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Friday, February 24, 2012

Grantland: The Best Hitter You’ve Never Heard Of

Jonah Keri profile on a guy who I’ve been kind of amazed hasn’t gotten more attention: Jose Abreu.

A .453 batting average; .597 on-base percentage; .986 slugging percentage. Thirty-three homers and 93 runs batted in … in 212 at-bats.
[...]
Miguel Cabrera was the best hitter in Major League Baseball in 2011. Jose Abreu, even after adjusting his numbers to reflect A-ball competition, blew Cabrera out of the water.

“I don’t know that I’d name him the ‘best hitter in the world’ based on a 60-game performance,” said Davenport. “But yes, I’d say there’s a chance.”

[...]

Oakland and other teams agree that Abreu isn’t nearly the all-around athlete that someone like Cespedes is. He’s a first baseman at best and maybe a DH if and when he makes the big leagues. He doesn’t run well. His body is not exactly chiseled. His stats have been inflated somewhat by intentional walks (a league-leading 32 in 2009-10, and 21 last season) and hit-by-pitches (30 in 2009-10, 21 last season, though Abreu might have an easier time sustaining high HBP numbers than league-leading intentional walk totals in the majors). Even Abreu’s hit tool, while playable, might not be superstar-level.

“Is he Barry Bonds? No,” Forst said. “If you do a comprehensive survey of the clubs, they’d say he is not the best hitter on the planet.”

But?

“There are legitimate comparisons to Ryan Howard.”

Here’s his DT page.

Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 24, 2012 at 10:43 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fantasy baseball, international, prospect reports

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. The Nightman Cometh Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:06 AM (#4068407)
If you do a comprehensive survey of the clubs, they’d say he is not the best hitter on the planet.


Thanks for clearing that up.
   2. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 25, 2012 at 03:17 AM (#4068445)
I remember when Gammons went ga ga over Toe Nash.
   3. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: February 25, 2012 at 10:53 AM (#4068484)
Well, Toe Nash was a guy with remarkable physical gifts who'd never done anything as a professional baseball player. Abreu is a guy with remarkable physical gifts who is the best hitter in a minor league of imprecisely known quality. Gammons thought that Toe Nash might one day be a superstar-caliber player. Keri thinks that Abreu might be a superstar-caliber player right now. Huge difference.
   4. Accent Shallow Posted: February 25, 2012 at 11:14 AM (#4068495)
The article obliquely answers something I've wondered for some time -- what does a player need to hit in A-ball to have that translate to a star-level MLB line? The answer is apparently ~.450/.550/.950.

Baseball in Cuba is absolutely fascinating.

   5. Barnaby Jones Posted: February 25, 2012 at 12:14 PM (#4068525)
These are the same translations that said Wieters would immediately be the best player in baseball, no?
   6. I Remember When Posted: February 25, 2012 at 12:55 PM (#4068554)
His stats have been inflated somewhat by intentional walks


At least someone notices that intentional walks have nothing to say about a players ability. While they may indicate that the player is somewhat useful, they are the decision of the opposing team's manager and, as the player himself failed to contribute to them in any direct way, they are statistically neutral and have no business being figured in with OBP, OPS or any other measure of just how good an offensive player he may be.
   7. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:27 PM (#4068611)
I'm gonna say a meaner version of #3 - bringing up Nash^ is an incredibly stupid thing to do. As mentioned, Abreu has been playing organized ball in Cuba for years now (and appeared in some international tournaments) - the quotes in this article come from Davenport (who has a lot of experience modeling Cuban stats), A's asst GM David Forst, and BA's Ben Badler (their main int'l guy - said in tfa that Abreu "could step into a major league uniform tomorrow and immediately be an above-average major league player") - all of whom are quick to characterize Abreu as a serious talent.
So, yeah, that's the same thing as some Sidd Finch character that people haven't actually seen play.

^ For those who don't remember - Nash was a middle school dropout discovered playing semipro ball in Louisiana. He signed for 30K, played a year of pro ball (.240/.318/.450 in the Appy, strong armed OF with lots of errors) - who was then sent to prison for statutory, got released accordingly, then was arrested a bunch more. Had a cool nickname and plus tools.

4: Cuban ball also is a pretty good hitter's environment (in part because of the baseballs, in part because not enough strikes are thrown) - last I checked, the league average was around .282/.352/.410 and, last year, was a crazy high .298/.379/.450. But, yeah, there you go.

