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Should Albert Abreu embrace the art of sinkerballing?

The fireballing righty is back for his second stint in the Bronx.

MLB: New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite things that only seems to happen in baseball is when a team trades a player and then somehow, some way, that player finds himself back with the team that traded them. That can obviously happen in a few ways, but one of the most laughable is when you get traded and DFA’d, then the team that traded you claims you. We’ve seen it happen with Adam Warren and others, but now there is another player joining the club.

Welcome home, Albert Abreu. He’s had an interesting ride since being traded for Jose Trevino, but he has found himself back in the Bronx with the big league club. While he has a 3.46 ERA in his 13 innings this season, that is not a proper representation of how bad he was in Texas and Kansas City. Abreu’s walk rate has skyrocketed up in the small sample despite his improved control in 2021.

This could be for a few reasons, but I imagine the Yankees will help Abreu get back to his comfort zone and put him in a position to improve that control right away. To be clear, he has never really been a control artist, but it was best when he was with the Yankees, relative to the other three teams he has played for in his professional career.

Now, while the control remains the key concern, it’s not the only one. Back in February, I wrote an optimistic post about Abreu’s future in pinstripes. In that piece, I focused on Abreu’s control of his sinker. During his success in August 2021, his performance was driven by the sinker and it’s ability to yield weak contact. This year, the pitch’s success was pretty decent in the small sample. Hitters still didn’t do significant damage, as they have only produced a .294 slugging percentage. This completely ignores his control of the pitch, but not getting hit hard is always a great foundation.

I feel even more confident now that Abreu should throw his four-seam even less than he already has. It is still getting scorched, there is objectively no reason to keep throwing the pitch. The only one would be to make sure his other pitches are playing up. However, his heavy gyro slider and sideways-running changeup play much better off his sinker.

These two pitches, when at the bottom of the zone, play so well. They are without question plus pitches. Abreu’s bullet slider is thrown at a lethal 88 mph and resembles a fastball the entire way until it falls out just as it crosses the plate. In that at-bat against Alejandro Kirk, he yielded two whiffs on the slider. The AL All-Star catcher frontrunner is not a swing-and-miss player, but he couldn’t handle these sliders that were in the zone. That says a lot.

Just like Kirk, Kyle Tucker is not a huge swing-and-miss player. Yet, when Abreu locates the changeup pitch low and away, fading from Tucker’s barrel, he couldn’t even put a competitive swing on the pitch. That’s because the pitch gets 17 inches of horizontal run. It is absolutely nasty. That magnitude of horizontal run is comparable to Baltimore’s Dillon Tate. If you’ve watched any Yankees-Orioles matchups this year, you know how much of a weapon that pitch is for Tate. Throw your best pitches more often and see what happens.

Okay, but we didn’t already know Abreu was this nasty? Yes, to an extent. My proposition that is new from February is that Abreu should take the time to throw this changeup as much as possible in low leverage innings. Coaches know that a changeup can only be improved by throwing it more and more. Movement is easy for Abreu, it’s the control that needs to be worked out. If he can up his changeup and slider usage in replace of the four-seam which he has thrown 30 percent of the time, he will give hitters significantly fewer opportunities to do damage. His fastball is flat — even with its velo, it’s not a viable pitch in the big leagues. He needs to play his slider and changeup up by throwing hitters off with a 99-mph sinker. Make it more straightforward. Master three pitches and ditch the fourth.

I have no clue if Matt Blake and Sam Briend are thinking the same thing. However, with Abreu’s development path being a clear-cut relief role, you have to think they will re-evaluate his pitch mix. He won’t need the four pitches anymore. It’s been clear for about a year now that he is a sinkerballer. Like the other Yankees relievers, it’s time to embrace the sinker and let the off-speed pitches do the work. It’s take two in the Bronx for Abreu; let’s see what’s left in the tank for the young righty.

Note: All statistics are as of the beginning of play on Thursday and do not factor his first appearances back with the Yankees.