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Oops! All Astros: Jose Altuve

Houston’s resident spark plug, Jose Altuve.

World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Jose Altuve has been with the Astros since they were bad.

Altuve is a five-foot-six, 166 lb. right-handed second baseman from Puerto Cabello, VZ. Born on May 6, 1990, he signed with the Astros at the age of 16, on March 6, 2007 to a deal with a $15,000 bonus. In 2011, he got to the majors as Houston’s number 28 organizational prospect. He would outperform that forecast.

Prior to the 2022 season, Altuve played 11 seasons for the Astros, making the All-Star Team seven times, winning five Silver Sluggers and the 2015 Gold Glove at second base. He also took home the American League MVP Award in 2017. In 1437 games for Houston coming into this season, he banged out a .308/.360/.462 slashline with 164 homers, 639 RBI, and 261 stolen bases in 341 attempts.

Altuve hit his statistical peak from 2014 through 2017, when he hit a collective .334/.384/.496, leading the majors in hits twice and the American League all four seasons. In three of those years, he was also the AL batting champion, and twice led the league in stolen bases, going 156-of-194 during that stretch.

In 2022, Altuve appeared in 141 games, collecting multiple hits in 44 and three or more hits in 15 of them. On May 19, he went four-for-five with two doubles and a run in a 5-1 Astros win over the Texas Rangers. On August 4, he went four-for-four with a double and a run scored in a 6-1 win against the Boston Red Sox.

On September 7, in his highest positive impact (going by his .407 in-game WPA) when he went hitless with three walks, dashing home on a walk-off bases-loaded wild pitch in the bottom of the 10th in a 4-3 victory against the Rangers. On September 27, he homered twice, also hitting a double in a 10-2 Houston triumph over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Altuve ranked eighth, fourth, and fourth respectively with his .300/.387/.533 slashline in this season. He posted his second-best career home run total, with 28, and rediscovered how to steal a base, swiping 18 in 19 attempts. His 160 OPS+ was tied for his career-high mark, with his MVP season. He also won his sixth Silver Slugger and made the All-Star Team for the eighth time.

Altuve’s .397 WOBA ranked him in the top two percent of the AL, despite an 85.9 MPH average exit velocity that ranked in the bottom six percent. It was the lowest exit velocity of his career, which may have something to do with the pitches he’s seen lately. Generally speaking, and with only one exception (2018) Altuve has seen a smaller percentage of fastballs than in past seasons. His strikeout percentage has also seen a nominally causal increase, slightly every season and with one exception (2020). His 14.4 strikeout rate in 2022 was his second worst, aside from his dreadful 18.6 in 2020.

Altuve’s WOBA of .440 on fastballs shows why opposing pitchers are more and more loathe to use it against him. He also has a .621 actual SLG against the heater. I guess the book on Altuve is, don’t throw fastballs.

Defensively, Altuve was pretty much himself. That is, better than league average, but only slightly so. Statcast Outs Above Average has him at two, with a 74 percent success rate added by his range. His arm strength places him consistently low against his major league brethren, with a 74.6 MPH average throw to first base. In more conventional stats, he had a .979 fielding percentage in 1150 13 innings at second base.

In the postseason, Altuve had a well-publicized slump that reached Chris Davis proportions, going 0 for his first 25 with two walks. Including his first hit, a double in Game Three of the ALCS against the Bronx Bombers, he finished by going 11-for-33 with three doubles and two walks.

In 2023, Altuve will be entering the sixth year of a seven-year deal with Houston, and he’ll make $29 million in adjusted salary. Only $26 million of that counts against payroll. When he becomes an unrestricted free agent following the 2024 season, I’d like to think that Jim Crane (or his “hand of the Emperor,” whoever that will be) will offer Altuve a lifetime deal, or at least one that allows Altuve to stay active with the Astros until he reaches 3,000 hits. Through his first five years of the deal, he’s been worth a total of $176.2 million, according to Fangraphs. That includes a paltry $100,000 of “worth” in 2020. Ideally, that “lifetime” deal will include a clause that adds Altuve to the coaching staff or front office in perpetuity. Thanks for reading.