Astros biggest offseason signing panning out as massive mistake

The Houston Astros made an ambitious free agent signing this offseason, but the early returns are quite bad.

The Houston Astros won the World Series last fall and immediately turned around and signed a power hitter who has led the league in hits once, and RBI in two separate seasons. He also had the league’s best slugging percentage in 2020 and in his rookie year.

With the signing of first baseman Jose Abreu, the Astros raised the bar of expectation yet again.

Abreu was coming off a season with 53 multi-hit games, including a 15-game hit streak and 27-game on-base streak. Even at age 36, there was a feeling that he had something left in the tank to help the Astros get even better.

So far, that three-year, $58.5 million contract is not exactly panning out.

Jose Abreu off to an excruciatingly painful start with Astros

At first glance and from a simply batting average perspective, Abreu is doing OK. He’s 14-for-50 through Wednesday and has a slash line of .280/.333/.300.

But he also has 15 strikeouts to go with that, and a strikeout rate of 27.8% which, if it holds, would make for the worst season of his career. Right now, his on-base percentage would be the third-worst of his career.

Abreu has yet to homer and he’s got a hard-hit percentage of just 40.0 as well, his lowest in a season since 2016. Lastly, he’s in the bottom 8% of the league in XWOBA (formulated using exit velocity, launch angle and, on certain types of batted balls, Sprint Speed).

Dan Szymborski, a senior writer for FanGraphs, expressed his concern on Twitter:

He also pointed out that, though this could be an early season issue with a new team, the slide actually started last season, which indicates it might be harder to explain than just a new organization:

That “garbage” Szymborski is referring to that Abreu is swinging at is primarily breaking balls. He’s got a remarkably bad 52.9% whiff rate on breaking balls, with a 47.4% put-away rate on them, compared to 28.4% and 12.8% respectively, last season.

It will pain the Astros to see Trey Mancini’s performance with the Chicago Cubs. Mancini, acquired at the trade deadline last season, was right under the Astros’ noses as a first base option. He’s putting up a better OPS with the Cubs than he did with the Astros last year. He’s whiffing on very few pitches. While he doesn’t have the power ceiling that Abreu does, his floor is higher, clearly.

We’ll see if Abreu can get back up to par.