Jose Abreu Rankings Debate: Comparing RotoBaller's Rankers

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It's the fantasy baseball draft season. To us baseball nerds, few things are more exciting than arguing about player rankings. Today, we'll discuss and compare Jose Abreu's RotoBaller staff rankings. He was ranked No. 41 overall by Nick Mariano, and No. 78 by Jeff Kahntroff.

Throughout this series, we'll be using our February Staff Rankings to debate where to draft certain players. In cases where our writers had discrepancies, we've asked them to explain their rankings. These debates will provide us with some well-rounded analysis, and help identify undervalued/overvalued draft picks.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

2017 Draft Rankings Debate: Jose Abreu

Nick Mariano's Rankings Analysis

His Overall Ranking: 41

Jose Abreu broke some hearts in 2016 when he entered the All Star break with a .272 average and only 11 homers, but those who kept the faith were rewarded with 14 second-half dingers and a .319 average. His BABIPs in April (.264) and May (.298) were well below his usual, but each of the coming four months saw him post a mark of .325 or higher. I anticipate many to see additional decline based on his seasonal lines, when really the problem was isolated.

Pitchers were attacking him on the inner third of the plate early, and he struck out more often and made worse contact. His numbers down the middle of the zone plummeted, which was the real issue. Compare his first three months of '16 (top) with the last three (bottom).

 
He did what capable, professional hitters do, and adjusted. Even if it meant sacrificing some of the early gains on the inner third. His line-drive rate rebounded from a weak 18% in the first half to 25% as his bat cut through the league like hot butter. He also suffered through a July that bore a 0% HR/FB rate, only to rebound after he finally reconnected with his son, Dariel, who now has a five-year visa. I don’t like unquantifiable data, but I’m also not a robot churning out analysis.

Even with that ugly July, his average fly-ball distance of 315.08 feet was still good for fifth in the league. He also went from hitting .265 against changeups in ‘15 to a whopping .380 in ’16, as well as improving his average against cutters by ~100 points. He’ll need to do the same against sliders, but the 30-year-old is still growing.

I’m not asking you to believe his second half is explicitly what you’re buying in ‘17, but that his cold first half was both explainable and handled. And there's the small (read: big) matter of durability, as Abreu's 1,985 plate appearances since entering the league are fourth among all 1Bs. I'm good here.

 

Jeff Kahntroff's Rankings Analysis

His Overall Ranking: 78

Let’s try a brief mental exercise. Forget who we are discussing. Forget all your preconceived notions. Now view the table below.

AVG HR R RBI SB
2014 .317 36 80 107 3
2015 .290 30 88 101 0
2016 .293 25 67 100 0

 

What do you see? I see a player who has been declining each year. With no further context, this pattern would suggest something of a .290/20/70/100/0 line. That is not an elite player unless he is at a highly premium defensive position, such as catcher. How does that compare to two other first baseman?

Chris Davis (27 spots lower by Nick; 3 on average); Kendrys Morales (62 lower by Nick; 80 on average)

CHRIS DAVIS  AVG  HR  R RBI  SB KENDRYS MORALES  AVG  HR  R  RBI  SB
2013 .286 53 103 138 4 2012 .273 22 61 73 0
2014 .196 26 65 72 2 2013 .277 23 64 80 0
2015 .262 47 100 117 2 2015 .290 22 81 106 0
2016 .221 38 99 84 1 2016 .263 30 65 93 0
4 year average .244 41 92 103 2 4 year average .276 24 68 88 0

 

Chris Davis played through a dislocated thumb last year, and in 2014 he played through a strained oblique and without a therapeutic use exemption. His four-year average seems like a somewhat reasonable projection factoring in those issues. Kendrys Morales’ four-year average is about where Abreu’s trend is going for 2017, except Morales is moving to a much better hitters’ park, a better lineup, and has been better the past two years. (I removed his 2014 since he signed late and played half a season).  See my piece for my full projection on him, but his 2017 should be much better than his four year average. Abreu on the other hand, has a lineup missing its table setter (Adam Eaton), and with two other key cogs possibly on the way out (Melky Cabrera and Todd Frazier).

The only reason I see for Abreu’s optimistic projection is his second half: he hit .319, cut his K% by 5.1% and improved his ISO by .037. Over 162 games, that would be .319/31/75/107/0. However, for us to believe that he is more the second half player than the player he was in all of 2016, we would need some reason for that belief as an entire year’s performance is more predictive than a second half performance. Because I see no reason to believe Abreu’s second half will be his new norm for 2017, I think he is being overvalued.