Here’s the basic deal with Jose Abreu. It is nearly impossible to translate numbers from the Serie Nacional to Major League Baseball. Cuba is a small island, and there are sixteen teams in their national league. A large percentage of the players would be no better than A-ball competitors in the US, if not semi-pros. And at the same time there are MLB-quality players as well. The stats can’t be translated in any normal way with any meaningful confidence.
But. Let’s say that there were a player in Cuba who was one of the five best hitters in the world. His numbers would look roughly like Jose Abreu’s. His batting lines have run in the eye-popping 500/800 range. Jonah Keri explained in a piece for Grantland that Clay Davenport’s MLEs rate Abreu as a better hitter than the best hitter in baseball currently, Miguel Cabrera.
I think Abreu basically broke the Davenport translations, honestly. But breaking the translations is exactly what you would expect a world-elite hitter to do against A-ball competition. Via Clay Davenport, Viva El Birdos and the excellent Beisbol en Cuba site, these are Abreu’s batting lines and Davenport translations.
|Season||Age||SN AB||SN BA||SN OBP||SN SLG||DT BA||DT OBP||DT SLG|
Wipe that drool off your chin and read on…
I can’t find Davenport’s translations of seasons beyond 2010-2011. It’s probably because he just stopped publishing them to his website, but it’s also possible that the translation engine gained sentience and demanded Davenport stop feeding in unnatural statistics which it could not handle either mathematically or emotionally.
A simple weighted 5/4/3 average of Abreu’s last three seasons in Serie Nacional place his hitting line at 405/555/840. That’s pretty close to Abreu’s 2009-2010 line, which Davenport “translated” to roughly peak Lou Gehrig numbers. Again, I think what we’re seeing is a translation engine being defeated by a player facing competition completely unsuited to taking him on. I don’t think Abreu is Lou Gehrig. But I think our null hypothesis needs to be that he’s somewhere in the range of a peak Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira.
Now, Abreu has some questions. First, he’s a first baseman and maybe not much of one. He stand 6-3 and weighs about 250, and he’s not selling jeans. Second, scouts offer some concerns about Abreu’s bat speed and his ability to catch up to MLB velocity. As John Manuel and Ben Badler discuss in a recent podcast, there are a ton of junkballers in the Serie Nacional, and some scouts worry that you can get by without elite bat speed in that league. Still, I mean, 550/850. Is he really doing that without bat speed? I dunno. If I were running a ballclub, I’d want my scouts to check him out, but I would definitely err on the side of trusting the guy with a history of hitting gobs of homers and getting on base like Barry Bonds.
Manuel and Badler discuss whether Abreu is the top 1B prospect in the game. This is the wrong question. The dude’s 26, and he’s going to be getting at least $10M per year. The question is, where does Abreu rate among free agent first basemen? The top two on the market are probably Mike Napoli and Justin Morneau. There’s really no question that Abreu is the elite FA at first.
The Red Sox have more than enough room in their 2014 payroll for an Abreu signing. They’re safely about $20M under the cap now, and they have another $20+ coming off the payroll with the whole rotation and most of the lineup settled. Abreu bats right-handed and would fit near-perfectly in the middle of this lineup. Initial speculation has put the Rangers, Red Sox and Marlins at the top of the list of likely Abreu bidders. All the true big money clubs—the Dodgers, Yankees, Angels, Phillies and Tigers—are already set at first base, as likewise are potential big money clubs like the Cubs, Orioles, Braves, Giants and the Mariners. The Mets haven’t been linked to Abreu because it’s presumed that the Mets are still basically broke, but they could definitely offer an attractive place to play if they have any liquid assets to offer.
The free agent market has become a place with little upside to be found. If the Red Sox go after Jacoby Ellsbury—a move which I do not oppose, and which would not necessarily preclude an Abreu signing—the goal for the club would be to roughly get their money’s worth. If Abreu is available in the range of 5/75, the Red Sox could actually see a large win/$ windfall from the signing. There’s still a lot of actual season to go, but I have identified my A #1 Bull Moose top free agent target for the 2013-2014 offseason.