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Projecting Jose Altuve as a Hall of Famer

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Will he make it? If so, how high will he sit in the Pantheon of the great second basemen?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, it is hazardous to project a player at about the mid-point of his career as a Hall of Famer. Some might even call it a jinx. After all, he might turn out to be an early bloomer with a short career, or he might get injured, who knows?

But I’ve been thinking about this a while, and I’m going to step out on the plank. Of course, selection to the Hall of Fame is more art than science, but I am going to compare the early career statistics of Jose Altuve to the modern era (post 1920) Hall of Fame second basemen’s early careers and attempt to project how his career will ultimately compare.

One of the basic sabremetric tools for evaluating a player’s Hall of Fame worthiness is JAWS, which, simply put, averages a player’s best seven seasons by WAR (wins above replacement) with his total career WAR. On the chart below there are fifteen Hall of Fame second baseman, post-1920, and Altuve. They are ranked by JAWS, but their career WAR, peak seven WAR and career OPS+ are included as well. In order to compare these players with Altuve, I also calculated their OPS+ in their first seven complete seasons, their WAR for their first seven seasons, and the year by age of their peak season by OPS+. Altuve just completed his seventh full year so that is the reason for the bWAR and OPS+ 1st 7 on the charts.

At the end of the chart I put OPS+ and WAR for the first three seasons. This was done to see if a player was an early bloomer or was put in the Majors too soon. If a player has a high first seven average but started slower than average , this would actually cause his projection to be underestimated.

Jackie Robinson is not included in this chart because of the unusual nature of his career. He did not begin his big league career until age 28 and only played 10 years so his experience is not comparable to that of Altuve or the others.

JAWS Hall of Fame Chart, Modern Era 2nd Basemen

HOF 2nd baseman JAWS bWAR Peak 7 OPS+ OPS+ 1st 7 bWAR 1st 7 peak season OPS+ 1st 3 bWAR 1st 3
HOF 2nd baseman JAWS bWAR Peak 7 OPS+ OPS+ 1st 7 bWAR 1st 7 peak season OPS+ 1st 3 bWAR 1st 3
Rogers Hornsby 100.3 127 73.5 175 174 57.3 28 153 20.2
Joe Morgan 79.9 106.6 59.3 132 122 27.1 32 131 14.3
Charlie Gehringer 65.6 80.7 50.5 124 119 28.1 31 108 9.2
Rod Carew 65.5 81.3 49.8 131 122 27 31 115 10.1
Ryne Sandberg 57.5 68 47.1 114 109 31.7 32 104 15.4
Frankie Frisch 57.4 70.4 44.4 110 119 37.6 25 114 14.4
Roberto Alomar 55 67.1 42.9 116 116 32.6 33 103 12.2
Craig Biggio 53.7 65.5 41.8 112 122 29.4 31 106 11.7
Joe Gordon 51.5 57.2 45.8 120 120 37.5 27 118 15.3
Billy Herman 45.1 54.8 35.5 112 112 32.2 33 100 9.3
Bobby Doerr 43.8 51.2 36.4 115 115 25.5 26 102 7.0
Nellie Fox 42.9 49 36.8 93 96 22.7 29 92 7.6
Tony Lazzeri 42.6 50 35.1 121 127 33.3 25 124 13.6
Red Shoendienst 37 42.3 31.7 94 86 13.3 30 76 3.1
Bill Mazeroski 36.5 31.2 26.0 84 87 19.8 21 87 8.5
Jose Altuve 34.8 35.1 34.5 126 128 34.5 N/A 108 8.5

So let’s compare Altuve’s first seven years to the rest of the Hall of Fame pack. Of course, as anyone who knows baseball History would know, Rogers Hornsby is in a category by himself among second basemen, and perhaps one of the top five hitters of all time, although his productive years came to an early end around 33. But in this list Altuve’s first seven year’s OPS+ was second only to Hornsby at 128.

