The task of projecting any baseball player’s transition to a new league is a difficult one, but for reasons explained here by Eno Sarris, it is especially difficult to do so for Cuban players. No projection system is perfect, but Clay Davenport’s Davenport Translations have probably done the best job at estimating the performance of Cubans transitioning to Major League Baseball. Fortunately for everyone, perhaps the best hitter on the planet recently made this transition, and when Davenport’s translation system met José Abreu’s 2011 season, the results were hilarious.
Here’s the projected line:.364/.481/.792. Such a line suggests a hitter who could reasonably refer to Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds as peers. Matching this projection, or even sort of approaching it, is an unlikely outcome. Still, a player whose performance at any level is cause for a formula to spit out those numbers is a player worth monitoring. In this series, we’ll do just that.
Disclaimer: I’m terrible at math. Anything beyond single digit addition or subtraction reduces my effort to an uninformed guess. Given this is true, I can’t tell you how many home runs Abreu is likely to hit in a season in which he slugs .792. I can guess, though, and my guess is somewhere around 231.
It is, presently, the last day of June. As of this last day of June, Mr. Abreu owns 25 home runs. “Only 25?” is a slightly unreasonable, but probable response. “So much for 231.” is a good thing to say to explain the unreasonable context of the previous question. And while we sit here, reader, discussing baseball in this tunnel of absurdity, let me proclaim that it is *not* so much for 231. José Abreu is hitting home runs at a pace which breaks our puny understanding of the concept of same (pace). Each time he swings the bat, he is doing so through another layer of the unseen wall of time and space as we know them. Soon, he’ll finish games with more home runs than plate appearances. Not long after that, you’ll see his home run total growing even on off-days.
A few points regarding those 25 home runs:
- In terms of games played, J.A. is the fastest player to the 25 home run mark in MLB history.
- His 25 home runs are tied for the most in baseball. This, despite the fact that Abreu took a trip to the disabled list for a few weeks in May.
- Now, an anecdote about the previous bullet point: At the beginning of said trip to the disabled list, our protagonist was leading the league in homers with 15. Because (despite the will of excessively strong men) there is order in the universe, Abreu was fallen by an ankle injury and forced out of play for approx. two weeks. During this time, Abreu fell to fourth in the league’s home run standings. In the time immediately following his return, however, Abreu demonstrated that he is likely not mortal; that he perhaps has the ability to hit a home run whenever he damn well pleases, but opts for normalcy to avoid the trouble that accompanies being a mutant. A few days ago, José entered a game against Toronto one short of the 24 home run pace set by the opponent’s Edwin Encarnación. Naturally, he homered in his first at bat. Later in the game, E.E. hit his own home run to recapture his lead, so (again, naturally) Abreu once again parked a ball to tie for the lead.
Consider the kid who everyone knows could hit the wiffle ball over the fence every time he takes the bat. It isn’t anyone’s fault. He’s already tasked with shaving a terrible little mustache, and he grew six whole inches last summer. He knows, though, that if the neighborhood kids are to keep knocking on his door, he has to play coy. Maybe once every ten times at bat, he’ll hit it out. José Abreu is that kid, but the other players on the field are long past the days of hoping their voice finally drops so they don’t have to sing soprano in honor choir next year. They’re Major Leaguers. Abreu, however, is a Major Major Leaguer.
Like superheroes have their weaknesses, though, Major Major Leaguers have theirs. Abreu is walking only 5.8% of the time. In his abbreviated month of May, that number was less than two percent. During that same month, he went down on strikes in over 36% of his trips to the plate. Aside from May, he’s been quite good in the departments of hitting that don’t involve knocking the ball into other dimensions. He won’t hit .364, just like he won’t slug .792, but he could reasonably hit over .300. The walk rate, however, may present a more serious problem. In his 2011 DT (Davenport Translation), J.A.’s OBP delta was .117. In his 2014 real life season, it’s .049. This is a number that will likely improve as he continues to adjust to Major League pitching, but hey alright! Perhaps it’ll give us something to discuss next time.
Now, the titular chasing of Clay Davenport and more specifically, his translation:
June 29, 2014: .280/.329/.631, 25 HR, 24.3% K%, 5.8% BB%, .404 wOBA, 156 wRC+
vs. 2011 DT: -.084/-.152/-.161