Thursday, February 7, 2013

Appreciating Jose Altuve

Fans of bad teams tend to overrate their best players. That's just reality. I think we saw a little bit of that in the reaction to the Jed Lowrie deal, as a the 28 year old oft injured shortstop with a 97 career OPS+ was viewed by some as a potential cornerstone of the franchise. So it leaves me wondering why I get the sense that Jose Altuve might be underrated by the Houston fan base. Of course, I could be way off base, and I could be doing the same thing I just wrote about above. It'd be nice if we could always see our own biases.

Jose Altuve is probably best known for being incredibly short. has become somewhat of a national sensation, even appearing on a Topps baseball card. (BTW, my favorite "Altuve is short joke" appears in Grant Brisbee's post about Craig Biggio. About 2/3rds of the way down. I laughed for a while). But lets not lose sight of the fact that Altuve is also a good baseball player. And he is very very young.

Its fun to get excited about the prospects in the system. However, many of these prospects we are excited about are as old or older than Altuve. Jimmy Paredes, for example, is nearly  two years older than Altuve. Heck, even George Springer has Altuve by a year. What separates these players from Altuve, is, of course, that Altuve has already had success in the majors. Lets not forget about the horse in the barn while we pine after the horses in the pasture. Its a saying, I promise.

His success has been limited, for sure. He put up a 1.8 fWAR in 2012. His OPS+ was a mediocre 102. However, even that limited success at the age of 22 bodes well for Altuve's future. His number one comparable through age 22 on Baseball Reference is Rod Carew. Pete Rose and Lou Whitaker appear in his top 10 comps. The list of 2B who have posted a OPS+ over 100 at the age of 22 or younger since 1950 is not long, and includes Hall of Famers (Joe Morgan, Rod Carew, Roberto Alomar, Paul Molitor) Should be, Could be, Might be Hall of Famers (Pete Rose, Lou Whitaker,Willie Randolph, Robinson Cano) and others who had long, useful careers (Delino DeShields, Ron Hunt, Gregg Jeffries). Also Omar Infante. Now, some of those were much higher than 100, while Altuve just cleared the bar. But it still puts him in some great company.

Obviously, I'm not saying Altuve will become Rod Carew or Lou Whitaker. Almost definitely not Joe Morgan. I am not guaranteeing the Hall of Fame, or even multiple All Stars (you know, after he stops making it by default). But he is young, and he has already been successful. That puts him on a much stronger path to greatness than those still toiling in the minors at the same age. He could be great. He could be less than great, but still very good. He could be Omar Infante. Finding out what we have in our little Altuve over the next couple years will be a lot of fun.