CJ Abrams Is Being Sabotaged By The Washington Nationals

While CJ Abrams is enjoying a breakout season thus far in 2024, is he being held back from his true potential simply due to coaching philosophy?
Toronto Blue Jays v Washington Nationals
Toronto Blue Jays v Washington Nationals / G Fiume/GettyImages

"I've got to pull it one time, huh?"

Paul Christopher Abrams Jr.

Nats fans, we have a problem. Our rising star, the most talented player in the lineup, is being actively sabotaged by his own coaching staff. There have been countless times over the years where the Nats' player development and coaching staff has been called into question, but this time the team itself has provided video proof. If you haven't seen it already, take a look at this mic'd up segment featuring CJ Abrams, and pay attention to the dugout conversation at the 0:14 mark.

After Abrams hits a loud fly out to the center field warning track, he can clearly be heard saying "I've got to pull it one time, huh?". It's true, in fact, that if Abrams had pulled the 393-foot blast towards right field, it certainly would have gone over the fence. Regardless, he is immediately answered by a member of the Nats coaching staff, presumably manager Davey Martinez, with "No you- come on now. You hit a 104 mile an hour rocket to dead center field, and now you're gonna say: 'I gotta pull it'". Abrams looks down, and appears to produce a wry smile and bite his tongue. "Nah its good", he replies.

This is not the first time the two have had an interaction regarding differences in plate approach.

There's much to discuss in this recent, albeit brief exchange. It's not all that shocking that the Nats advise their players against pulling the ball, as that's the line that Martinez always gives to the press about his coaching. In this moment, however, we can see the coaching actually happen directly between player and coach, and we can hear the exact tone being used. CJ Abrams is being chided for his foolishness, like he's a child asking for ice cream before bed. You seriously think you should pull the ball? The audacity!

The science of pulling the ball is beyond settled by now. Pulled fly balls are much, much more productive than any other kind of contact. Pulled home runs make up the majority of all home runs hit: in Abrams' career, he has hit 21 pulled home runs, 4 to center, and 2 the other way. Abrams has a 1.031 career OPS on pulled balls in play. This is not just a CJ Abrams quirk, either. Pulling the ball is good, the sky is blue, the Earth is round, Juan Soto draws a walk, Patrick Corbin has a 6.45 ERA.

An argument can be made, and is frequently made, that a batter shouldn't "try" to pull the ball, that their approach should be to go up the middle or the other way, and plenty of successful hitters and coaches of hitters would say that. But to actually have success, every single hitter in baseball needs to pull the ball, and ideally pull the ball in the air. Increasing the amount of pulled contact in the air has unlocked the talent of countless hitters, and even slight improvements in that area is huge for a player's profile. If you want better production at the plate with the same talent profile, just pull the ball more. Maybe it could hurt a player to purely focus on a pulled fly ball, but I've never heard Davey Martinez say that they're looking to increase pulled contact by any means.

Maybe you're somehow still doubtful that CJ Abrams is being mishandled. He is currently looking like a massive breakout star under these coaches, after all. Well, you're never going to believe this. CJ Abrams is pulling the ball way more in 2024. His pull% is up to 50.9% as of today, a gargantuan percentage that ranks 17th in baseball out of 173 qualifiers. Ahead of CJ Abrams are powerful hitters that are crushing it this year like Salvador Perez and Max Muncy. SIx of Abrams' seven home runs have been pulled and his slugging percentage is currently .550. He is a top-10 shortstop in baseball. This is the magic of pulled fly balls. He's even saying "I've got to pull it" after hitting fly outs to center field.

So... What is Davey Martinez even talking about? Surely he has access to the aforementioned statistics and information about pulled contact. Martinez played 16 seasons in MLB, as a smaller speed-first type player, and he hit 91 home runs. There's no data about where his home runs landed that is easily available, but I'm willing to guarantee most of his homers were pulled, because that's how baseball works. Why does he insist on actively hindering his best player? I know he thinks he's helping Abrams, somehow, but there's no convincing track record of Davey successfully improving hitters by preaching opposite-field contact. Should Abrams try to slap a single to the opposite field with a level swing against a tough pitch on the outer half? Sure, he should, but that's not what makes him a star.

This isn't just a CJ Abrams problem. Really, it's not even just a position player problem. The Nationals organization doesn't seem to know what's going on. They don't make the most of their draft picks, their trade acquisitions, or their waiver claims. They don't hire forward-thinking coaches or executives, and they live in denial of that fact. In the 2020s so far, they refuse to spend nearly enough money to make up for these shortcomings. They've taken their most exciting player and forced him to succeed in spite of his own coaches. When CJ Abrams' was asked about his most helpful influence when working on his swing, he named teammate Ildemaro Vargas instead of any coach.

CJ Abrams has been amazing this season, and he is a tremendous talent and personality. Hopefully, he continues his trajectory and leads the Nationals swiftly back to contention. Hopefully, he will get extended and stay in DC, unlike previous star players. He has what it takes to be a superstar - his game-breaking speed hasn't even been mentioned here - but he may need to ignore his own coaches to make it happen. The team's own social media team has given us a smoking gun here, almost as if they knew what they were doing. Abrams seems to know not to listen to his coaches, and that's allowing him to have a breakout season.