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Jose Abreu has a new weakness

Inside pitches were getting the best of Jose Abreu early in 2016, but now his inability to punish pitches low in the strike zone is reason to be concerned.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When the Chicago White Sox traded for Todd Frazier during the offseason, it addressed a need for more power in the lineup. In 2015, the team finished last in the American League in slugging and home runs. Carry all of the load power-wise was Jose Abreu, who was coming off back-to-back 30 homer seasons. By adding Frazier, general manager Rick Hahn had a duo that should have been easy to pencil in 60-plus dingers if both Abreu and Frazier can remain healthy.

Frazier has done his part with his 29 homers second in the American League to Baltimore's Mark Trumbo who has 30. The issue is with Jose Abreu. For a player to hit ten home runs in April 2014 and never hit fewer than three in a month, the White Sox rock has crumbled in July. Despite hitting .304 for the month, Abreu's power has evaporated. No home runs in July, and it has been 122 plate appearances since his last dinger in Boston on June 23rd. The last time Abreu hit a home run at U.S. Cellular Field was June 13th against Detroit.

For the most part, the lack of success for Abreu has been his difficulty with inside pitches. Back in May, Jeff Sullivan for Fangraphs wrote about using Statcast data to neutralize Abreu. In May, fastball pitches were located on the inner third 59%. Two months later, that has dropped to 52.85%, still leading the league.

While looking at data from Baseball Savant, it appears that opposing pitchers now have another weak point they can attack when facing Abreu.

7/29/2016 Abreu BA by Zone Baseball Savant

As a right-handed hitter, Abreu is standing on the left side of this grid. As you can see, Abreu is still crushing pitches on the outer half of the zone. What is very alarming is how poor he is hitting pitches that down the middle of the plate at the knees. His .222 batting average is in zone 8 of the zone chart and last year it was not an issue.

Abreu BA by Zone 2015 Baseball Savant

What makes matters worse is that in 2016, only one pitch located in zone 8 was called a ball. To have that weakness within the strike zone now is concerning for any hitter in the major leagues. In 2015, Abreu had 20 hits in zone 8 that included five home runs. A year later, only four hits and no home runs. So not only are pitchers able to get a strike against Abreu, but it's a haven where he can't hurt them. A pitcher's paradise.

Hell, zone 7 has been a huge drop-off, too. Only two pitches within that zone have been called a ball this season and Abreu has seven hits. One of those was a home run, but that was back on April 19th against the Los Angeles Angels. Every hit since then in that zone has been a single.

Thanks to the power outage in July, Abreu is now only on pace to hit 17 home runs in 2016. Some of the best to wear the White Sox uniform had off years, such as Paul Konerko in 2003 or Frank Thomas in 1999. If history is on the White Sox side, Jose Abreu in 2017 could have a huge bounce-back season like Konerko and Thomas did with both hitting more than 40 home runs after their disappointing season.

Or, we are starting to see a sharp decline of a once promising power hitter.