Jose Abreu is a bonafide power bat. He has at the very least, a 70-grade in-game power tool. Before he could do much of anything at the plate against major league pitching, he could clock what he made contact with to a location 400 feet away.
In those terms, he's been off his game in August. Abreu is slugging .452 for the month through Wednesday despite maintaining a season figure that's floated in the .600 territory all year. He currently has two home runs for the month, where he's previously never hit less than five in a month. It's clearly been a cold stretch for power production for him.
He's also been awesome. After Thursday night, he was hitting .345 and getting on base at a .433 clip for August, which would be his best month if it held up.
Abreu's performance hasn't so much wavered as it's changed. He wobbled off the field after running it out to first this month but has otherwise seemed perfectly fine. His home run/fly ball rate is down, but It's not like he's hammering fly balls that are dying at the fence when they use to clear. He's spraying low line-drives all over, and I suspect the change is not all about him.
This is a heat map of the location of pitches thrown to Abreu all season.
Lots of breakers low and away, lots of avoiding him away, and lots of stuff to extend his arms on. Now, here's a slide of how he's being pitched in August. Let's interpret the blobs.
What does this mean? Well, the red blob had moved. Rather than sit on the outer half out of fear of pull power, there looks to be a greater attempt to jam Abreu inside. It's also dropped, for when Abreu gets something he can elevate, the consequences have proved to be very grave. But we're burying the lede here: The red blob in the strike zone representing the preponderance of pitches thrown has gotten smaller and less authoritative.
Pitchers are throwing less strikes to Abreu. He can hurt strikes and no one likes to be hurt. His walks have accelerated, but Abreu is hardly a patient hitter. He's hitting, but he's making due with what he's seeing. Perhaps his month was best defined by Abreu's seventh inning at-bat against Corey Kluber. Abreu saw seven sliders low and away from Kluber in a row, and swung at four of them, finally stinging the last one up the middle.
Perhaps a perfect model of patience waits out Kluber and hopes to get something to drive when they meet again, but given the material he's getting, Abreu's doing more damage than could be expected given how much he's forced to pick away at the pitches on the margins.
That pitchers have decided to avoid a slugger is not among the more shocking developments, but Abreu--in his own way--is making avoiding him its own brand of failure. It's no way to live, but as far as cold streaks and league adjustments go, this one reflects surprising well on its participant.
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