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Deteriorating plate discipline and excessive swing loft have prolonged José Altuve’s funk

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Bad pitch selection and an abundance of pop-ups have hampered the second baseman’s production of late.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

José Altuve walked as many times as he struck out in June. It’s undoubtedly been his best month of 2021 in terms of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+). What fueled such explosive production was an excellent 21.2 percent Chase rate, the lowest mark Altuve has posted in a single month in his career. And now it’s very much a thing of the past.

Since July, the Astros second baseman’s tendency to offer at pitches outside the strike zone has become a significant problem, one that’s certainly hindering his output at the plate.

The increase to 32.5 percent in July isn’t terribly notable, as it’s near Altuve’s career figure, but the wheels have fallen off in August. For only the third time since 2016, his monthly Chase rate has breached 40 percent.

Consequently, he is slashing .214/.267/.250 for the month in 60 plate appearances. As meaningless as 60 PAs can be, Altuve’s .306 on-base percentage in July was also below average. In his last 160-plus plate appearances, he has a lowly sub-.300 OBP, with an Expected OBP (xOBP) around .270. This is a fairly alarming trend, especially when considering Altuve is the lineup’s table setter.

Throughout his career, plate discipline has never been a defining trait for the 31-year-old Venezuelan native. He’s never finished a season with a Chase rate below 30 percent, but his extraordinary bat-to-ball skills have more than compensated for the mediocre pitch selection.

That’s not happening right now.

Altuve is batting under .250 since July, including a Expected Batting Average (xBA) that’s roughly 20 points worse. He has routinely gotten under the ball at a rate that’s just north of 40 percent via Statcast’s Under% metric. The league average is 24.9 percent. Those batted balls have yielded a microscopic .038 average for Altuve.

Here’s where he is connecting with those pitches:

Yikes.

It would less concerning and perhaps more easily correctable if the root of this issue was getting under balls outside of the zone, but the fact that Altuve has frequently been popping up hittable pitches that are over the heart of the plate indicates there could be a rather serious problem with his swing.

Hitting remains the toughest thing to do in sports, and despite being remarkably gifted with the bat, Altuve is not immune to slumping. These things happen. Fortunately for the Astros, the question probably isn’t if he’ll fix his problems at the plate, but when. Being one of the greatest hitters of this generation affords Altuve that luxury.

But with less than seven weeks left in the regular season, it would be ideal for the perennial All-Star to right the ship sooner rather than later.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant