There is simply no sugarcoating this one: Jose Altuve has had a dreadful start to the 2022 postseason, at least as a hitter. His results are far below his usual gold standard, even by expected stats (.050 xBA, .129 xwOBA). Honestly, if you were to tell me that the All-Star second baseman would hit .000/.095/.000 in his first 21 postseason plate appearances this year, I wouldn't have expected the Astros to win all four of their games thus far.
This performance is quite a surprise as Altuve, who posted a 164 wRC+, had arguably his best offensive season since 2017. As I wrote earlier this month, the combination of Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker posted a cumulative 152 wRC+ on the season. It goes without saying that the Astros' offensive production is dictated more by how well Altuve is hitting than Jeremy Peña or Martín Maldonado. Of course, this thought didn't hold up well last night, but the overall point remains valid.
So, when can we expect Altuve to turn it around at the plate? The answer: Hopefully soon. First, if we look back at his entire career, he has only three instances when he was held hitless for four consecutive regular season games: 2013, 2016, and 2018. His steak of hitless plate appearances ranges from 16 to 18, so his current streak is arguably the worst of his entire career over a four-game span. Impeccable timing, am I right? Thankfully, the 32-year-old has yet to have a stretch in his career where he was hitless for five consecutive games, so there is a precedent that his hitless streak may not last much longer.
Altuve's struggles became glaringly apparent in a stretch of plate appearances against the Mariners — in Games 2 and 3 — where the former MVP didn't look like his usual self. For example, take this at-bat in Game 3 in the top of the ninth against Matt Brash, with two outs and runners in scoring position. This is a situation we've been previously conditioned to expect big things from Altuve. Instead, he flailed at three consecutive sliders outside of the strike zone to end the threat and leave us spectators dismayed, at least in Houston.
Although Altuve's overall plate discipline isn't particularly problematic on average, there are instances when his occasionally aggressive nature will backfire. Whenever he doesn't see the ball well, as was likely the case against Seattle, it will lead to some wild swings on pitches he typically lays off. It can also generate some relatively short at-bats, as in Game 2 when Altuve only saw ten pitches in the entire game. Those tendencies that help make him a terrific hitter can also lead to an occasional slump. You must take the good and the bad with that approach, even if the slumps occur at the absolute worst time.
Despite a lack of hits in this postseason to date, Altuve has started to look increasingly comfortable in his recent plate appearances. Take the first pitch four-seam from Jameson Taillon in Game 1 of the ALCS last night as an example.
While the result was ultimately a flyball to center field, it wasn't as if Altuve didn't put a good swing on it. He didn't flail at the pitch. It appears he saw it well enough. While the swing was a bit under the ball, it was arguably his best contact in recent games. After all, Altuve had a .579 wOBA on similar pitches — four-seamers in that area of the strike zone — during the regular season. The decision to swing made sense there.
In addition, Altuve later exercised some patience and extended his plate appearances in the subsequent innings. He drew a walk at the bottom of the second inning and reached a full count in the bottom of the sixth inning. While the results weren't generally optimal in Game 1, his processes at the plate had gradually improved. The hope is that he finds his groove starting tonight in Game 2. The Astros' offense will hopefully pick up the pace if he does. If not, his struggles could open the door for the Yankees to take advantage.