Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jose Altuve, in context

I submitted this to The Athletic, where I once could have been a contender. They passed on it harder than a pitch to Gary Sanchez in the dirt. So enjoy it....FOR FREE.

He got a shot because by July 2011, the Astros were bad. Houston’s window of contention wasn’t just closing, it had crime scene tape over it. July 18, 2011 saw the Astros lose to Washington 5-2. They were 31-65. The Astros fielded a lineup as such:

CF Michael Bourn
SS Angel Sanchez
2B Jeff Keppinger
RF Hunter Pence
1B Carlos Lee
LF Jason Michaels
3B Chris Johnson
C Carlos Corporan
P Jordan Lyles

It was…depressing. Somehow I remember this game. The Astros had a 2-1 lead going into the top of the 7th. Houston gave up four unanswered runs from that point forward to lose 5-2. It was their 17th loss in their last 20 games. The game put the Astros 20 games back for the first time in 2011, a season in which they would double that deficit by the end of Game 162. Ed Wade would be fired in November of that year, after Jim Crane had bought the team. George Springer – the team’s 1st Round pick (11th overall) – would sign with the Astros less than a month after this random loss to the Nationals.

But there was another door closing after that game. Before the Astros could play their 97th game of the year, Jeff Keppinger would be traded to San Francisco for Jason Stoffel and Henry Sosa. (Sosa would make ten starts for the 2011 Astros, go 3-5 with a 5.23 ERA / 1.44 WHIP, and a 73 ERA+. Stoffel never made the majors). Trading Keppinger allowed the Astros to bring 21-year old Jose Altuve up to the Majors.

Altuve was hitting .361/.388/.569 in 35 games for Double-A Corpus Christi after taking the hitter-friendly California League for a ride, hitting .408/.451/.606 in 52 games with Lancaster.
Brad Mills, on the Altuve call-up, told Alyson Footer: “I can tell you he’s playing second base tomorrow. He’s my second baseman. We didn’t bring him here to sit him.”

Since July 20, 2011 Jose Altuve has led the Majors in hits. Regard the Top 10:

Player ABs Hits Avg/OBP/SLG
Jose Altuve  4485 1419 .316/.365/.453
Robinson Cano 4267 1288 .302/.362/.495
Adam Jones 4493 1252 .279/.316/.466
Nick Markakis 4375 1232 .282/.353/.400
Andrew McCutchen 4253 1224 .288/.381/.485
Eric Hosmer 4343 1218 .280/.341/.434
Ian Kinsler 4426 1184 .268/.327/.429
Mike Trout 3846 1184 .308/.418/.576
Paul Goldschmidt 3975 1182 .297/.398/.532
Starlin Castro 4268 1182 .277/.317/.410

Not only does Altuve lead the Majors in hits over his time in the Majors, he leads the Majors in hits by 131 of them. It’s also worth noting that, of any MLB player since July 20, 2011, Altuve’s 248 stolen bases rank 3rd behind Dee Gordon (299) and Billy Hamilton (277).

Altuve is a six-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, led the league in hits four consecutive times (2014-2017) and was on his way to a 5th 200-hit season in 2018 before an injured knee held him to 169 hits in 137 games. Altuve has one MVP award (2017) to go with a 3rd-place finish (2016) and another Top-10 finish (2015), and has won a World Series. He’s one of the best players in baseball, and he’s entering his Age 29 season.

These are things we know. So what about greater historical context? Where does Altuve fit in after an admittedly-arbitrary 1119 games? Let’s start with Hall of Fame Second Basemen (the numbers in parentheses indicate their Age Season when they played their 1119th game):

Player ABs Hits Doubles HRs Avg/OBP/SLG
Jose Altuve (28) 4485 1419 272 97 .316/.365/.453
Rod Carew (29) 4254 1397 203 43 .328/.382/.430
Rogers Hornsby (27) 4231 1385 243 116 .351/.413/.545
Roberto Alomar (27) 4323 1291 223 76 .299/.367/.425
Ryne Sandberg (29) 4454 1267 206 112 .284/.339/.429
Joe Morgan (29) 4097 1103 177 87 .269/.383/.407
Bill Mazeroski (26) 4039 1067 162 83 .264/.304/.385

A couple of things stand out here: (1) At this point in his career, Jose Altuve is on a Hall of Fame-pace; (2) Rogers Hornsby had some POP; (3) The Veterans Committee really did Bill Mazeroski a solid.

Okay, so let’s expand this to include some (most!?) of the greatest hitters of all time.

 Player ABs Hits Doubles HRs Avg/OBP/SLG
Tony Gwynn (30) 4311 1433 207 47 .332/.389/.439
Derek Jeter (29) 4500 1420 220 120 .316/.387/.462
Jose Altuve (28) 4485 1419 272 97 .316/.365/.453
George Brett (29) 4398 1398 278 109 .318/.367/.497
Pete Rose (29) 4522 1393 228 81 .308/.370/.437
Alex Rodriguez (27) 4404 1360 256 301 .309/.380/.579
Paul Molitor (30) 4570 1357 237 93 .297/.357/.432
Carl Yastrzemski (28) 4224 1264 270 149 .299/.383/.485
Cal Ripken, Jr. (27) 4288 1209 234 181 .282/.353/.474
Robin Yount (26) 4343 1192 218 69 .274/.312/.394
Adrian Beltre (26) 4054 1101 211 166 .272/.328/.456

What is remarkable to me is how close Altuve is to Tony Gwynn at this stage in his career, but also how much I undervalued Derek Jeter’s career.

At the risk of being “On-Pace Guy” it’s fair to say that Jose Altuve is not only on a Hall-of-Fame pace, but also on an All-Time-Great pace. Of course, the pace is what matters. Through seven full seasons, Altuve has averaged 194 hits per year. In his last five seasons, he’s averaging 203 hits per year.

Altuve would have to put up those numbers for another 8+ seasons to get to 3000 hits, but at that point, he would be entering his Age 37 season. With the information we have now, it’s certainly within his reach.


DaddyO said...

I would be interested in seeing a column for each that includes seasons...and expand the perspective

Astros County said...