Altuve’s first seven year WAR was fourth on this list, behind Hornsby and early bloomers Frankie Frisch and Joe Gordon. What makes that even more remarkable is that his first three year WAR was less, often by a considerable amount, than the top ten players on this list. Altuve did not begin to show his Hall of Fame tendencies until later in his career than most of these other players and yet still, after seven years he is ahead of almost all of them at the same stage in their careers.

Now for the treacherous part of this journey, projecting JAWS. Remember, JAWS is the average of the peak seven years WAR total and the career WAR total

First I have to project Altuve’s career WAR total. To do that I totaled the career WAR of the fifteen players on this list as well as their first seven year WAR. I added twelve career WAR to the total to roughly compensate for the four years lost to WWII by Billy Herman and Joe Gordon. By comparing these two totals I can get an average for how many more WAR a player gets after his first seven years. The numbers come to 1014.33 total career WAR divided by 455.1 seven years total WAR, which equals 2.22 times more WAR after the first seven years on average. (1014.33/455.1=2.22) If I multiply Altuve’s seven year WAR by 2.22 I project his career WAR at 76.6. This would put him fifth on this list.

Obviously, he could do better than this if he has a longer than average career, or turns out to be a late bloomer, like Joe Morgan, Charlie Gehringer, or Rod Carew. Or he could do worse, if the converse were true. My method of extrapolation averages the length of career and the late versus early bloomer variability, which no one can predict.

Next we have to project Altuve’s best seven WAR to complete the JAWS projection. To do that I will average the WAR for the first seven seasons for all the players and compare that to the average peak seven WAR seasons for all the players. The peak seven WAR was 656.6 total and the first seven WAR was 455.1. Dividing 656.6 by 455.1 equals 1.44. (656.6/455.1=1.44) That means that the average peak seven season WAR is 1.44 times greater than the average 1st seven season WAR. So if we multiply Altuve’s first seven season WAR by 1.44 we can estimate what his peak seven WAR will be if his progression is average. By this method I project Altuve’s seven year peak WAR to be 49.7. (34.5 X 1.44 = 49.7) That would put him fifth, microscopically behind Rod Carew.

So to get JAWS we must average the projected peak seven WAR with the projected career total WAR, that is 75.6 + 49.7 / 2 which equals 62.7. JAWS. This too would put Altuve at fifth on this list, behind Rod Carew and ahead of Ryne Sandberg. The average for Hall of Fame second basemen is 57, but that number is skewed high by Rogers Hornsby’s ridiculous numbers.

If I had to choose whether Altuve would do worse than these projections or better, I would say better. His first three years by OPS+ or WAR were below the top ten, so his first seven season averages probably underestimate his projections. In other words, the trajectory of the last four years looks even better than what my formulas show.

An interesting statistical anomaly that supports this: nine out of the fifteen players on the chart had their best seasons by OPS+ from the age 29 and after. Hall of Fame second basemen tend to be late bloomers, especially the better ones. So perhaps Jose’s best days are still ahead. On the other hand, to keep up with Joe Morgan and Rod Carew, he will have to be both a late bloomer and have a long career.

Another projection I made using this data was OPS+. The first seven year OPS+ for all the players here averaged 116. It just so turned out that their career OPS averages were also roughly 116. So, for this bunch anyway, the way they hit in the first seven full years of their careers was pretty much how they would track for the rest of their careers. So by this metric, Altuve should end up with a career 128 OPS+, which would rank fourth.

Of course, Altuve has already checked all the boxes as far as career awards is concerned in his seven full years: MVP, six time All Star, five time Silver Slugger, three time batting title, Golden Glove, World Championship in his MVP year.

By comparison, by this stage in Joe Morgan’s career his only commensurate awards were two All Star appearances, although he would end up with 10 such appearances, along with 2 MVP’s, 5 Golden Gloves, two World Championships, and a silver slugger.

Something highly unexpected would have to happen for Jose Altuve to not make the Hall of Fame. At his current rate he could wind up a top five Hall of Famer among modern era second basemen. With enough longevity a first round selection for such a beloved rags to riches kind of character is not out of the question.