HomeTeamsAstrosQuestions Loom As José Abreu Returns To Astros’ Starting Lineup

Questions Loom As José Abreu Returns To Astros’ Starting Lineup

After a month away from the big-league squad, José Abreu rejoined the Houston Astros Monday night in Seattle, starting at first base and hitting eighth in the lineup. Abreu spent close to one month at the Astros’ West Palm Beach complex, where he worked on putting together quality at-bats and getting his timing down. Per Space City Home Network reporter Julia Morales, Abreu “started 5 games for the Astros Florida Coast League team, going 7-for-22 (.318) with two doubles, and a home run.” After his performance in West Palm Beach, Abreu was sent to AAA Sugar Land to play in a couple of minor league games before rejoining the Astros. Per Matt Young of the Houston Chronicle, Jose Abreu “went 0-for-7 with 3 strikeouts and a walk in his two games with AAA Sugar Land.” Abreu played a clean first base in his first game with Sugar Land; he was the designated hitter in the second game. About his struggles, Abreu told reporters in Sugar Land, “What I can tell you is my head is in a good spot right now. When I was going through it, when your head is not in a good spot, you feel like everything is going down. There was a point, and I’m telling you from the bottom of my heart, I couldn’t even know how to hit, how to field. I was a little lost. But I’m humble enough to recognize that and I’m telling you I’m trying to be the best José Abreu I can be and the one you guys know.”

The Astros went 14-10 in Abreu’s absence. First baseman Jon Singleton started 23 of those games, and had 18 hits in 78 at-bats, with 16 runs, one double, five home runs, and 14 RBIs. He also walked 15 times and struck out 22 times. He had a slashline of .231/.351/.436 for an OPS of .787. These weren’t eye-popping numbers, but numbers good enough to get by, considering Abreu’s struggles at the plate this season. Singleton came up with a couple of clutch hits in this span: his three-run homer on April 30th in the bottom of the fourth against Cleveland was part of a five-run inning that saw the Astros win the game in extras 10-9. His two-run homer off of Marcus Stroman in the first inning of the Astros-Yankees game on May 9th was part of a three-run inning that saw the Astros win 4-3. Finally, his two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth of the Angels-Astros game on May 21st tied the game at 4, a game the Astros would win in extra innings 6-5.

Defensively, in 284 innings, Singleton has recorded seven scoops, has just one error on the year, and has played a factor in 26 double plays this season. This puts his fielding percentage at .996. Contrast that with Abreu’s defense: in 186 innings at first, he has had zero scoops this season so far, has committed three errors, and has played a factor in 16 double plays this season. Abreu’s fielding percentage sits at .983. The advanced defensive metrics have Singleton and Abreu essentially tied. Singleton has a worse Defensive Runs Saved (DRS: -5 for Singleton, -3 for Abreu), they both have the same Outs Above Average (OAA: -4 for Singleton, -4 for Abreu), while Abreu has a worse Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR: -1.8 for Abreu, o.o for Singleton). (For those new to the sabermetrics game, DRS is defined by Fangraphs as a metric that determines “a player’s total defensive value…where players are measured in ‘runs’ above or below average” using six different defensive categories.” Fangraphs defines UZR as a metric that “attempt[s] to quantify how many runs a player saved or gave up through their fielding prowess (or lack thereof),” using four different categories: Outfield Arm Runs (ARM), Double-Play Runs (DPR), Range Runs (RngR), and Error Runs (ErrR).)

Super utility player Mauricio Dubon also spelled Singleton at first base for a couple of games. And for all the speculation that rookie Joey Loperfido might get in some time at first base while he was with the Astros, that talk was overblown as he started 12 games in the outfield. Loperfido held his own against big league pitching, collecting 13 hits in 39 at-bats, with a double, a home run, 5 RBIs, 3 walks, and 17 strikeouts for a slashline of .333/.381/.436. He finished his first stint with the big-league club with an .817 OPS. Chandler Rome of The Athletic reportedthat Joey Loperfido’s demotion to AAA Sugar Landwas the corresponding move for José Abreu rejoining the Astros.

Abreu’s first game back had positives and negatives. He misplayed a ball in the field that allowed a Mariner to reach first (but wasn’t charged with the error). He also delivered a crucial hit in the top of the fifth when he roped a 102.3 mph single to center field to knock in a run, giving the Astros their first run of the game. The ‘Stros would go on to lose a close game 3-2 on Monday night. Abreu’s offense struggled in the second game of the series Tuesday night, as he went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Unfortunately for Abreu, with the Astros clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the eighth, a sharp ground ball off the bat of Mariners’ third baseman Josh Rojas deflected off of Abreu’s glove and allowed the tying run to score for Seattle. The Mariners would go on to win 4-2 on Tuesday night.

With Abreu back manning first, it will be interesting to see how Joe Espada manages his bench, especially figuring out a way to continue to give Jon Singleton some starts at DH or first base. During the first two games of the Astros-Mariners series, we saw one of Espada’s strategies play out, as Abreu started at first base, Singleton started at DH, and Yordan Alvarez started in left field. It will also be interesting to see how long the Astros let Abreu prove that he’s a starter for the big-league club. For Jim Crane and Jeff Bagwell’s sake, they’ll want to see Abreu perform well these next couple of weeks, maybe months. But if Abreu continues to struggle at the plate, how long will the Astros wait until they have to decide on Abreu’s future with the team?


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