Saturday, October 17, 2015

Exit Music (For A Player): Jose Altuve

Hey, the wounds are still fresh, so it seems like a fine time to do some evaluating. This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series. 

Jose Altuve

Age: 25

Contract Status: Signed through 2017 (2019, including team options)

2016: $3.5m
2017: $4.5m
2018: $6m team option
2019: $6.5m team option

Career: Are you kidding me? Did you not just read that previous section? The Astros pounced on a long-term deal for Altuve at the height of his struggles as a Major League hitter and he signed a contract so team-friendly that it could accurately be described as team-friends-with-benefitsy.

Altuve signed his extension on July 13, 2013. With the game ending July 12, 2013, Altuve was hitting .280/.317/.354. Through his Major League career he was hitting .284/.325/.377 with an .093 ISO and a wRC+ of 92 (he wasn't terribly good, and below league-average with the bat). But everyone expected better, so the Astros bet on his future instead of his track record, and he went for it. From the day he signed that extension - July 13, 2013 - to the end of the 2015 season, Altuve has hit .320/.356/.442 with a .122 ISO and a 120 wRC+.

Baseball-Reference's Similarity Scores show that the players most similar to Altuve through Age 25 are:
1. Billy Herman
2. Pete Rose
3. Rod Carew

What you just read is what you just read. Herman and Carew are Hall of Famers plus the all-time hits leader who would be in the Hall of Fame were it not for general douchebaggery and jackassery and doing the one thing that everybody knew could get you banned from baseball since, like, 1919.

Let's put this another way: Altuve has played four seasons and some change - 668 games, 2932 plate appearances. In Biggio's first four seasons and some change, he played in 645 games and 2591 plate appearances. What do you think of this:

Altuve: .305/.343/.415. 162 doubles, 36 homers, 169 stolen bases, and a 109 OPS+.
Biggio: .274/.350/.370. 106 doubles, 30 homers, 109 stolen bases, and a 108 OPS+.

Of course Biggio was playing in the Astrodome, and it wasn't until his fifth season (1992) that he got out from behind the plate. But still. Altuve is the rock-solid young middle infielder the Astros haven't actually had since...Craig Biggio.


At this point, we know who Altuve is: he's a high-contact hitter with a high BABIP. He swung at more pitches overall in 2015 than he did in 2014. Altuve took a slight step back from 2014, but...that was a step back from a batting title. 2014 was a breakout year for Altuve, and while he showed some ability with the bat in 2012-13, his breakout 2014 led to a different game plan for him in 2015, and he still handled it at a high level. So what are we complaining about, again? His 4.3 fWAR was the 3rd-best fWAR among second basemen in baseball. His .459 SLG was highest among 2Bs.

Altuve admitted to trying to do too much in 2015, especially when the offense was in a funk, so some regression is due to him pressing and trying to play the hero/cleanup hitter, rather than a traditional leadoff hitter. And if there's one thing Altuve is not, it's a traditional leadoff hitter. So whatever. Eat it.  I'll - objectively and subjectively - take Altuve over any 2B in the league.


Altuve was an excellent second baseman in 2015. That's a positive. He set the table for the offense. Altuve started 154 games for the Astros this season, and were 81-73. The Astros won 68 games when Altuve got a hit, and they won 74 games when Altuve was on base at least once.


TOOTBLANs. FanGraphs rated his Baserunning at a -3.7, down from a +4.9 in 2014. The invaluable TOOTBLAN (which stands for, and I'm serious, Thrown Out On The Basepath Like A Nincompoop) Tracker says that Altuve cost the Astros 12 outs on the base path.

The postseason was a bummer. He was 1x4 with an RBI in the Play-In game against the Yankees, and got three singles in his first three plate appearances of Game 1. Then, uh, absolutely nothing happened. He got under balls (heh heh), popping them up with enough height to allow pretty much anyone - ushers included - to get under them and record an unproductive out. From his 4th plate appearance of Game 1 to the end of the series, Altuve was 0x19 with only two strikeouts and one walk. He ended his first postseason with a 4x26 line, slashing .154/.185/.154.

Franchise Marks:

Altuve's career .305 average is 2nd-highest in franchise history - behind Moises Alou's .331, in 1200 fewer plate appearances. Altuve is the only player in franchise history with multiple 200+ hit seasons, occupying the top spot (last year's 225 hits) and 3rd (2015's 200-hit campaign). At 77.52%, Altuve has the 5th-most successful stolen base percentage in franchise history.


Given Altuve's track record and age, it's sort of useless to be a second baseman in the Astros' organization above, say, Low-A. The one exception would be 2013 5th Round pick Tony Kemp, who hit .308/.388/.386 between Corpus and Fresno in 2015, with 65K:54BB and 35 stolen bases in 49 attempts.  He tore up Corpus to the tine of .358/.457/.420 in 50 games before getting promoted to Fresno, where in 71 games he hit .273/.334/.362. Cut from the same cloth as Altuve (translation: Compact hitter / actual translation: kind of a short guy who can actually hit), he'll be in his Age 24 season and would be a logical choice should Altuve go down with an injury for an extended period of time. Look for Kemp to start 2016 at Fresno, and get a little experience in the outfield, as his plate discipline is a welcome change from what we saw out of the Astros lineup in 2015.


The Decision to Move Delino DeShields (April 2013)
Appreciating Jose Altuve (February 2013)