Ending the 2022 season on a good note back in the Bronx, Albert Abreu had a disappointing return to normal this season. The hard-throwing righty’s 59 innings of work were the most he’s pitched in a big league season, and the larger sample size was not all that kind to him. For a Yankee bullpen that had the best ERA in baseball, Abreu didn’t do all that much to help, and he’ll be the first entry in this series rushing to the mailbox come report card season.
2020 Statistics: 45 games, 59.0 IP, 4.73 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 4.98 xFIP, 9.31 K/9, 5.34 BB/9, -0.4 fWAR
2021 Contract Status: Entering final pre-arbitration year
Abreu’s first notable campaign in pinstripes, 2021, was a rough one. The impressive righty who had once been a key piece in the 2016 offseason deal that sent Brian McCann to the Astros featured a 5.15 ERA over 36.2 innings with a FIP closer to 6.00. But, after stints in Texas and Kansas City, he returned to New York as a new man in 2022. Over 25.2 innings of work, Abreu sported a 2.92 FIP, headlined by a walk rate that was a fraction of his typical figure. The performance — and his lack of options — earned him a spot in 2023, but the success did not translate.
The 28-year-old’s FIP surpassed five once again, and his walk rate went right back to the lower ranks in all of baseball. Abreu moved even further away from his four-seamer in 2023, relying more than ever on his sinker, throwing it over half the time.
Whatever his methods may have been were not all that successful though, given his performance. Abreu was hit relatively hard, particularly when he went to his sinker, allowing a 48.9-percent hard-hit rate, the highest it’s ever been with the pitch.
In a general sense, the contact that Abreu let up was far less favorable than it has been in the past. His average launch angle increased by nearly 10 degrees, and it was accompanied by a six-percent increase in hard-hit rate. This is, of course, a combination that’s far from ideal and leads to hard-hit balls in the air — particularly considering Abreu’s difficulties in finding the strike zone.
And the issues with control were front and center for Abreu this year, as they have been often before. The righty had a less-than-ideal 12.2 percent walk rate in 2021 with the Yanks, but dropped it all the way down to 5.6 in his ‘22 stint. In 2023, it went over 13 percent, ranking in the bottom five percent of pitchers and fueling his unsavory 5.26 FIP.
Among his Yankee teammates out in the ‘pen with even just 10 innings on the year, Abreu was the team’s worst by most measures. His ERA and FIP ranked last on the team, and seventh worst among all relievers around baseball. His -0.4 fWAR was second-worst for the Yanks ahead of just Wandy Peralta, who had a 5.05 FIP but at least prevented runs in a results-based context. So there’s a reason why Aaron Boone mostly stuck him in unimportant situations, as his average game-entering Leverage Index was 0.65 — lowest among all 11 Yankees who pitched at least 20 innings in relief.
Abreu can showcase some electric stuff, particularly with fastball velocity that ranks toward the top of the league, but it largely hasn’t panned out thus far with the Yankees, and it makes his future in the Bronx murky. Given his standing on a team that hopes to contend, and one that often sports a very effective bullpen, he is far from guaranteed a spot for next season.
Abreu is under team control for four more seasons, but the likelihood of him playing a significant role even next year feels uncertain at best. No one would be surprised to see him trimmed off the 40-man roster to make room for a needed addition. He led off our report card series purely based on the alphabet, but his D+ finds him towards the bottom of the grading list, and accurately so. The most harrowing (and unsurprising) fact of all is that Abreu is far from alone on this Yankees ballclub in receiving ugly grades in 2023.