When you think of Jose Altuve, you think of the MVP Award that he won in 2017. You think of the speedy contact hitter who turned into a five-tool player with power. While Charlie Morton may be the hero of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, Altuve will be forever remembered as the guy who got the final out of the series. Last year, Altuve played hurt down the stretch and into October, had knee surgery the day after the Astros were eliminated.
Altuve is now the longest-tenured Astros player with Marwin Gonzalez moving on to the Twins this offseason. Under team control through 2024, the 29-year-old second baseman has a chance of being a lifetime Astro similar to Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. After a hot start in 2019, homering in five straight games, it looked like Altuve was fully recovered and ready to take back the MVP Award in 2019. During that five-game streak, Altuve hit six homers.
Altuve trying to reclaim the MVP Award in 2019?
In the Astros first 19 games, Altuve was batting .316 with an OPS of 1.019 while hitting eight homers and driving in 16 runs. The Astros were 13-6 during that stretch of games. If that record reminds you of something, that was through April 19 where Justin Verlander dominated the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park. The Astros also were about to go through a stretch where they would struggle a little going 8-8. Most teams would be good at .500 during a sixteen game stretch. The Astros are not one of those teams.
One of the reasons that they struggled was because Altuve’s bat went quiet. The numbers will tell you that he was struggling, but we started seeing him strikeout with the bases loaded. During the last 16 games, Altuve is batting .145 with a .571 OPS with a homer and five RBI. In the first 19 games, his BAbip was .306, but it dropped to .152 in the last 16 games. Altuve is still drawing walks with 11 of his 17 walks have been during this 16 game stretch. He is still finding his way on base with a .299 on-base percentage.
On the surface, you could say that Altuve’s stats don’t look terrible outside of his batting average. His slash line for the season is .244/ .333/ .496/ .830 with nine homers and 21 RBI. If you compare his OPS to last year, he was only down seven points from his .837 OPS in 2018. Keep in mind that he was dealing with knee pain last year. If you compare his 2019 OPS to his MVP season in 2017, there is a drastic difference, down 127 points from .957.
It’s only a slump, right?
We have focused mostly on the 2018 and 2019 season, but a player like Altuve should revert back to the mean. Let’s compare some of his stats from 2019 to his career stats and see if we can see any drastic changes. Granted, the Astros have only played 35 of 162 games. This is a small sample size — stats from Fangraphs.
The thing that jumps out to me from all these stats is that Altuve is hitting fewer groundballs from his career average of 47%. He’s hitting more flyballs, and more of those balls are leaving the ballpark. He is hitting the ball harder trying to drive the ball versus trying to hit the ground ball and beat the play at first base. With his speed, he’s able to get the extra base or steal a base to get into scoring position. With trying to make hard contact, he is striking out at a high career rate of 11.3%.
Looking for an explanation.
However, coming off knee surgery, he only has one stolen base in three attempts. Rick Sutcliffe suggested the other day that Altuve is not healthy, maybe his knee is still acting up. However, you see him playing defense free and easy. With his homer streak, maybe Altuve got a little pull happy similar to what players do following participating in the Home Run Derby.
Altuve’s BAbip shows that he is getting fewer hits on balls in play than his career average of .338. His swing is not right at the moment, so these flyballs he is hitting are falling in the player’s gloves. With George Springer, hitting for power is what he is known for. Altuve needs to get back to trying to get on base with a single or double versus hitting a homer. As Altuve said, he doesn’t try to hit for homers, it just happens.
If you are a Statcast guy/gal, you would also see that his exit velocity is up from his career 86.4 mph to 9-87.9 mph via Baseball Savant. His launch angle is also up from his career average 10.3 degrees to 15.4 degrees which has also increased his pulling percentage from his 5.5% to 12.2%. Everything shows him trying to become more of a power hitter, but don’t forget the whispers that the ball is juiced this year. If Altuve is going to slump for 16 games, I’d rather them do it now than in October. Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa are covering for him for now offensively.