There has been no shortage of opinions regarding the Chicago White Sox’ signing of Jose Dariel Abreu. We have seen how his statistics match up to other recent Cuban defectors before the jump, as well as heard differing scouts’ opinions regarding how those stats will translate stateside. I will not try to add to either of these discussions. I think the stat comparisons to Puig and Cespedes are interesting enough without my additional input, and I have not actually seen Abreu in person to judge his athleticism or bat speed. I do not know anything about his makeup besides what has already been repeated by scouts and former teammates.
What I have not heard anything about is how people view his swing. I made a comment in Dave’s article the other day disputing the importance of bat speed in favor of efficiency, and so I felt motivated to continue that conversation here. Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes happen to be two of the most explosive athletes in the game, so their exploits may not be very predictive. On top of his fellow Cuban natives, Abreu has been compared to Miguel Cabrera due to his size and “lack” of athleticism (side note: too many people mistake foot speed for athleticism; rotational athletes are a completely different breed from track stars). Pretty tall order, since even 1/4 of Cabrera’s production would result in a pretty solid value for the ChiSox. Even with a very good swing, I think it would be ridiculous to expect the same generational types of seasons from the Cuban slugger. The first hitter I thought of when I saw Abreu’s swing was Buster Posey.
I decided to present Abreu’s swing in comparison to Cespedes, Cabrera and Posey to help paint a picture of why I think he will be a fantastic hitter in the Major Leagues. I chose to leave Puig out of this, both because of his unmatched physical skills and lack of enough plate appearances to really see who he is as a hitter. It remains to be seen how much ability Puig has to adjust back to the league’s changes in approach. We will look at aspects of both Abreu’s bat path and his rotational mechanics to justify my optimism.
In my opinion, the path and sequence of the bat are the most important parts of the swing. The best hitters in the game all get on the same plane as the ball quickly and stay on it for a long time. This requires being on a slight uppercut angle to match the ball’s slight downward trajectory. Here are two of Abreu’s swings during the 2012 Cuban National Series from a side angle, where it is easiest to see the path of the bat:
Thank the editors of the telecast for the ridiculously long fadeout in the second swing. For comparison, here are Buster Posey:
And Miguel Cabrera:
Due to Cabrera’s injuries with this year and resulting alterations to his swing, I decided to use some footage I had of his from the World Baseball Classic with Venezuela. Luckily, his swing has looked virtually the same since his first day in the big leagues.
Abreu, like the other three hitters, gets into plane early and stays with the ball well after contact, giving him plenty of room for error with his timing. Let’s dig a little deeper then.
On top of the path of the swing, the sequence is equally if not more important. Abreu’s swing has two qualities that put him in the same class as Cabrera and Posey, while also showing where his swing is superior to Cespedes. Referring back to the above GIFs, one big difference between Abreu and Cespedes is how long the barrel stays close to the back shoulder as they rotate. Abreu’s bat stays tight to his body for a very long time, while Cespedes uncoils the bat very early in the downward move behind his body. This difference allows Abreu to be much quicker to the ball by taking a shorter path, while also giving him more whip as he uncoils the bat closer to contact.
Often, hitters with efficient swings appear to have slower bat speed than those like Cespedes, who let the barrel get away from them early in the approach. Cespedes’ swing speeds up very early, while hitters like Abreu (and Posey, and Cabrera) have swings that accelerate more through contact. It almost looks like the hands go from slow to fast rather than fast as soon as the hands start. His efficiency getting to the ball leads me to believe he will have less of a problem handling high velocity fastballs than people think.
Lastly, Abreu’s back elbow works independently of the hands and lead elbow at the start of his swing, which is something only the very best hitters in Major League Baseball demonstrate.
Notice how the shoulders, front elbow and hands stay in relatively the same position as the back elbow begins to attack. Lesser hitters will go right into rotation at the same moment the elbow moves, making the swing happen all in one piece. This move allows Abreu time to adjust to off-speed pitches, or even slightly misjudged locations, since his hands do not commit until later in the process.
Abreu’s lower half is equally as impressive as his hands. Notice in the last two GIFs, both Posey and Abreu initiate rotation of the core while the back foot is still firmly planted on the ground. The hips bring the back knee through and the heel comes off very late in rotation. Notice the contrast between them and Yoenis Cespedes:
Cespedes’ back knee appears to almost rotate in front of the hip turn rather than as a result of it. The back foot disconnects very early in the swing, leaving him to almost fall backwards at contact. Another subtle difference is the back heel; it rotates behind the back toes as the hips turn rather than driving forward over the toes toward the pitcher. I don’t mean to trash Cespedes, who even with some inefficiency is an above-average MLB hitter. I only mean to provide evidence that Abreu’s swing will translate as well as if not better than his former teammate’s has.
For one final illustration, you can see from the pitcher’s angle how direct the hips rotate for each of the four hitters we have compared.
Again, Abreu is much more Poseyan/Cabreran than Cespedian (Cespedesian??). Notice how Abreu’s hips drive directly toward the pitcher and continue thrusting through contact, just like Posey and Cabrera. Cespedes has a lot more side-to-side movement, and his hip action nearly comes to a halt before contact and he only has his hands left over to drive the ball. This gives Abreu the a further edge over Cespedes in efficiency and thus the probability of out-producing him at the plate.
I understand the caveats that come with being a foreign player whose value is completely tied to his bat. However, there are just too many good things going on in his swing for him to be a bust, things that only the best hitters in the game do. I do not feel comfortable forecasting a stat line for Abreu’s upcoming season, since I don’t know enough first-hand information about his makeup and current state of mind and body with the defection. However, assuming he is able to make adjustments in a reasonable manner next year, I feel confident in him being a top-25 hitter in the Major Leagues.
P.S. – Ironically, and without having known before finishing this article, I found out the 25th best hitter according to FanGraphs batting runs this season was Buster Posey (Marlon Byrd was 24th, crazily enough).