Something to consider when evaluating Tim Anderson’s rough 2017 season — Jose Abreu was similarly in a bad way one year ago.
Finally clear of his own personal strife, the veteran first baseman has put together a fantastic campaign for the White Sox, well above his performance of a year ago when his mind was occupied with more than balls and strikes.
Abreu belted two home runs on Thursday night and currently is hitting .297/.352/.521 with 18 homers, 63 RBIs and a wRC+ of 130. At the same point last season, Abreu was hitting .274/.333/.426 with 11 homers and 55 RBIs and a wRC+ of 100.
While Abreu’s turnaround doesn’t guarantee anything about Anderson’s future, it provides a strong example of how much life away from the field can interfere with the one on it.
Whereas in 2016 Abreu not only longed to be reunited with his son, Dariel, he also dealt with the arrest of trainer and close friend, Julio Estrada. Abreu received immunity this March to testify in a federal alien smuggling and conspiracy trial against Estrada and agent Bart Hernandez. The slugger said Friday he can see similarities between himself and Anderson, who has struggled to cope with the May shooting death of close friend, Branden Moss.
“We’re human beings and all the things that are happening in our lives off the field are going to affect in one way or another in your performance on the field,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “You always try to be as professional as you can and endure the situation you’re passing through. But people have to understand that we are human beings and there are things that are going to have some kind of effect on us at any moment.”
As if his numbers didn’t indicate it, Abreu was out of it at this point in the 2016 season. Through 99 team games, Abreu qualified as a league average hitter. He had difficulty laying off outside breaking balls and Abreu didn’t drive the ball with any regularity.
While the White Sox always believed Abreu would rebound, they collectively let out a sigh of relief when he snapped a 32-game homerless stretch on Aug. 4 and hit .340/.402/.572 with 14 round-trippers the rest of the season.
“In all candor, you like seeing the performance match what you're projecting and we've certainly seen that over the last six weeks,” general manager Rick Hahn said last September.
Abreu attributed the uptick in performance to being reunited with his then 5-year-old son, who is currently visiting him once again. Prior to August, Abreu had only seen the boy one time in the 2 1/2 years since he had left Cuba. But having his son around again helped Abreu refocus on the positive things in his life and he quickly re-established himself as an offensive force.
“That was the turning point because everything started going better once my son arrived here,” Abreu said.
Part of Abreu’s frustration with his four-month slump derived from his inability to work harder to do something about them. A tireless worker, Abreu thought more time in the gym and the cage could help him rebound.
On the contrary, it didn’t.
“It’s tough,” Abreu said. “You know you’re doing all you can do to do your job the best way that you can and when you are seeing the results aren’t there then you can get frustrated. That’s when you have to take a step back, take a deep breath and try to go again and do your thing. But it’s not something easy.”
Anderson’s difficulties with the death of Moss have admittedly bothered him. He’s repeatedly said it’s the roughest period of his life.
Anderson entered Friday hitting .239/.261/.356 with nine home runs and also has committed a league-high 22 errors. The White Sox thought there’d be some potential for a sophomore slump from Anderson. But they think real life has played a big role in his current struggles and believe Anderson will rebound in the future.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a player in my time with the club that’s been as affected by off-the-field occurrences as Timmy has this year,” Hahn said earlier this week. “We knew as a young player still adjusting to the major leagues that there was going to be some fits and starts in his development. Everything he’s had to deal with, both with the league adjusting to him and the off-the-field issues that he’s had to endure, has made it a tough year for him. But the talent is still there, we still think he’s going to continue to improve each year with more and more repetition and very much view him as being an important part of our future.”
The hope is that Abreu’s case is a model for Anderson. Abreu said he felt like a weight had been lifted in March when he returned from testifying in the trial.
“I think he is in a better place,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he's more comfortable in his own skin and everything that's been going on.
“He's able to compartmentalize and separate things outside of the field.”
Of course, Abreu couldn’t be much happier with life away from the field. His son is in town and his wife, Yusmary, is due with the couple’s first child in October. Abreu thinks his clear head has played a large role in his success.
“I think I’m just blessed with health, I’ve been healthy the whole year, and I’m blessed because of my family and all the stuff that happened to me,” Abreu said. “I’m just blessed.”