It's Time To Give José Abreu The Luis Robert Jr. Treatment
By Alec Brown
The Astros were blanked in back-to-back games by the Brewers. A lineup this stacked failing to that degree can't be totally blamed on one man, but one at-bat in particular from the last two games sums it all up.
After being shut out on Tuesday, the Astros were able to get two runners on base in the first inning yesterday. Who else but Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. Alvarez worked a walk as the Brewers avoided him at all costs and Tucker lined a first-pitch single. Into the box strode José Abreu.
In what has been an absolute microcosm of Abreu's season, he rolled over to shortstop, hitting a 69.9 mph groundout to short. For all of Jeff Bagwell's bashing of analytics and exit velocity in the booth during the series, facts are facts. If you hit the ball hard, you more than likely will see results. 49 games into the season, all we have seen from Abreu are soft contact ground balls.
Once again, Alvarez and Tucker were left on base. As of this point in the season, if they aren't going deep, Houston isn't scoring.
Nearly 1/3 of the way through the season, arguably no player in baseball has been worse than José Abreu. His -1.1 WAR is worst in the game. His .539 OPS is second worst in the game amongst qualified hitters. His 6.3 degree launch angle is the lowest of his career as he continues to bash ground balls right in front of home plate. There are so signs of improvement coming.
So what does Houston do? They've pledged $19 million a year to him over the next three years. This can't continue.
Dusty Baker should take a page out of the White Sox playbook, and do to Abreu exactly what happened to his former teammate, Luis Robert Jr.
In Robert's last start of April, he was benched after not running out a ground ball. He revealed after the game he was battling a tight hamstring, but the message was sent. How has Robert Jr. responded?
Only by hitting .360 with eight home runs, seven doubles, 16 RBI and a 1.202 OPS.
Dusty Baker has continued to say "we've got to get Abreu going." Bagwell said repeatedly in the back of the booth to "check the back of his baseball card." Newsflash, 2016 doesn't matter. He's been the worst hitter in the game this year.
Now, Abreu has shown nothing but professionalism and does appear to be working as hard as possible to get out of his funk. But enough penciling him in fourth/fifth in the order. The rest of the AL West is vastly improved. The Astros may think their best chance of repeating is "getting Abreu going," but writing him in everyday has done nothing for that. It's time for Abreu to have a seat.
Let Yainer Diaz or even Mauricio Dubón get some starts at first. There is very little embarrassment and motivation like that of a stay on the bench. And when he's back, bat him 9th until he proves he can contribute. Martín Maldonado has been one of the worst bats in the game during his Astros stint, but he has run circles around Abreu this season.
Until Abreu can show he still is the player he was on the back of his baseball card, it's time to light a fire under him. If a 36-year-old with a decade of service time can't handle being benched when he's been this bad, then he was never a fit for the Astros clubhouse anyways.
Jose Altuve asked to move down the order when he was slumping. Alex Bregman was dropped in the order in the 2021 World Series as he battled injury and wasn't producing. Carlos Correa batted seventh in the postseason on some of the best Astros teams of the Golden Era.
If some of the best players in franchise history can move down, so can a guy that's been here for two months.
Abreu raked all Spring Training, going deep twice. The old Abreu may very well be in there. It's time to send a message to find out.
Benching José means the Astros will get one of two things in response: the Abreu of old that was a perrennial MVP candidate, or just the old Abreu that's been the worst in the game. Something has to give.