White Sox slugger Jose Abreu already has two grand slams in 2021, so let’s talk about the all-time record


Jose Abreu is the acknowledged leader of the Chicago White Sox, and he’s also the reigning American League MVP. Yes, he’s 34 years of age, which for first base/DH types is often an age of decline, but thus far in 2021 the power has still been there. 

Specifically, Abreu through the first six games of the season, has already managed to tally not one but two grand slams. He’s just the second player in MLB history to hit two grand slams in his team’s first six games. The first was Juan Encarnacion of the then-Florida Marlins in 2005. 

Here’s Abreu’s first, on April 2 against the Angels

And here’s the second on Tuesday night against the Mariners. This one also happened to be Abreu’s 200th career MLB home run: 

When a player achieves something so rare multiple times despite the season having barely begun, you immediately start to wonder about the record and his prospects for breaking it. In the case of the grand slam, the single-season record is six, shared by Don Mattingly of the Yankees in 1987 and Cleveland’s Travis Hafner in 2006. Advanced calculus tells us that Abreu is already one-third of the way to tying that mark. 

Hitting a grand slam entails power — of which Abreu has an abundance — and quite a bit of luck. Hitting six grand slams in a season is all that plus ample opportunity. So when evaluating Abreu’s prospects for making and keeping an appointment with history, we’ll need to delve into that bit. Let’s do that in bullet-pointed fashion for today’s busy executive: 

  • In Mattingly’s record season, he didn’t hit his second grand slam until June 29 and his third until July 10. Hafner, in 2006, registered his second grand slam on May 17 and his third on June 3. Abreu is well ahead of those two-grand slam paces, and at this writing he has another 51 games to match Hafner’s halfway-mark pace. 
  • Mattingly batted third for all six of his grand slams, while Hafner batted cleanup for all but two of his in 2006. One other came while he was batting third and one came from the eight hole during a pinch-hitting appearance. 
  • Abreu, like Mattingly, is a No. 3 hitter. Since 1900, No. 3 hitters have come to the plate 19,540 times with the bases loaded. Since 1900, No. 4 hitters have batted with the bases loaded 23,607 times. Obviously, batting cleanup tends to give a hitter more opportunities to hit a grand slam, and that’s especially the case once you consider that No. 3 hitters bat slightly more often overall than No. 4 hitters. 
  • In his record season, Mattingly batted 21 times with the bases loaded. Hafner had 16 plate appearances with bags juiced in 2006. As for Abreu, he’s never had more than 12 bases-loaded plate appearances in a season despite being fairly durable throughout his career. He did, however, have eight such PAs in the abbreviated 2020 season, when the White Sox ranked a strong fifth in the AL in OBP. Scale that to a full season, and Abreu would’ve had 22 PAs with the bases loaded. He may need to hit that figure or thereabouts in 2021 to have a real shot at the record. 
  • Abreu’s overall numbers are down a bit in 2021, but he’s still crushing the ball. Right now, he’s in the 96th percentile for average exit velocity and hard-hit rate. Yes, it’s very early, but those are indicators that tend to stabilize pretty early. It all bodes well for Abreu’s ability to continue hitting for big power and perhaps taking advantage of the bases-loaded opportunities that come his way. 
  • On the downside, let’s circle back to Juan Encarnacion. As noted above, he’s the only player to hit two grannies in his team’s first games. Well, in 2005 he wound up with just two for the entire year (he played in 141 games that season).

No, we’re going to boldly predict that Abreu ties or breaks the record for grand slams in a season, but the fact that he’s notched a pair this early makes this a situation worth monitoring as the pages flip on the 2021 MLB calendar. Given Abreu’s power skills, it’s especially worth monitoring. 

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