Behind only the phrase ‘season-ending injury,’ the most feared term in baseball (for fans and fantasy players alike) is “sophomore slump.”
Nobody wants to hear it.
This plague has hit the likes of Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Eric Hosmer, and Austin Jackson in recent years. However, some players have proven immune.
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen, Starlin Castro and Paul Goldschmidt comprise a coveted list of talent that has avoided the slump’s wrath.
So that begs the question, why does this daunting slump hit some players while others manage to escape it?
Honestly, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason. For instance, a player could have been lucky in their first season, and their peripheral stats finally catch up to them. Or they may be playing injured, which hinders their performance. And most importantly, it could be that the league has adjusted and figured out their weaknesses.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. To survive you must adapt, and if you don’t, well, you’re left in the dust.
Once the league has adjusted to you, it is up to the player to adjust to those new adjustments, creating a never-ending cycle of… adjustments.
Let’s play a game. You have two options – player A and player B – you can only choose one to have on your team.
If you chose player A, you chose Jose Abreu in the first half of the 2014 season, and if you chose player B, you chose Jose Abreu in the second half of the 2014 season.
What this little game shows is that Jose Abreu adjusted incredibly fast. What takes some players a couple of seasons to do was done in a matter of months. Basically, he was two completely different players in the same season, and that’s unheard of.
In the first half, he was much more all-or-nothing at the plate, which causes players to be prone to slumps. In the second half, he put the ball in play more resulting in getting on base at a higher rate. There was no selling out for power, and in turn he walked four percent more and struck out five percent less. Naturally, that caused a massive dent in his home run numbers.
His first half home run to fly ball rate was a ridiculous 34.9 percent, which wasn’t sustainable in the slightest. In the second half, that number fell to 13.7 percent – still considered above average.
However, despite the sizable drop off between the two halves, Abreu still led the major leagues in HR/FB for the season with a crazy 26.9%, besting the 25.5 percent put up by NL MVP runner-up Giancarlo Stanton.
That is absurd.
What else is absurd is that despite playing in 19 fewer games in the second half, Abreu was just 12 hits shy of his first half total, walked seven more times, and only struck out 49 times compared to 82.
While some may argue that the power drop off hurt the White Sox, it really did not. It seemed that way when the whole offense fell flat on its face and couldn’t produce, but Abreu was still getting on base. It was the guys behind him that failed to get him in.
That was a problem last season, but Rick Hahn made sure it won’t happen again with the signing of Adam LaRoche to hit behind Abreu. Young players like Conor Gillaspie and Avisail Garcia will slide down accordingly, lessening the pressure on them.
So back to our original question. Is Jose Abreu destined for greatness or the dreaded sophomore slump?
Barring injury, Abreu has set himself up for greatness in 2015.
Yes, 2014 had some incredible swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. In all likelihood, he won’t be hitting 29 home runs in the first half again, or maintain an ungodly .419 BABIP like he did in the second half. But Abreu’s change in approach makes him less susceptible to long slumps because he’s willing to take walks. It also helps that Abreu will be spending much of his time in the DH spot this season, making him less likely to sustain an injury.
I’m comfortable saying that fans should expect something right in the middle, which is still really damn good. Had Abreu not transformed himself mid-season in 2014, I don’t think I could make that claim.
The White Sox are in good shape to finally dethrone the Detroit Tigers after their four-year reign atop the division. And they’ll have a strong sophomore campaign from their star Jose Abreu to thank for it.
(Featured Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)