© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports activities

When José Abreu signed with the Astros earlier this offseason, there was lots to love. He matches their total crew development, he’s a fantastic hitter, and the contract appears to be like extra affordable every single day within the context of the remainder of the free agent market. In a number of corners of the baseball web, although, there was one worrisome be aware: Abreu’s efficiency towards fastballs, notably of the high-velocity selection, declined markedly in 2022.

I’m not crediting one individual specifically with this statement, solely as a result of I’ve seen it in so many alternative locations. It’s incontrovertibly true. Listed below are Abreu’s numbers towards each all four-seamers and all fastballs thrown 95 mph or more durable, per Baseball Savant:

José Abreu vs. Fastballs

12 months
4-Seam RV
4-Seam RV/100
Excessive-Velo RV
Excessive-Velo RV/100
2015 17.8 2.0 3.9 1.0
2016 9.4 1.0 3.8 0.8
2017 -0.8 -0.1 -0.7 -0.2
2018 4.1 0.6 0.3 0.1
2019 12.7 1.3 11.6 3.9
2020 4.8 1.5 7.9 5.5
2021 9 1.0 -3.6 -0.9
2022 -8.7 -0.9 -4 -0.9

Oh no! The developments appear fairly clear; Abreu didn’t hit fastballs very nicely in 2022, and he’d already began to say no towards them considerably the season earlier than. Is he simply cooked? Is that this fastball efficiency the proverbial canary within the coal mine, alerting us that dangerous occasions are coming?

I really had no concept how to consider this, so I made a decision to dig into the information. The primary query I had was a easy one: What does year-one efficiency towards fastballs imply for year-two efficiency towards fastballs, as measured by Statcast’s run values?

I ran a really fundamental check to look into this. I regarded for each participant who had seen 100 fastballs of the requisite kind in two consecutive years: both four-seamers or fastballs thrown 95 mph or greater. I did this for 4 yr pairs: 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22. The primary query I requested was easy: How correlated is year-one run worth to year-two run worth? In different phrases, should you produce a ton of runs, as measured by Statcast, towards fastballs in a single yr, ought to we anticipate that success to hold over?

This looks like a slam dunk should you cease and give it some thought. The query isn’t whether or not somebody is comparatively higher towards fastballs or secondary pitches; it’s how a lot worth they rack up towards fastballs yearly. Simply to present you an instance, Aaron Choose was a superb hitter towards four-seamers this yr, to the tune of three.2 runs above common per 100 pitches. Final yr, he was a superb hitter towards fastballs – two runs above common per 100 pitches. In 2020, you guessed it – 6.1 runs above common per 100 pitches. In 2019 – nicely, you get the thought.

Unhealthy information, although: even with apparent wins like Choose, year-one manufacturing on four-seamers is hardly correlated to year-two manufacturing. Extra particularly, it has a correlation coefficient of 0.17 and thus an r-squared of 0.03. In layman’s phrases, you’ll be able to clarify 3% of the variation in subsequent yr’s manufacturing on four-seamers by taking a look at this yr’s manufacturing on four-seamers. That’s not very a lot! Even should you restrict it to batters who noticed no less than 500 four-seamers in each years to strip out some potential noise, the r-squared solely rises to 0.067. In different phrases, should you’re trying to clarify how batters will carry out towards four-seam fastballs in 2023, how they carried out towards them in 2022 isn’t a ample estimator.

As you may anticipate, the information isn’t any higher for fastballs thrown 95 mph or more durable. Whereas Abreu declined in each of those classes in 2022, that by itself isn’t sufficient to say a lot about what we should always anticipate from him subsequent yr. Efficiency over the past three years is a significantly better indicator, however Abreu fares higher there. Perhaps he’s declining, but when he’s, we’ll have to seek out another strategy to present it.

To drill down on fastball efficiency, I made a decision to take a look at whiff price. The important thing drawback with run worth is that it’s noisy, result-driven somewhat than process-driven. BABIP is rightly thought-about an unreliable and closely mean-reverting indicator, and working a excessive BABIP once you put a given pitch into play will improve your run worth, and vice versa. The plain place to look should you’re targeted on course of somewhat than outcomes is whiff price. How typically a hitter makes contact once they swing doesn’t rely on a spherical ball impacting a spherical bat, or the place the protection is standing, or which method the wind is blowing. It’s simpler than that: hit it, or don’t.

I repeated the identical train from above, in search of batters who swung at 100 four-seamers in consecutive years. The outcomes are far more within the spirit of what we’re in search of. The correlation between one yr’s whiff price on four-seam fastballs and the subsequent yr’s price is sort of excessive; the r-squared checks in at a sturdy 0.52. If you happen to’re trying to clarify the variation on this yr’s price, taking a look at final yr’s price will get you greater than midway there. That’s a superb mark in comparison with the near-pure noise of run worth. As you may anticipate, the information appears to be like related for high-velocity fastballs.

One other helpful metric is how laborious a batter hits fastballs once they put them into play. It’s truly much more correlated year-to-year than fastball whiff price. If you happen to’re in search of a statistic that can let you know how good a hitter is towards fastballs, it’s best to have a look at whiff price or hard-hit price, not precise manufacturing.

Abreu hasn’t gotten worse in the case of making contact with four-seamers; he got here up empty on 24.7% of his swings towards them in 2022. That’s barely greater than his common over the previous 5 years (23.4%), and likewise barely greater than league common (21.8%). That’s been his sport for the final 5 years, kind of: he misses a bit extra regularly than common, however makes up for it by hitting the ball laborious when he connects.

There’s little proof that the second a part of the equation is altering. He was within the 86th percentile for hard-hit price on four-seamers this yr, proper in keeping with his typical excellence. The identical is true for high-velocity fastballs; he swings and misses barely greater than league common, however makes up for it by hitting them laborious.

Will Abreu decline subsequent yr? I’ll give it a stable “perhaps.” I do not know, to be sincere. He’s a baseball participant in his 30s, which implies he’s all the time prone to getting worse. Time wounds all heels, and all of that. However should you’re in search of a strategy to inform that story, don’t use his fastball knowledge to do it. Regardless of the downtick in his leads to 2022, I’m as impressed by Abreu’s capacity to pummel the ball as ever.

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