Albert Abreu is a familiar face in the Yankees organization. He has been in and around the team for years, ever since coming over in the Brian McCann trade post-2016. Unfortunately, he was never quite able to put it all together with the Yankees before he was traded to the Texas Rangers in the deal that brought Jose Trevino to the Yankees. He didn’t stick with the Rangers, and they eventually dealt him to the Kansas City Royals. The Royals then let him go and the Yankees picked him up on waivers, completing his long journey back to the Bronx.
Since coming back to the Yankees, his pitching has been fairly good, even when including his rocky recent weekend in St. Louis. Over 20 innings with the team, he has a sparkling 2.25 ERA. So what do the Yankees have in Abreu, and how should he be used going forward? The first place to start looking at this question is a holistic view of his advanced metrics. There is some very good news, and some equally bad news.
Among the best indicators for success are average exit velocity, expected batting average, and expected slugging percentage. Fortunately for Abreu, he sits in the top half of the league in all of these metrics. On the flip side, his walk percentage is near the absolute worst in the league. This helps to make his expected earned run average hover at 4.17, significantly higher than his 2.73 ERA. Part of his walking issue comes from his time away from the Yankees.
While with the Rangers and Royals, he had 16 walks over just 13 innings. His control has been much better with the Yankees as he has only walked five batters over 20 innings. While this is far from perfect, it is a huge improvement.
Of course, it’s important to ask why this improvement could have occurred, to see whether it’s something Abreu can maintain. In this case, Abreu may have reined in the walks because of a change in his pitch usage. As a former starter, he can throw four pitches (sinker, four-seam fastball, slider, changeup). Of the four pitches, the only one that he seems to locate with any consistency is the sinker.
Abreu does not have the same type of control with the rest of his pitches. His slider has been decently deployed, down and away to right-handed hitters, but not to the same degree as his sinker.
More concerning are his changeup and four-seam fastball. These two pitches are all over the place. Abreu simply seems to not know where those pitchers are going when he uncorks them. This could explain why he has been using his sinker and slider while mostly ignoring the other two pitches.
Since coming over to the Yankees in late June, his usage of the sinker has increased by quite a bit. By using his sinker more frequently, he seems to have mostly ameliorated his issues with control. The value of his sinker is borne out in the metrics as well. With an expected weighted on base average of only .295 and an expected slugging percentage of .282, Abreu’s sinker has been an excellent pitch in 2022. His slider also has significant value, as hitters have failed to square up this pitch.
The Yankees haven’t hesitated to use Abreu when his stuff is hot and drop him when it's not. There have been several instances where they leave him in for more than a full inning. On other occasions, they have taken him from the game after recording only one out. This is the correct way to use him as a relief pitcher. He has such good stuff that when he corrals it into and around the strike zone, he becomes an amazingly effective reliever.
However, when he loses command of the strike zone, he can quickly put his team in danger. Consequently, the Yankees have not been afraid to yank him out of a game. Going forward, he can be a strong relief option for the Yankees as long as they are willing to call the bullpen at the first sign of trouble with his control.