This post is a wholly detailed and scientific look at new Astros 2B Jose Altuve, with the intent of projecting his peak years as a major league baseball player..
Sources for this article include BaseballReference.com, ESPN.com, BaseballProspectus.com, minorleaguebaseball.com, and scoutingthesally.com.
Description of Scientific Method:
Here is the legitimate, detailed, and wholly scientific method followed to reach the conclusions below. This is an infallible process, patent-pending.
- List players that it would be fun to compare Altuve to.
- Find quotes from scouts or pundits that sound good in the context of the article
- Compare Altuve's A+ and AA seasons to those other players when they were in the high minors (A+ and above).
- Look at those players' average major league seasons
- Project Altuve's peak season based on subjective comparison and gut feel.
Who is Jose Altuve?
Jose Altuve is 21 years old, signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2006, looking to chase the American dream of baseball, apple pie, Chevrolet, and taxation with representation. He is very short. He is a baseball player. He has a wholly useless Wikipedia page.
Popular consensus on Altuve has not changed much. There just are not many comparables in major league history that can be reliably applied.
Comparable Players: An Arbitrary List
Baseball Prospectus' 2011 PECOTA lists the following players as comparables for Jose Altuve:
- Wally Backman, a 5'9" second baseman in the 1980's who hit around .275 and had no power.
- Rafael Belliard, a 5'6" 2B/SS in the '80's and '90's who had a lousy average, no power, and no speed
- Harry Chappas, a 5'7" SS who had a total of 184 At Bats in the majors.
A even cursory glance at this list and Altuve's stats in the minor leagues shows that these four players have only one thing in common - they are short. Not a great way to base a performance comparison, but it is a starting point.
Other players chosen for consideration include others Altuve is compared against, one or two who the most die-hard fans hope he will turn into, and a couple who the Astros fervently hope he will be better than. These are:
- Jeff Keppinger (whom Altuve replaced)
- Craig Biggio (a Houston icon and future hall-of-famer)
- Dustin Pedroia (Houston fans' most fervent wish for Altuve's future)
- David Eckstein (the scrappy dude who does everything well but nothing great)
- Joe Morgan (former Astro and Hall-of-Famer)
- Brian Roberts (pre-PED version)
Minor League Comparo
The chart below compares Altuve's A+ and AA seasons against the aforementioned players. The comparison includes all seasons played at A+, AA, and AAA.
Red numbers are "worse" than Altuve's, blue numbers are "better".
Caveats apply, of course. Altuve played his A+ ball at Lancaster, one of the greatest hitters parks in the history of life, the universe, and everything. This significantly inflates his stats, particularly the power stats HR, 2B, and 3B. Also, Biggio is not a good comparison in this chart because Biggio is the only member of this list that had less AB than Altuve above the low-A level. Small sample-size warnings apply here.
Already, the comparison between Altuve, Backman, Belliard, and Chappas begins to fall apart.
Major League Comparo
The table below shows the same compared players, when their career stats are averaged and then prorated to a 162-game season.
Blue numbers are where this scientific study determined that Altuve's might be, during his peak years.
Wee Willie Keeler Reborn?
Every time a staturesquely-challenged ball player hits the majors, fans love to compare him to the most famous wee man of all time, Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler.
So can Altuve be Keeler? NO! Below are Keeler's average major league stats, prorated over a 162-game season.
The quality of the graphic stinks, but if one squints, one can see several major differences. First, there has never been a pure hitter as talented as Keeler, and the only player close is Ichiro, who broke Keeler's 100 year old record of eight consecutive 200-hit seasons. Keeler likely had less power than Altuve, but that is hard to determine because Keeler played in the famed "Dead Ball Era". Looking at Keeler's average runs scored, triples, and stolen bases indicates that he is far superior to Altuve in the speed department. In short - the ultimate lead-off man. Any hopes of Altuve becoming a hall-of-famer should be immediately quashed.
Based on the entirely scientific analysis above, the following chart shows what a fan can reasonably expect from Jose Altuve during a peak season, about five years from now:
Altuve will have less power than Pedroia and Morgan. He will have less speed than Biggio, Morgan, and Roberts. He will have more power than Keppinger, Belliard, Backman, Chappas, and Eckstein. He will have better speed than Keppinger, Belliard, and Backman.
A .300 batting average is likely due to his contact rate, though his OBP will always be weighted down by his free-swinging tendencies. It is important to note that Altuve's K/BB rate is worse than all players on our list except Belliard, who was just an awful hitter all around. Perhaps, like Morgan, Altuve can learn to take a walk in the majors. If he does not, he will be continually challenged by major league breaking pitches.
Looking at the list of comparable players, Jose Altuve will be Brian Roberts, with less speed, or David Eckstein, with more power. If unexpected growth continues and Altuve retains his power stroke from the minors and learns better plate discipline (re: strikes out less, walks more), he has a long-shot possibility of making an All Star team or two. Considering the output of the Astros farm system of late, Astros fans should be very happy with that outlook, as long as expectations are kept in check. Altuve will be the type of player who will contribute but not stand out.