Of course, we can point to the short sample nature of a 60-game season and how it ought not to be solely used in analyzing players. That notion rang true last fall, and it remains true today. It is no secret that Jose Altuve struggled mightily last season with only five home runs and a 77 wRC+ in 210 plate appearances. But we can pinpoint trends to watch from short samples — good, bad, or somewhere in between — to see if those continue to materialize in a full season. In Altuve’s case, it was this sudden drop in isolate power in 2020 that caught attention.
To be fair, Altuve is far from the only position player to struggle last season. Cody Bellinger, for example, hasn’t looked like the same hitter who won the NL MVP back in 2019. Christian Yelich only had 18 home runs in his last 122 games compared to 44 in 130 games two years ago. Context is important with these struggles as Bellinger and Yelich have dealt with injuries that hamper their ability as hitters. With only 14 extra-base hits, including home runs, in 2020, it stood out even more in Altuve’s case as the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal was in full force. This fallout is one aspect of Houston’s star second baseman we cannot gloss over in analysis, although we can’t honestly quantify it.
But you may have noticed that Altuve’s isolated power started to spike again towards the tail end of the 2020 season. Something, in fact, appears to have clicked in late September when the Astros played the Rangers in Arlington to close out the regular season. Not including the subsequent postseason, Altuve’s overall numbers have continued to rebound noticeably, including his power.
My untrained eye may miss something regarding stances or subtle adjustments when I review game footage. There is more to drill down in terms of approach and if there were any material changes at the plate. But Altuve’s approach change is partially reflected in the numbers as he is swinging nearly three percentage points lower than his career average and hitting the ball harder when he does make contact. His outside swing rate is more in line with his prior seasons besides 2020. Also, his launch angle has improved, and hitting more fly balls. Altuve’s overall results have improved across the board, which comes as a relief to those who became worried following his performances last season.
With 23 home runs on the season in his first 84 games (27.3 percent of games played), Altuve has a chance to set a new career-high in this category. His previous high was 31 dingers back in 2019 in 121 games (25.6 percent of games played). There is a good chance that he sets a new career-high this season if health permits and this power surge continues. Oh, how I hope it continues unabated.