The Yuli Gurriel era in Houston is behind us to make room for newly-signed José Abreu, the American League MVP of the shortened 2022 season. The Astros have finally found their new first baseman after signing Cuban Abreu for three years and $58.5 million ($19.5MM per season). But what does Abreu bring to the Astros’ table?
Theoretically, acquiring Abreu represents an offensive upgrade at first. If you compare what the Astros got from Gurriel in the 2022 regular season to what the White Sox got from Abreu over the same period, it does represent an improvement over the first bag.
Despite dropping a bit of his power in 2022 –he only hit 15 homers—, Abreu registered 40 doubles and was an even better hitter. He lowered his strikeout percentage from 21.7 to 16.2, kept a great exit velocity average (92.2 MPH), and his contact percentage just keeps raising through the years: 69.9% in 2020, 72.3% in 2021, and 76.8% in 2022.
One of the things I like most about the soon-to-be 36-year-old is his leadership. He was a mentor for young guys in the White Sox organization and was the face of the big-league team, thanks to an impeccable, clean, well-respected nine-year career in Chicago – since his arrival to Windy City, Abreu has forged the reputation of being a leader according to this article from NBCSports.com. It’s easy to imagine Abreu guiding and mentoring young countryman Pedro León (Astros’ #4 prospect) just like he did with Yoán Moncada or Luis Robert at the time.
But going back to numbers and what Abreu can provide offensively, we’re talking about the guy with the second-most runs batted in across the Majors since his debut back in 2017 (863), behind only Nolan Arenado (916). Speaking of run production, Pito (as Abreu is known in Cuba) had an .837 OPS with runners in scoring position in 2022, including 19 extra-base hits. To that, you can add the fact that he was a .304/.374/.444 hitter in high-leverage scenarios.
However, don’t get nervous if Abreu kicks off the season a bit slow at the plate. First, he’ll be getting accustomed to a new environment; second, it’s a trend for him. April/March is his “worst” period of the season compared to other months, with a .256/.329/.471 slash line. Since 2021, Abreu owns a low .673 in 44 games during the first month of the campaign. He tends to get really hot as the season goes by.
If you’re complaining about how the Astros might be sacrificing Gurriel’s great defense for Abreu’s big-time offense, let me tell you something. According to Baseball-Reference, Abreu’s defensive WAR was -0.9 while Yuli’s finished at -1.1. Also, according to FanGraphs, Pito saved one run, which was better than Gurriel’s -2 mark. It’s true that Gurriel has more range than his newly-signed countryman, but the Astros are gonna have to live with that.
With Abreu, the Astros addressed one of the very few notable weaknesses – they had an ugly .656 OPS out of first base in 2022. Abreu is set to play a huge role and get inserted into the heart of the lineup replacing Gurriel, another Cuban legend.