Dusty Baker Continues to Bat José Abreu in the Cleanup Spot in A Move That Gets More Indefensible By The Day
By Alec Brown
José Abreu came to Houston this off-season with plenty of hype. The Astros had landed a perennial All-Star with an MVP to his name only three seasons ago. After Yuli Gurriel struggled mightily at the plate last year, Houston was set to have a true threat in the heart of the order and playing first base again.
At least that was the plan. And as Mike Tyson once said, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." Abreu and the Astros have been hit with haymaker after haymaker in the first month and a half of the season.
Not only has Abreu struggled, but he's statistically been the worst hitter in the MLB this season. Abreu has recorded a 48 wRC+, six points lower than the second worst in Elvis Andrus. For reference, league average is a 100 wRC+.
Abreu hasn't been even halfway to league average this year. What is Dusty Baker's plan amidst Abreu's struggles? Apparently to continue to get punched in the mouth.
Abreu has played all 34 games for Houston this year, believing he can work his way out of the slump. Houston's manager hasn't given him a day off to reset. Of the 34 games Abreu has played, he's batted cleanup in 29 of them. He's batted fifth four times and batted sixth once.
With a lineup struggling to score runs, Dusty Baker has written out a lineup that, setting Abreu's esteemed resume to the side, has one of the five worst bats in the game in a premier run producing spot.
Abreu has driven in only 13 runs and is batting .216 with a .572 OPS with runners in scoring position. I don't know about you, but those aren't exactly numbers that scream "cleanup hitter."
Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker continues to bat fifth. King Tuck has driven in 24 runs and posted an .842 OPS and 132 OPS+. His 131 wRC+ is over two-and-a-half times higher than Abreu's. The most indicting statistic--Tucker has led off an inning 34 times. Mauricio Dubón is the Astros leadoff hitter and has only led off an inning 38 times. Abreu continues to end innings and kill rallies in front of Tucker, forcing the right fielder to lead off an inning when he can at best drive in one run on a solo shot.
The Astros take on a much improved Angels team tonight, and once again, Abreu is batting cleanup. The only thing being cleaned up at this point? The Astros chances of wining baseball games.
It's time to get out of 1982 and worrying about splitting left-handed hitters. Kyle Tucker is batting .290 against left-handed pitchers this season. Yordan's .976 OPS against lefties is higher than it is against righties. These numbers are readily available to Dusty, yet he continues to split the two, because I guess that's what happened before stats evolved.
Opposing managers don't have the ability to turn to a lefty to neutralize Tucker and Alvarez. They both rake against lefties. The only manager neutralizing Houston's chances to score is their own.
Move Abreu down in the order, let him work out of the funk without the pressure of producing in the cleanup spot, force teams to pitch to Yordan Alvarez (the 44.3% of pitches he has seen in the strike zone this season is the lowest of his career), and give your team a chance to score runs and win baseball games.