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Astros: Can Great Players Stop Being Great?

Sub-Title- Is It Just a Matter of Time That Abreu Will be Great Again?

Jeff Bagwell apparently thinks great players will always remain great based on his advice to Astros fans to check the back of Jose Abreu's baseball card as if to say we are all stupid for having doubts.

Here is why you should NEVER challenge me like that. Not only have I checked the back of Abreu's baseball card, but I have checked the stats for EIGHT other players that are material to this discussion.

Folks, I don't like when baseball know-it-alls push fake narratives. I am sure some might accuse me of being a know-it-all too. Fair. Do you know WHY the articles are written the way they are here? I give you my data for WHY I say what I am saying. You may dismiss that data and dismiss me. You may have other data and mount a counter argument. Heck, there have been time I HAVE given you the counter argument. But the focus IS on the data.

So that is what will do now as we search for the answer to two critical questions.

  • Can Great Players Stop Being Great?

  • Is It Just a Matter of Time That Abreu Will be Great Again?

Can Great Players Stop Being Great?

I am going to share with you three graphs that show you the year-to-year WAR numbers for nine very good to great players. There are at least two hall-of-famers to be in this group and possibly four.

Every one of these players had at least two seasons at greater than 3 WAR. Everyone one of these players played to at least their age 34 season. All played for at least seven seasons.

The WAR numbers for the 2020 season were factored to a full 162 game season.

You will also notice MULTIPLE terrible WAR Seasons in this group. Honestly THAT is how I arrived at this group. I searched for the worst WAR seasons in the last decade.

There is a -2.6, -1.9, -1.7, -1.2 (two), and 2020 adjusted -2.7 and -2.2 WAR years.

You will notice EVERY one of these players experienced a WAR season of -0.9 or below, and most have multiple negative WAR years.

Now let me show you the actual data and who these nine players are.

The grey and burnt orange cells were the 2020 season for these players.

The red and burnt orange cells were either terrible negative WAR season or seasons that were down 3 WAR from the previous season.

Player A was indeed Jose Abreu. This season IS Abreu's worst. The COVID 2020 was Abreu's best and if it had been a full season, it might have set his legacy forever. At age 34 he dropped 5.2 WAR from that factored year.

Player P is Albert Pujols. He was consistently great, but his production dropped significantly through his 30s. At Age 37 Pujols had -1.9 WAR and followed that with four more years of negative WAR. Great players do not stay great forever no matter what the back of their baseball card says.

Player D is Chris Davis. Davis has to be one of the most frustratingly inconsistent players dropping 6.2 WAR from age 27 to 28. He then had up and down years every year and turned in the worst WAR season from 2014 to 2023 at -2.6 in 2018 at age 32. Father time attacks some earlier than others.

Player G is Yuli Gurriel. THE most frustrating thing to hear Bagwell pontificate that Abreu would be just fine is that we as an Astros fan base have been through this with Gurriel before and no it was NOT fine. Gurriel went from a 3.2 WAR 2021 season to a LEAGUE WORST -0.9 WAR 2022 season. If it can happen to Gurriel at age 38 and we watched it, WHY are you trying to gaslight me that it cannot be happening to Abreu at age 36? Gurriel had a similar drop of in his 2020 age 36 season. We dismissed it as a COVID anomaly. It wasn't.

Player M is Victor Martinez. Victor had two significant WAR drop off seasons. Most notably at age 34 he produced 4.5 WAR and then the next season -2.0 WAR. That almost exactly models what we could be facing with Abreu.

Player C is Miguel Cabrera. Arguably the greatest player in this group with Pujols, even Cabrera fell from 5.1 one year to -0.7 the next at age 34. He was never really the same after that.

Player S is Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval had two seasons where his WAR dropped 4 from one season to the next.

Player B is Carlos Beltran. Beltran had three times where his WAR dropped 4 (albeit a drop from 7.2 to 2.9 is not exactly the subject matter here.) In his late 30s he dropped from 2.7 to -0.5 and then in 2017 his WAR dropped from the previous 2.3 to -1.2 at age 40. No wonder he needed to cheat.

Player J is J.D. Martinez. Overall Martinez may be the most consistent one in this group. His drop of was in the COVID 2020 season at age 32. He too could take the mid to late 30s hit.

Now that you see this group and their trends, what do you think?

Can Great Players Stop Being Great?

Certainly, they can especially in their mid to late thirties and no it does not always happen slowly. I think it is fair to say almost all great players stop being great at some point no matter what the back of their baseball card says.

Let me give you one more Hall-of-Famers graph. This is Jeff Bagwell.

Maybe we see why Bagwell THINKS great players stay great and just slowly fade because he did, or he did until his shoulder gave out at age 37. There was no doubt for Bagwell in 2005 what the issue was.

But as we have showed, his story is not always the reality for other good to great players.

So, what about the second question?

Is It Just a Matter of Time That Abreu Will be Great Again?

That is surely what Bagwell made it sound like. The truth is NO ONE knows. No one has identified what is actually wrong with Abreu. We had theories here:

Until they know what is wrong if anything other than a very typical aging drop off, the team has no real answers or plans no matter what ANYONE says. To assume it is just going to get better ignores all of these very comparable situations to what Abreu is experiencing right now.

I have a feeling I unfortunately will be talking here about Abreu as much as I did in 2022 about Gurriel and Maldonado. I STILL have hope he will pull out of this slump, but it is not a sure thing. Let's hope the team and/or Abreu figure it out.

An Opportunity

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