Jose Abreu struck out twice Thursday. True to his form, he had one come on a slider low and away and well out of the zone, a bouncer that he looked positively foolish waving at, the type of pitch someone overmatched or completely unable to pick up the ball is caught swinging at.
It was also his first multi-strikeout game in 19 games, his longest streak of the season. In that stretch, his strikeout rate has dropped from 26.5% to 23.7% and his batting average is up from .268 to .287.
Previously, Abreu was walking an unsustainable combination of neither being patient, nor making much contact, and relying solely on his tendency to send anything he got a hold of a tremendous distance. This came to a head when he posted a 22:1 K/BB ratio in 15 games in May.
Since June 1, Abreu's K-rate is down to 20.1%, which has allowed him to post a .316/.361/.669 line. Abreu simply hits the ball with so much authority, that if he makes that much contact, his OBP probably won't be an issue, or at least not a weak point.
Finding a root cause would be nice. Abreu still thirsts for sliders on the outer half according to Brooks Baseball zone charts, if anything more, than he used to. I can't find a major switch at the granular level other than he doesn't seemed to be getting fooled by changeups anymore. He used to whiff at 28% of the ones he cut on, and that figure has been cut in half since June 1, along with big jumps in home run and line-drive rates associated. Overall, with the number of changes Abreu faces, we're discussing six or seven pitches that he hasn't whiffed on that he might have before. Beyond that is incremental.
Everything helps, but at this point the samples are small enough that it's impossible to discern development and increasingly familiarity with the quality of pitching he's seeing, and just the slumps and spurts of the season. The one consistent has been absurd power, with strike zone judgment being more of a wavering thing. If Abreu can put 80% of balls in play, or draw 10% of walk, there's enough assurance that he'll be indomitable due to his power production.
Pre-season scouting instructed to expect adjustments to come from Abreu's studious nature as a hitter rather than any kind of physical development, so we expected walks before he started catching up to fastballs, but since the approach remains bonkers and the success is on a steady incline, we can hope he's learning and adjusting in his own way, which seems to be mostly through destruction, which only gets more ruthless with time.