There’s no doubt José Altuve is already one of the all-time greats for the Astros. At the age of 30, he’s won three batting titles, an MVP, a World Series, a Gold Glove, five Silver Sluggers, and has four 200-hit seasons under his belt.
But since he last won the batting crown, back in 2017, there have been some concerning points, at least from my standpoint. And, hey, let me tell you something before you start to frown. I know the beloved Venezuelan, my countryman, is still one of the best and still belongs to the group of players you call elite. He’s a game-changer. Period.
The thing I’m afraid about Altuve is how much of his quality as a hitter he is sacrificing for power or for being even more aggressive at the plate. It seems to be a trend in Altuve’s performance in recent years.
For example, his swinging strike percentage has gone up steadily from 7.5% in 2014 to 15.4% this year. I know he’s become a guy that can send 25-30 balls over the yard every year, but also his balls in play percentage fell from 41.2% in 2014 to 30.6% in 2020. The same is happening to his contact rate, which was 90.1% six years ago and finished this campaign at 79.8%.
Just to get you an idea: Altuve recorded 36 swinging strikeouts back in 2014 across 708 appearances. This year, in which he hit for a .219 average and took only 210 total trips to the plate, he registered 31.
Those numbers I just mentioned above are reasons for his increased strikeout percentage. By the way, just take a look at it, counting since 2014:
Year Altuve’s K%
In 2019 and 2020, Altuve had the two highest swing-and-miss rates of his career (first image). And when he chases pitches, he misses more than 32 percent of the time, a number that has gone up year after year (second image).
Will Altuve ever compete for another batting title? Even though I hope he will, I can’t tell you that. But what I can tell you is, I insist, his approach at the plate might get him in trouble in the long term.
In fact, the second baseman swung at the 38.2% of pitches he saw out of the strike zone in 2020, notably higher than the MLB average (30.6%). And the worst thing is he had awful results when he chased this year: 13-for-62, .210 batting average, .274 slugging percentage, and a poor exit velocity of 79.2 MPH. He needs to get his discipline back!
His global exit velocity and pitch selection are also affecting his expected batting average (xBA) as well as his expected slugging percentage (xSLG):
Year xBA xSLG
2016 .326 .537
2017 .296 .495
2018 .291 .461
2019 .277 .499
2020 .230 .352
The good thing about this is Altuve is only 30 years old. He’s one of the most accomplished players in baseball and has proved to be one of the greatest, purest hitters in the game. Also, there was the intangible pressure of the Astros sign-stealing scandal on his shoulders, so you have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Fortunately, José will have a full 162-game season in 2021 to be just as incredible as he’s always been. But Altuve needs to do his part by working and capitalizing for once his changes at the plate to be the threat we’re used to seeing.