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2021 White Sox: Jose Abreu, Unappreciated MVP

If the 2021 White Sox are to build on their 35-25 record from 2020, MVP Jose Abreu will need to once again be a leader. While they have several budding stars and solid veteran pieces, Abreu will once again be called up to be one of, if not the team leader on the field. It is a role that he seems to relish, and he has the respect of his teammates.

The veteran first baseman has been a mainstay on the South Side since signing a long-term deal prior to the 2014 season. The quiet Cuban native has also been a steadying force for younger Cuban players such as Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. Abreu may well have helped the Sox to sign top Cuban prospects Yoelqui Cespedes and Norge Vera recently. He has been a leader in every sense of the word.

2021 White Sox: Seeking a Title

Yes, after some difficult season, the 2021 White Sox have their eyes on a big prize: their first World Series appearance since winning it all in 2005. While Abreu was not around for that championship run, he is very aware of it and is hoping to help lead the Sox back to the Fall Classic.

Jose Abreu: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Even though he is considered a team leader, Abreu displays a fairly quiet demeanor on the field. He is not a vocal leader, yet he leads by his work ethic and his dedication to his craft. While his limited use of the English language may hinder his communication with non-Spanish speaking teammates, they speak the common language of baseball, and his teammates respect him for all that he does on a daily basis.

Yet, his bat is anything but silent, as he sits in the three spot in the White Sox batting order. No doubt that he will again be the featured run produced for the 2021 White Sox. He is too valuable a hitter to move him out of a top run-producing role. He has shown that over his first seven years in MLB. One could argue that he has been the top run producer among all first basemen since he came on to the scene.

Just how productive has Jose Abreu been? Consider these facts. Since joining the White Sox prior to the 2014 season, Abreu has put up these numbers: a batting average of .294, with 198 home runs, and 671 RBIs. Accounting for the short 2020 season, Abreu would be averaging in the neighborhood of 30 home runs and 105 RBIs per year over a 7-year span. That would lead all MLB first basemen by a decent margin.

2020 was a unique season, and some discredit some of the numbers put up by those who played last season, however, here are some eye-popping numbers for Abreu in 2020: .317 batting average, .987 OPS, 19 home runs, and 60 RBIs. He led the AL with a .617 slugging percentage and led all of baseball with 148 total bases. It was an amazing season by any measure for Abreu. Surely a season that the 2021 White Sox hope he duplicates.

Jose Abreu: How He Stacks Up

Jose Abreu has played seven seasons in the big leagues, predominantly as a first baseman. Over that span, his contemporaries include these names: Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Joey Votto, and Carlos Santana. Granted, some of these players may be past their prime, and some played other positions, however, Abreu is 13 homers ahead of the next closest (Goldschmidt), and 54 RBIs ahead of the next closest (Rizzo).

In the area of awards, here is a list of what Abreu has accomplished: Rookie-of-the-Year in 2014, three Silver Slugger awards, three All-Star appearances; and one MVP (2020). He has led the AL in RBIs and total bases twice, and also lead the AL in hits once. He has accomplished all of this while playing without a lot of support until the 2020 season. These statistics are hard to argue with when compared to his peers.

Jose Abreu: What The Doubters Say

One of the knocks on Abreu has been that he does not walk as often as some of the others. Therefore, his raw numbers are higher, but his OBP is lower. The numbers do bear this out, as Abreu"s lifetime OBP trails all of his peers except Hosmer. This criticism must be weighed against his productivity. Abreu is a run producer, so he may be less willing to take a walk.

Another rap against Abreu has been his defense. Over the course of his whole career, this is a fair criticism. However, in the 2019/2020 offseason, Abreu worked hard to improve his defense. In the 2020 season, only Rizzo scored higher in Rtot and Rders. While this is a one-year sample, it is the most recent season. So his most recent defense has been excellent, albeit a one-year stretch.

A final criticism, which is the weakest of the three, is that, through the sheer number of games he has played, Abreu is just collecting stats. He rarely misses a game, so, in one sense, this is a factor. Yet, it also speaks to his durability, so this point is a bit of a double-edged sword. In any event, he is the leading run-producer at first base, regardless of the number of games he has played. Those are facts.

2021 White Sox: Expectations For Jose Abreu

By any measure, Jose Abreu has been a consistently productive hitter for the Sox. He shows up every day, ready to play. He is a top-tier run producer, who also greatly improved his defense in 2020. There is no reason to believe that he will not be a huge part of what the 2021 White Sox accomplish on the field.

The White Sox should and will expect their unofficial captain to again be a leader, through his work ethic as well as by example. No matter what the doubters say, the Sox see Abreu as an invaluable piece of their championship aspirations. If he is able to duplicate or come close to his career averages, the 2021 White Sox will be serious contenders to hoist the biggest trophy in baseball this fall.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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