José Abreu’s MVP candidacy boosted by his defense

By MARK SIMON

The most surprising thing about José Abreu’s MVP-caliber season isn’t necessarily that he’s hitting .332 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs for the playoff-bound White Sox.

It’s that he leads first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved.

From 2014 to 2019, Abreu had cost the White Sox 25 runs with his defense at first base, including 13 runs in the last two seasons.

But in 2020, he’s at a solid 6 Runs Saved.

I say ‘solid’ because I watched the video and am sold on his performance. He looks both nimble and comfortable. The White Sox don’t hesitate to move him to cover the first base/second base hole in their defensive shifts, because he’s been able to get back to the base to cover it when needed.

On the Sports Info Solutions Baseball Podcast this May, White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing told of working with Abreu early in his career, repeatedly saying “keep your feet moving” to put Abreu in position to get to balls quicker. Those lessons seem to be paying off in 2020 too.

For instance, last season, Abreu had 13 instances in which a batted ball cost him at least half a run of defensive value. They were chances like this one.

In 2020, he has none.

The difference in Abreu’s play is starkest on opportunities for balls hit to his right.

Let’s show that through one example — Last season, he converted on 7-of-25 chances on balls hit to his right that had an out rate ranging from 30-to-60%.

Abreu has already converted on 8-of-16 such chances this season, like this.

The most impressive of those is this one.

Additionally, Abreu has netted a run from handling bunts and another for his success in turning double plays.

Abreu does have imperfections. He has 9 Defensive Misplays & Errors, as charted by our video scouts, but his rate on a per-inning basis does not rank among the leaders at the position.

In sum, he’s looked like a complete player this season — one whose all-around game may push him over the top for an MVP award.

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