White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has emerged in a big way during his rookie season. While there were some legitimate questions about Abreu adjusting to the majors prior to the year, the prevailing notion was that he would display a ton of power. That's certainly been the case, as Abreu has popped 27 home runs in his first 77 games. That puts Abreu just one home run shy of the league-lead.
With Abreu on such a torrid pace, there are sure to be questions concerning whether he can keep this up over a full season. The answer is actually pretty complicated.
By many measures, Abreu should see some regression moving forward. His 33.8 home run rate is tops in the league by a decent margin. In fact, it's the highest rate the league has seen since 2006, when Ryan Howard had a ridiculous 39.5 percent home run rate. Abreu's home run rate is unlikely to remain at that level, though it should be noted that Howard kept his above 30 percent in both 2007 and 2008 before falling to about 25 percent in 2009. If we look at Abreu as a similar-type of power hitter, it's possible he'll retain elite power, but still see fewer balls leave the park moving forward.
The big question is, how much decline will Abreu experience? According to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, Abreu leads the league with 12 "just enough" home runs. A "just enough" home run is classified as a ball that barely makes it over the fence. On top of that, Abreu has also hit three "lucky" home runs. A "lucky" home run is classified as a ball that wouldn't have gone out if not for extreme circumstances. For example, the wind could have been crazy and pushed a ball barely over the fence, or the ball may have gone to the shallowest part of the park. Over half of his home runs have come with some luck.
Any hitter who pops 27 home runs prior to the All-Star Game is likely to have been lucky on some of those balls. Nelson Cruz, for example, has eight "just enoughs" this year. This isn't a normal pace for most hitters, so luck will always play a role in these situations. This doesn't necessarily mean Abreu is in for a massive drop in power.
Based on his first 77 games, and his scouting reports from Cuba, we know Abreu has immense power. While some of his home runs may have been fluky, Abreu also sports the fourth longest average fly ball rate in the majors this season, according to BaseballHeatMaps.com. When he hits fly balls, they tend to go pretty far, which should bode well for his home run rate.
On top of that, we need to look at Abreu's approach at the plate. He's hit his fair share of line drives this season, coming in above the league-average with 21.1 percent. If these are the balls that are just clearing the fence, that bodes well for Abreu going forward. If these balls stop clearing the fence, there's a good chance they'll bounce off the wall for an extra base hit. It's not like Abreu has hit many lazy fly balls that have been wind aided. That would be a bigger issue here, as it's much easier to turn fly balls into outs.
What we have here is a pretty unique player. While there are a number of stats that scream regression, we also have some evidence that Abreu just hits the ball really hard when he makes contact. Both his approach and his average fly ball distance give some hope that he can remain an elite power hitter. Regression should be expected, as he's on a ridiculous pace right now, but there's no reason to think Abreu will suddenly turn into a pumpkin.