We have to cherish it... José Altuve is doing José Altuve things again. In his first games of 2021, he’s shown his vintage form at the plate despite occupying an unusual spot for him in recent history, as he's leading off for the Astros.
The Venezuelan second baseman is off to an encouraging start offensively. Across 10 games, Altuve is 13-for-40 with three doubles, one home run, five runs batted in, 11 scored runs, five walks, and five strikeouts. All these stats are accompanied by a .325/.391/.475/.866 slash line.
When you compare that to his performance last year, it’s a tremendous step forward for José. He went through a rough 2020 regular season, posting .219/.286/.344 averages in 48 games.
But this improvement from Altuve at the batter’s box is not out of nowhere. A lot has gotten better for the new leadoff guy, let’s dive in...
What you will notice at first sight is he’s hitting the ball way harder than 2020. According to Statcast, his average exit velocity went from 85.2 miles per hour to an above-average 88.9 MPH. That’s almost FOUR miles higher. And believe me, that increase will get you a few more hits.
Do you think that’s fun? Wait to see his exit velo against offspeed (91.7 MPH) and breaking (90.8 MPH) stuff...
The quality of his contact is the reason for his high expected batting average (.351) and expected slugging percentage (.594). Take a look at other stats to measure what we just talked about...
2020: 4.6 Barrel % | 24.8 Sweet Spot % | 33.3 HardHit%
2021: 8.3 Barrel % | 36.1 Sweet Spot % | 47.2 HardHit%
Altuve’s batted ball profile has changed a bit as well. So far, he’s hitting line drives at a higher rate than ever before since tracked by Baseball Savant: 30.6%. Also, he’s pulling the ball at a 50% rate, which is 11.4% higher from last year’s 38.6%. That has given him great results thus far.
But the most encouraging facts about José are found in his plate-discipline numbers.
What popped first to my eyes was his K%. It’s down from 18.6% last year to 10.9% this campaign, which is at the top 7% of the league. On average, Altuve is now striking out every 8.0 at-bats, better than the 4.9 ratio he put up in 2020. While this has happened, his BB% increased 2.8% and saw his pitches-per-appearances ratio climbed from 3.61 to 3.76, which isn’t something to brag about, but it’s an ideal thing if you just became your team’s new leadoff hitter.
Despite Altuve’s been raking, he could be doing so much better, as he’s been kind of unlucky at times. Imagine if these balls —all from 2021, obviously— had fallen for hits...
To all those stats, you can add the facts about he’s destroying fast pitches (.242 AVG in 2020, .421 AVG in 2021) and he’s being a pain for lefties (.167 AVG in 2020, .526 AVG in 2021).
Although it’s early and what he’s done can still be considered as a “small sample size”, José Altuve is back to José Altuve mode!