

The room exploded. Perez and Glanville played a combined 22 years and 1,869 games in the big leagues, enough to have seen it all. Yet they still high-fived and celebrated like one of them had just cranked the walk-off grand slam.

Keri goes on to say that Balfour's pitch was right in Abreu's wheelhouse, and ESPN's heat map shows that Abreu loves the ball middle out, but is slugging a pedestrian rate on inner-half pitches, and that's probably going to be the way pitchers attack him.

(If you missed it: Keri talked about Abreu and the rejuvenated White Sox offense on the SSS podcast two weeks ago.)

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Right now, they're mainly going about their business trying to get him to chase soft stuff below the zone. Jeff Sullivan notes that Abreu has one of baseball's higher chase rates, but it isn't necessarily hurting him as much as it theoretically should.

And another thing I’ve figured out today is that, no, Jose Abreu hasn’t necessarily been swinging with controlled aggression. He has been willing to chase, particularly down and just above the dirt. It could be that’s going to prove to be Abreu’s downfall. Or it could be Abreu’s too good at converting a lot of his swings into value, and pitchers trying to get him to chase will make mistakes. It’s true that not all pitches out of the zone are created alike, and you might just have to stray pretty far from the zone to consistently get Abreu out.

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Over at the mothership, Grant Brisbee wonders what kind of contract Jose Abreu would sign one month into his pro career. In a search for comparables, he found only one player who hit 10 homers in one April before he had established himself as a major league hitter.

It turns out he never really stuck at a major league hitter. That guy was Chris Shelton, the former Detroit Tigers DH to whom Hawk Harrelson briefly attached the "Babe" moniker.

That said, Brisbee still gives Abreu a significantly larger contract than the six-year, $68 million deal he signed with the Sox.

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And at Deadspin, Tom Ley hailed Abreu as "the game's best old-fashioned slugger."

Abreu isn't the result of some kind of evolutionary leap forward, the way A-Rod and Pujols were then, or the way Yasiel Puig and Mike Trout are now. He's just a really big dude who can hit the ball really, really hard. He does pretty much one thing on the baseball field: he steps up to the plate, swings his bat with the ease of someone practicing a chip shot, and literally knocks the cover off the ball. He strikes out a lot, too, and sometimes he ends up hitting a line-drive single instead of a homer, but every time he steps into the box, he's this close to uncorking that soft, fluid swing and sending a fireball into the outfield seats.

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