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Bernstein: Abreu Story Obscuring Truth

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Jose Abreu, left, and Anthony Rizzo. (Getty Images)

Jose Abreu, left, and Anthony Rizzo. (Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

(CBS) It has been quite a season so far for the young Chicago first baseman, and he’s well deserving of all the attention.

He has already compiled a full 1.1 Wins Above Replacement, and his .397 mark in the illuminating category of wOBA (weighted on-base average) is 17th in all of baseball — identical to that of Angels great Mike Trout. Even more impressive is his .415 on-base percentage, good for seventh in MLB. His offense alone has accounted for 24 runs for his team, per wRC (weighted runs created).

So yes, give it up for the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo.

Talk of White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu’s historic hot start has dominated the airwaves and our timelines, and for good reason. Home runs are sexy, and the old-fashioned counting stats are still more easily comprehended and consumed by the masses. That Abreu is an exotic newcomer inserted into the drama in deus ex machina style makes it even more fun.

That doesn’t excuse the fact that his 12 homers have allowed Rizzo’s equally impressive start to 2014 to be largely ignored and underappreciated, nor the bizarre unwillingness to recognize that Abreu hasn’t even been the best offensive player on his own team.

Not trying to foment argument here in either case, because success isn’t in any way zero-sum. Everybody can enjoy all of it. But some objective facts need to be pointed out in the midst of some real silliness in our local sports pages and elsewhere.

First the Chicago Tribune declared grandiosely that Abreu somehow represents that vis-à-vis the White Sox, the Cubs have “fallen behind organizationally.” Um, OK.

Then the increasingly strange Chicago Sun-Times issues yet another communiqué from the abandoned missile silo in which it awaits the government-engineered zombie apocalypse, now ranting that Abreu’s success is just the latest proof that Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein are carrying out an Illuminati plot to manipulate the Federal Reserve System, to precede their plan to put mind-control drugs in the water supply. And that they have yet to provide evidence showing they weren’t born in Kenya.

Abreu apparently means all that so far, so let’s look at some numbers.

Jose Abreu: 1.1 WAR, 143 wRC+. .254 BA, .317 OBP, .608 SLG, .386 wOBA, 12 HRs.
Anthony Rizzo: 1.1 WAR, 150 wRC+. .292 BA, .420 OBP, .500 SLG, .397 wOBA, 6 HRs.

It matters further that Rizzo is not only more than two years younger than Abreu but considerably less expensive and under team control for two seasons longer. Rizzo’s deal was seven years for $41 million, Abreu’s six for $68 million.

Now check out this mystery player. He’s been pretty good, too:

Player X: 0.6 WAR, 149 wRC+. .269 BA, .405 OBP, .495 SLG, .395 wOBA, 5 HRs.

His WAR is deflated by his poor defense and baserunning, but that wOBA is 21st in MLB, ahead of the likes of the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig and the Reds’ Joey Votto and six slots ahead of his teammate, Abreu. Per wRC+, which measures individual runs created while adjusting for park and league factors, this guy – talking purely offensively – has outperformed Abreu.

Say hello to Adam Dunn, who is back to doing the things that made his 2011 signing so intriguing. It’s that combination of walks and power that puts him in good historical company, through age 33 now most statistically similar to Harmon Killebrew.

It’s early for all of this, regardless, and we could geek out further with BABIP and line-drive percentages to predict future likelihoods for these three guys, but that’s not the point right now. Let’s just work a little harder to see what’s actually happening in front of us before convenient narratives run wild.

Instead of allowing highlights and simplistic use of comfortable statistics to cloud the way we look at these teams, we should be curious and intelligent enough to do better.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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