5: Yes*. Well, the PECOTA projection that people refer to use this guy's work to translate the minor league numbers. Colin Wyers did a nice job describing that scenario at the time here. (Wyers is now the producer/caretaker of PECOTA, amusingly enough.)

I'm of the opinion that DTs are a little bit more optimistic than they should be. However, afaict, he's done a pretty good job with Cuban hitters in the past and - in any case - Davenport's good enough at this that you should take him seriously.

* Not literally the best player in baseball - but that projection came in real high. Short version: the assumed degree of difficulty for the Eastern/Carolina leagues in '08 (preceding year) was too high (tougher than any AAA/AA leagues respectively - though those are AA/A leagues).

******

My take on this guy: well, it's hard to say - I've never watched him play. However, evidence strongly suggests that he's the best hitter in the world not playing in the Major Leagues. That's an impressive thing.
   8. Jonah Keri Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:41 PM (#4068617)
The thing that I could have played up more in the article but didn't is Abreu's age. Assuming it's as listed, he just turned 25 last month. There's not only a chance he could be an upper-tier major league hitter if he comes over some time soon...he could be one for a fairly long time.
   9. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:46 PM (#4068622)
I'm gonna say a meaner version of #3 - bringing up Nash^ is an incredibly stupid thing to do.


Calm down. I wasn't making any serious comment; my comment was sarcasm in response to post #1. I didn't read the full article when I made it, or even know what league Jose Abreu played in.

In short: please do get a life.
   10. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:59 PM (#4068632)
8: You said it indirectly (in noting that he was 17 that first season).
Btw, nice job Jonah - I was torn between conveying info about the player in the excerpt v. trying to relate the feel of your piece. I've been wanting to post something about him for awhile, so I opted for the former.

***

Ray - when you comment without reading tfa or demonstrating any knowledge about the subject at hand (which you freely admit that you lack), you're gonna deservedly catch flak from time to time.
   11. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 25, 2012 at 03:02 PM (#4068636)
Whatever. You're being really silly here.
   12. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 25, 2012 at 03:18 PM (#4068644)
Sometimes it's hard to tell your frivolous comments whose message is "I see no reason to be impressed by this" from your sincere comments whose message is "I see no reason to be impressed by this".
   13. Jonah Keri Posted: February 25, 2012 at 03:26 PM (#4068648)
Thanks Der K. For a brief moment, thought about trying to wield my Canadian passport for a Cuba trip to see Abreu mash in person. Maybe/hopefully some other time.
   14. attaboy Posted: February 25, 2012 at 04:08 PM (#4068671)
I am sure Cuba has a first rate Steroid testing program, LOL.

Though, honestly, why would they have anything better than our wonderfully flawed system. Even with the lack of testing, I'd pay to see him play.
   15. Flynn Posted: February 25, 2012 at 04:14 PM (#4068673)
Whatever. You're being really silly here.


Says a guy who talks out of his ass more than anybody on the site, mainly to rain on other people's parades because we don't share your misanthropy.
   16. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 25, 2012 at 06:01 PM (#4068734)
Two more things:
1. Badler's international blog for BA mentioned Abreu (and others, including Alfredo Despaigne, another candidate for best player in Cuba) last week in a post on their upcoming All-Star game. Includes links to video of several interesting players, including Abreu.
2. In a Cespedes thread a week or so back, I posted a chart with EqAs for a bunch of emigres - here's that same (kind of hard to read) chart with Abreu and Despaigne added. Note: a "|" denotes that the player has left Cuba for what we consider organized ball.

player__  a16  a17  a18  a19   a20   a21   a22   a23   a24   a25   a26  a27  a28  a29
j
.abreu_  ---  193  195  258   244   254   269   340   379
despaign  
---  ---  ---  235   249   283   301   304   320   271
viciedo_  167  258  230  244 
230   248   264
cespedes  
---  ---  246  261   289   267   225   260   264   267 |
ramirez_  ---  ---  ---  ---   262   256   247   277   260   295 260  250  255  258 
morales_  
---  ---  ---  264   317   279 254   238   252   247   297  287  ---  
miranda_  ---  ---  251  276   268   267   ---   --- | 249   278   286  276  238  
canizare  
---  ---  ---  ---   278   257   290   ---   --- | 261   284  245  257  284  290
l
.martin  ---  ---  ---  ---   ---   207   217   290   276   269 227    
yuniesky  
---  ---  ---  201   227   251   --- | 239   246   251   245  216  243  236 
iglesias  
---  107  203  --- | 215   186
hechavar  
---  ---  173  176   173 190   210 


