MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 24: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros steps on home plate to score after hitting a home run during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 24, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
El Escorpion has been good all season. That's why he's hitting close to .400 and shown both power, speed and made every Astros fan fall madly in love with him (may have exaggerated one of those).
He was particularly good against the Brewers. What I was struck by in watching the last three games was three specific at-bats and how the Milwaukee pitchers approached Escorpion. The first was Zack Greinke catching Altuve looking with a 95-MPH fastball on the outside part of the plate.
What do they all have in common? Well, for one, Altuve saw fastballs on the three most important pitches of the at-bat. That alone links them, but what I wanted to see was whether there was any consistency in how the Brewers pitched to Escorpion to see if there was a trend. After the jump, we'll break down his tendencies and how the at-bats were sequenced.
We don't have a ton of data to look at Altuve's batting history to build a scouting report. I can tell you that the majority of the pitches he saw over the past two seasons were either four-seam fastballs or sliders, as characterized by Texas Leaguers.
He did pretty decently against those fastballs, whiffing on just 3.2 percent of the ones he's seen in his career. He also saw a ton of strikes out of the to three pitches he saw. And, I mean a lot of strikes. Out of the 1,000 pitches he saw last season, nearly 700 of those were either fastballs or sliders. Of those, nearly 500 were for strikes.
With left-handers, the fondness for fastballs is even more pronounced. That's partly understandable, since lefties don't necessarily like throwing sliders that break across the plate to right-handers. The problem for those lefties is that he's been even harder to whiff on fastballs from said southpaws, swinging through less than 3 percent of the time on those four-seamers he saw from lefties and none of the two-seamers.
No, lefties have had a much easier time getting him to chase changeups and sliders. He hasn't seen a ton of them, but he swung at about 60 percent of the pitches he did see. And, he whiffed an awful lot, especially on that slider. He swung at sliders down and in a lot, while avoiding sliders off the outside of the plate or up for the most part.
So, what do we take from that? Altuve sees a lot of fastballs but swings at very few of them. He also seems to have a pretty good strike zone judgement, especially with two strikes in a count. If we're looking at all the two-strike counts he's seen in his career, it breaks down like this.
Altuve has seen 79 four-seam fastballs on those 2-strike counts in his career and has watched just three strikes. Total. And one of those came against Zack Greinke on Monday.
Against Greinke, Altuve saw the most pitches out of all three. He was also caught looking on strike three, a nasty four-seam fastball on the very outer edge of the zone. Why don't I just show you what I'm talking about:
Greinke started out attacking lower part of that strike zone with the two-seam fastballs to middling luck. He then wasted two pitches, on those two breaking balls in the dirt. The curve ball that came in at 67 MPH was one of the dirtiest pitches I've seen, especially since he'd follow one pitch later with a 95 four-seamer that painted the outside corner.
As you can see, the pitch was borderline by the strike zone generated by Brooks Baseball. Altuve didn't like the call, but he also hadn't seen a ton of fastballs in that location. Most of the fastballs he saw over the past two seasons have been middle in or up. Down and away was kind of a foreign placement for him.
So, you'd think in the next game, Randy Wolf may want to attack Escorpion the same way.
He did not.
You might call this pitch a "mistake" charitably, but looking at this location, is there any was Altuve doesn't crush this pitch?
That pitch is so down Main Street, it might as well open up a business there. A longball business. In the business of going yard. Okay, I'll stop now.
What we see is that two-seam fastball again. Clearly, even though he doesn't miss on the pitch, left-handers try to get him to swing at that two-seamer, maybe hoping he'll hit it on the ground? I don't know.
We also see the same thing with McClendon, starting Altuve out with two-seam fastballs. McClendon isn't a left-hander, but the book the Brewers seemed to be using was trying to make him hit the ball on the ground.
This was the first time we see a pitcher try to climb the ladder on Altuve. Of course, it didn't work this time, as the little guy pounded that fastball up for a double. You can also see the progression up the strike zone for Altuve, with both of the two-seamers going right down the middle of the plate. I wonder if that's what Wolf was trying to do, but hung the pitch a bit too much and Altuve made him pay.
Still, is there anything to the idea that pitchers will try to challenge Altuve up in the zone with that fastball? His swing chart suggests that's the case:
There are a lot of fastballs at the top of that zone that Altuve is swinging at. The more he swings up there, the more teams will try and challenge him. However, when he has the success like he did against Wolf and McClendon, it's a matter of time before teams start pitching him like Greinke did.