How for real is Jose Abreu?

This headline is a joke, of course. We know that Jose Abreu is the realest real, and that his skill and dominance is more authentic than even our love for our own families. For example, spend the next fifteen minutes declaring to everyone around you that your love for your family is false, then spend 15 minutes declaring that Abreu's production at the plate is a lie--which is more affected?

But statistically speaking, it's a curiosity how long Jose Abreu needs to continue being a dominant offensive force with a pretty much dreadful approach of striking out all the time and walking rarely before we can trust it. Abreu's awesome if he can keep hitting a .330 isolated power all year. He'd also be the only man in the world who can do it, so there's a hesitance to write it in stone.

Abreu is slugging just a shade under .600, and has flirted with that barrier all year. Offensive eras muddle the historical significance of this, and now that I've put together an article entirely based around messing with the Play Index tool, I wish it could search for even OPS+ or something reflective of relative dominance, but as many flukes as we've seen in baseball, .600 slugging is a hell of a fluke.

Abreu has managed his .598 mark through 266 plate appearances in his first season in the league. That doesn't carry the excitement it might with other rookies, where more physical development could be expected, but there's optimism Abreu could continue to acclimate to MLB pitching faster than it acclimates to him.

Abreu's contemporaries who have been able to eclipse this mark in their opening seasons--of at least 260 plate appearances--are Albert Pujols and Ryan Braun. That would be fine. Most White Sox fans would approve of such career progressions for Abreu, some wouldn't, and they should be jailed. Another player who pulled this off was Ted Williams. That would also be fine. Go ahead and be Ted Williams, Jose.

These are Hall of Fame-caliber offensive talents having the first year of their Hall of Fame careers. Abreu--zooming into the states right into the middle of his prime--doesn't quite match up.

Nor do the two other .600 slugging rookie seasons. 24-year-old Wally Berger and 30-year-old George Watkins both slugged over .600 in 1930, a freakish year that saw the league-average slugging rate jump to .434, which is still to this day in a virtual dead heat for third-highest of all-time. Berger had a fine, if injury-shortened career where he would post stronger seasons relative to his peers, but never match his figures of 38 home runs and .614 slugging. Watkins was a mystery already with his dynamite debut at an advanced age--he hit .373/.415/.621, the last of which was a rookie record until Braun broke it--but followed it up with two merely solid years, and was below-average for his last four years in the game.

So, rookies producing power at this level are either perennial MVP candidates or part of one of the weirdest seasons in baseball history. The other offensive seasons that were around 1930 were mostly the late-90's, early 2000's years that we've spent all of our lives wringing our hands over. With numbers mostly coming back to Earth, a .600 slugging mark in over 260 plate appearances has been managed by 29 players since 2004. 

There are many great names on this list: Jim Thome, Matt Holiday, Chipper Jones, Lance Berkman, Joey Votto. But there's also a handful of good players that Sox fans would have been satisfied to here thrown out as comparisons for Abreu at the start of the year: Travis Hafner, Mike Napoli, Carlos Pena and old friend Jermaine Dye. The only red flag on this list is Tony Clark, who somehow hit .304/.366/.636 with 30 bombs as a 33-year-old pulling part-time work in Arizona. The next year he slugged .364.

What's striking, is that out of 29 players who had slugged .600, 22 did it only once in life. This year, Troy Tulowitski, Nelson Cruz, and Victor Martinez are joining Abreu in their quest to also post their first-ever .600 slugging season. When we narrow down to players with multi-.600 slugging peaks, then it becomes a club of superstars: Albert Pujols, David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Ramirez, Jose Bautista, Prince Fielder, Alex Rodriguez.

Nearly three months of smashing has carried Abreu clear of the Craig Sheltons and Shane Spencers in his statistical comparables. His peers in power-swatting suggest the White Sox are going to be rewarded for their risky investment with an above-average hitter who should fill out his contract. Validation that he's the sensation we all imagine him to be requires more context, since he could be a Mike Napoli-type hitter in his peak year. Without the degenerative hip condition, of course.

Not like that would be a bad thing.


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