(Editor’s note: I’d like to welcome the newest member of the Crawfish Boxes staff, Juan Paez. Juan has written for the Marlins at the Fish Stripes, but he has a special love of the Astros as a native Venezuelan. (We Astros fans know the connection) He currently lives in Chile and we hope he brings a unique international perspective to Astros commentary. Welcome Juan.
José Altuve is as legitimate as anyone in baseball. He’s as good as anyone in baseball. I know this statement might be hard to believe for all of those who are not Astros fans. By being an invaluable part of the team that cheated during the 2017 season, he’s involved in the scandal, but Altuve didn’t need to cheat to climb among the greats. And the evidence suggests that he did not
There is no reason to stop loving Altuve or to believe he won the 2017 Most Valuable Player thanks exclusively to stealing signs. If you hate already the Astros I don’t know if my argument can change your mind, but I’ll give it a try.
Way before 2017, Altuve’s always been a tremendous hitter, even before he turned into a power-hitting second baseman. As a Venezuelan, I saw him playing for Navegantes del Magallanes in the VZ Winter League from 2010 to 2012. Across 137 games and 599 plate appearances in that span, the popular short guy slashed .322/.368/.424. He didn’t strike out more than 28 times in any of those three campaigns. You can see his stats clicking here.
Between 2014 and 2016, Altuve led the American League in hits, registering 225, 200, and 216 respectively. No one in baseball accumulated more hits than José’s 641. He won two batting crowns (2014, 2016), collected at least 40 doubles per season, and increased his home run and runs batted in totals year by year. Over that period, he went thrice to the All-Star Game and won three Silver Sluggers.
Alright, now you’re probably going to say that all the cheating began in 2017. Okay, I saw that coming. First, I want to say that I’m not excusing the Astros, they did do illegal stuff, they did use technology to steal signs.
Second, Altuve’s claim to the Hall of Fame should not carry an asterisk because of this. Why? There’s enough evidence to prove that he didn’t like or use the sign-stealing system that much and also, that cheating probably had little impact on the 30-year-old overall statistics.
There’s a magnificent resource on the web called signstealingscandal.com. Tony Adams, the site’s owner, watched and analyzed Astros 2017 home games with video available (60 games) and counted every trash can bang.
That data has José Altuve as the player who least participated, when it came to the trash cans (in his statement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the Astros also used clapping, whistling, and yelling to indicate pitches). The Venezuelan only heard 2.8% of bangs on the total deliveries he received during those 60 games.
While discussing the investigation and Cody Bellinger’s comments on Altuve, shortstop Carlos Correa supported that data from the cited website.
“José Altuve was the one guy that didn’t use the trash can,” Correa said in an interview with Ken Rosenthal. “The few times that the trash can was banged were without his consent, and he would go inside the clubhouse, inside the dugout to whoever was banging the trash can and he would get pissed, he would get mad. He would say: “I don’t want this, I can’t hit like this. Don’t you do that to me.” He played the game clean [...] the whole year. He didn’t cheat nobody on the MVP, he earned that MVP. He’s a six-time All-Star, three-time batting champion, MVP, five-time Silver Slugger... He’s been doing this for a long time.”
One last point. Altuve was indeed great at Minute Maid Park back in 2017. He hit for a .311/.371/.463 slash line in 78 games (329 PA). But he was EVEN BETTER on the road, where the Astros couldn’t use technology for obvious reasons: .381/.449/.633 (75 games, 333 PA). If the second baseman won the MVP, it was in big part thanks to how he performed outside Houston.
Unfortunately, Altuve can’t be completely absolved of cheating, since he’s part of the team that cheated. But if there’s a man who deserves having the asterisk removed it is him. At the end of the day, probably no one would ever risk a brilliant career that could eventually end up in the Hall of Fame for cheating during one season.