When you go to Baseball-Reference / Stathead and search for the best players as second basemen in the last 50 years, you will find plenty of legends in the results: Roberto Alomar, Lou Whitaker, Joe Morgan, Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio... and if you keep looking at it, you will find José Altuve among the greats, despite being close to beginning his 30-age season.
Where does the Venezuelan rank among these guys and where will he be able to finish his MLB career?
To find Altuve’s name in the hit column as a 2B, for example, you have to scroll down to the 21st place. And that’s not bad, that’s GREAT because of what we just said: José will enter his 10th season in the Major Leagues and is only 30 years old. So, theoretically, he still has a huge ground to cover.
Let’s take the first player on the top of some of the most popular offensive departments since 1969, those are, hits, doubles, home runs, and OPS to compare the Puerto Cabello native, who’s won three batting titles, five Silver Sluggers, and a Most Valuable Player award in his career.
Leader since 1969 playing as 2B: Roberto Alomar (2692).
Altuve ranks 21st since 1969: 1530.
Next stop: Dave Cash (1532, 20th).
Altuve is at 1568 career hits right now and 1124 away from the Hall of Famer. Based on José’s rhythm so far and assuming he will be defending second through his entire life as a major leaguer, that number doesn’t seem impossible to reach.
Alomar never had a 200-hit season. In fact, he registered 190 or more just three times in his 17-year career. But he did spend his entire journey in that position. The Puerto Rican made his debut at 20 years old (Altuve was 21) and accumulated 145 hits in his first year. That’s the reason why—when comparing each other before their 30-age season—Roberto had 91 more than José, besides playing in 173 games more than the Venezuelan.
Why do I think this will be possible for Altuve? Well, he has a better pace than Alomar and has been extremely durable. The Astros second baseman averages 174 knocks per year, eight more than the former Indian before his 30-age season (166). It gets even better when you compare averages per 162 games: Alomar’s 190 against Altuve’s 204.
Also, Alomar only played in 196 games after turning 35 years old, since he retired after the 2004 campaign. He called it a career young, another factor that could play in Altuve’s favor.
Leader since 1969 playing as 2B: Robinson Canó (550).
Altuve ranks 17th since 1969: 296.
Next stop: Willie Randolph (314, 16th).
There have been only two men that have reached the 500-double plateau playing as 2B in the last 50 years. Those are Jeff Kent (512) and Robbie Canó. As for now, Altuve is four shy of 300 two-baggers while covering that position (296 as 2B, 299 in total).
For the 30-year-old, it’s not impossible to aim for that mark, or at least 500. It certainly won’t be easy, as he would need to average something around 30 doubles for the next seven years. BUT... Year after year, he’s been trading contact for power, which is producing more extra-base hits for him (11.1% of his plate appearances was extra bases last year, a career-best). So that should be encouraging.
According to FanGraphs, Altuve has seen his hard hit % rise steadily: 28.2% in 2017, 33.3% in 2018, 40.8% in 2019, another good sign.
Leader since 1969 playing as 2B: Jeff Kent (357).
Altuve ranks 25th since 1969: 126.
Next stop: Jonathan Schoop (130, 24th)
Here we get to the same point: Altuve’s been sacrificing contact to hit for power more often. But this is a different case. José’s at 126 home runs right now while playing in second and would have to sent another 231 balls out of the park to match Kent’s mark.
The former MVP award winner will have to become a real home run threat to go after Kent. In fact, he’d need to average 33 dingers per season for the next seven campaigns to reach 357.
I’m not saying this will be impossible, but Altuve has never gone yard more than 31 times during a regular season. So that remains to be seen.
Leader since 1969 playing as 2B (5000 PAs minimum): Jeff Kent (.868).
Altuve ranks 4th since 1969 (5000 PAs minimum): .829, tied with Chase Utley.
Next stop: Joe Morgan (.830, 3rd).
There’s a particular scenario here. Between 2011 and 2013—Altuve’s first three seasons in the Major Leagues—, his OPS as 2B was a low .705 (only 6.3% of his PAs was extra-base hits). But since 2014, his OPS went up like crazy. Between 2014 and 2019, it’s at .879.
If José keeps producing at this level, keeps hitting for power, and keeps getting on base, there are no reasons to doubt he would end his career next to or above of Kent.
Hey, I know projections are hard to tell. In this case, Altuve would need to stay healthy, productive, and playing second for a long time. But I’m talking about a man with great abilities at the plate who has done it all so far.
Remember that Altuve already leads all second basemen in average since 1969 (with at least 5000 PAs), with a solid .315. He’s already an all-time great and will maintain that status whether he reaches those marks or not.