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The Wisdom of Crowds: Jose Altuve wins TCB March Madness

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Many people think we got it wrong. I beg to differ

MLB: Spring Training-New York Mets at Houston Astros Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Altuve is the winner of TCB’s March Madness.

Purists throughout TCB-land are screaming... FOUL.

Of course, it’s both the flaw and the fun of elimination tournaments that they often lead to unpredictable results. In this case, it was the luck of the draw that in the elite eight matchup, it just so happened that the only two Hall of Famers in Astros history went head-to-head.

Then, in the semi-finals, Jose Altuve beat Craig Biggio by two votes, who narrowly beat Jeff Bagwell in the previous round.

Given the longevity, Hall of Fame status, and the much bigger counting numbers of Bagwell and Biggio compared to the still active Jose Altuve, it is easy to see why so many are crying foul.

After all, Altuve has only had 1568 hits, Craig Biggio has had 3060. Altuve has 128 home runs and 538 RBI, Bagwell has 449 homers, and 1529 RBI.

No comparison, right?

Well, I’m not so sure the crowd at TCB got it wrong.

To start with, to determine who the best player is, is it really fair or sophisticated to compare only career stats when one of the contenders is still active?

By the time he was 29, wasn’t it already pretty obvious that Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter in history up to that time, even if Ty Cobb still had bigger counting stats. Or Ted Williams the greatest Red Sox, even if many of Tris Speaker’s numbers were still bigger. Or Willie Mays the greatest Giant. etc.

A better way to judge who the best player is: who plays the best. Or how about, who would you build your team around? By the time they were 29, like Jose Altuve was last season, it was already obvious who Mickey Mantle was, or Joe Dimaggio, or Derek Jeter. You build a team around players like these.

To use a contemporary example, Mike Trout, who started in 2011 like Altuve, does not have nearly as many runs, hits, RBI, or home runs as Jeff Bagwell. Does anyone think Jeff Bagwell should be considered a better player than Mike Trout?

So, to be fair to Altuve, and to not discriminate against him solely because he is still playing, let’s compare Bagwell, Biggio, and Altuve at age 29.

Apples to apples, who has shown he is the player to build a team around.

Here are the key stats.

Altuve, Bagwell, Biggio, first nine years

Player BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR runs hits RBI HR SB
Player BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ bWAR runs hits RBI HR SB
Biggio .285 .369 .415 .784 120 29.7 615 1105 389 79 196
Bagwell .304 .409 .536 .945 159 43.1 654 1112 724 187 109
Altuve .315 .364 .463 .827 126 36.9 734 1568 538 128 254

Altuve leads this elite group in batting average, runs, hits and stolen bases. He is second in every other category except on base percentage.

Granted, Bagwell was clearly the better slugger, leading in every category that Altuve doesn’t, OPS, OPS+, home runs, RBI. He leads Altuve in WAR by just over six runs.

So if a purist thinks the crowd was wrong by picking Altuve over Bagwell, I get it. You have a strong argument. Both were All Stars, both were silver sluggers, both were named MVP. But Jeff has the edge as pure hitter, no doubt.

But there’s something huge missing in this analysis. I love Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. They, and fellow killer B and Madness finalist Lance Berkman, defined a great era in Astros history. A great era, but an era that was generally unsuccessful in the playoffs. An era that never won a World Series, despite having loaded teams in many cases.

Remember the 98 Stros? Not many outside of Houston do, because the best team in baseball that year was one and done in the playoffs.

But who had the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, Game 7, 2017 ALCS?

Who contributed homers in the two extra-inning wins, Game 2 and Game 5, of the 2017, seven game, World Series?

Whose homer walked-off the 2019 ALCS against Aroldis Chapman and the Yankees?

Here are Jeff Bagwell’s playoff stats, compiled over nine series.

.226/.364/.321. OPS .685, 2 home runs, 13 RBI, 11 runs.

This is Altuve, taken over ten series.

.290/.345/.527 OPS .872, 13 home runs, 29 RBI, 38 runs.

Here are some Altuve 2017 ALDS, ALCS highlights

Here’s Altuve’s 2017 postseason homers in one place.

Here’s the Altuve bomb that sent the Astros to the World Series in 2019 (Jomboy be damned)

Yeah, Bagwell has the best hitting stats, but he didn’t show up when it mattered most. Not like this. Altuve plays BIG when it matters. The little man from poverty in Venezuela, who grew up hitting bottle caps with sticks, who kept coming back to tryouts when the scouts said “go home;” this man is a champion.

He’s like Derek Jeter. Big leadership. Big numbers. But even bigger when championships are on the line. His clutch hitting has won two AL pennants and a World Series.

Hell, Altuve had more playoff home runs IN ONE GAME, than Bagwell had his whole career.

Some would say the TCB voters succumbed to recency bias choosing Altuve. I say the Bagwell supporters may be succumbing to nostalgia.

Don’t you remember the frustration of watching talented Astros teams of the nineties and 2000’s falling flat in the playoffs. Who knows what some of those teams could have done if more players had stepped up like Altuve has done in his playoff appearances.

Assuming Altuve’s career trajectory is close to normal for an MVP level player entering his 30’s, Jose Altuve will be remembered as the most legendary Astro of its first sixty years.

And considering all he has overcome to achieve his level of success, considering his character, his humility, his joy in the game, his leadership, I believe he will be remembered as one of the most beloved players in all MLB history.

The wisdom of crowds. I think we got it right here at TCB, strangely enough. Maybe those who don’t see it are just too close.