Point of reference: Miguel Cabrera projects to a .340 EqA for 2012. That's the lower of Abreu's two marks over the last two completed seasons (granted, his still really good 2011-2 isn't up to the same heights + Cuban seasons are just over half as long as MLB).
   17. Daunte Vicknabbit! Posted: February 25, 2012 at 06:19 PM (#4068743)
Ray:

If this guy was able to get out of Cuba next year, came to America, and hit like Ichiro for ten years, would you allow him credit for his time in a country he couldn't leave?
   18. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 26, 2012 at 12:16 AM (#4068884)
No.
   19. PreservedFish Posted: February 26, 2012 at 01:24 AM (#4068898)
What if we learned that, due to his quality and fame, the Castros had him followed by a government detail of soldiers in order to prevent his defection?
   20. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 26, 2012 at 02:52 AM (#4068920)
Still no.

   21. PreservedFish Posted: February 26, 2012 at 02:57 AM (#4068922)
But you do give Negro Leagues credit? I'm not sure I see the distinction.
   22. Ray (RDP) Posted: February 26, 2012 at 03:00 AM (#4068924)
I don't know that I'd use the term "credit," but, yes, I do make allowances for racism/segregation.
   23. Dan Evensen Posted: February 26, 2012 at 07:36 AM (#4068938)
This thread needs a hijack.

9. RayDiPerna Posted: February 25, 2012 at 01:46 PM (#4068622)

11. RayDiPerna Posted: February 25, 2012 at 02:02 PM (#4068636)

18. RayDiPerna Posted: February 25, 2012 at 11:16 PM (#4068884)

20. RayDiPerna Posted: February 26, 2012 at 01:52 AM (#4068920)

22. RayDiPerna Posted: February 26, 2012 at 02:00 AM (#4068924)


Umm, Ray, do you BBTF all day long? Impressive...
   24. Ron J Posted: February 26, 2012 at 09:33 AM (#4068944)
#4 I've argued for quite some time that off the charts results in the low minors don't translate with any precision to the majors. They do tell you the guy was wasting his time at the level he was destroying, but that's about it.

My favorite example in this respect used to be Gary Redus who hit a loud .462 (leading the league in steals, walks, home runs and was second in doubles and triples) in a full season in the Pioneer League. At that time the Reds had a strict advancement policy so they made him play the full year trying to master second base (and failing)

This was a strong league. Among the guys Redus utterly dominated were Tom Brunansky (17), Steve Sax (18), Mike Marshall (18), George Bell (18), Ryne Sandberg (18), Nick Esasky (18), Julio Franco (19), Lloyd Moseby (18), Candy Maldonado (17), Rob Deer (17). Redus was 21, which may help explain why the Reds weren't blown away by his numbers.

Two years later Redus was still in A ball (having failed in a brief trial at AA).
   25. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 26, 2012 at 03:27 PM (#4069070)
Man, I loved me some Gary Redus as a kid.
Anyhoo, I'm inclined to agree with you, Ron (furthermore, I'd extend that to say that I'm a lot more skeptical as to the reliability of those translations in general, regardless of the whether the player killed the league or not) ... though I'm nonetheless persuaded that this guy is "a real deal" hitter.

21: Makes sense to me, though I'm not 100% on board with it.
   26. Accent Shallow Posted: February 26, 2012 at 04:53 PM (#4069086)
This thread needs a hijack.

I suggest a discussion of Cuban baseball.

Ron: I would agree with you, simply because one would think that the more chains used, the less precise the results. There's a lot of movement between AAA and the majors within each season . . . but less between AA and the majors, and almost none between A ball and the majors.
   27. Der-K and the statistical werewolves. Posted: February 26, 2012 at 04:59 PM (#4069091)
I would agree with you, simply because one would think that the more chains used, the less precise the results.
I think that's a big part of it - but also, if a thing like a AAAA hitter exists (meaning the stereotype) - we'd be more likely to see the effect that causes it in the form of guys who can beat up short-season, rookie, etc... ball, but loses more than his peers upon promotion. We definitely see this sort of thing when guys move from college to the pros.
   28. Something Other Posted: February 26, 2012 at 05:15 PM (#4069101)
Gary Redus
That takes me back. I just spent a couple of minutes on his BBRef page. Thanks for the memories.

Huh--no nickname for Gary. How did he escape "Red Ass"? I suppose in 2012 he'd be called G-Red...

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