Dan on the problem at second base: The Altuve Conundrum


Dan Peschong takes a look at possible problems at second base. Chip returns Tuesday after a week-long trip to South Dakota…on business.

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Heading into the 2013 season, the projected starting lineups and rotation for the Houston Astros — heck, the whole 25 man-roster — was pretty much a 52 card pickup guess. Sure, most fans assumed that Carlos Pena would be there based on what the team was paying him, but even supposed sure things like Lucas Harrell, Jed Lowrie and Bud Norris came with clouds of potential trades hanging over their heads.

Meanwhile, Jose Altuve — and possibly Jason Castro — was one of the few “Sure Things” heading into spring training.  Even though he had slumped a bit at the end of 2012 – he had been the Astros only All Star representative and put up good numbers at second base, a traditionally non-offensive position. And who could resist pulling for the 5’-5” everyman who was the same size as an average 8th grader.

But in 2013, after a strong April, Altuve has been in a steady offensive decline and he has gone from one of the most effective Astros’ hitters in 2012 to one of the worst in 2013. Of the Astros normally in the starting lineup, only Brandon Barnes has a lower OPS than Altuve’s .648 and none of the other regular starters has an OPS lower than .690. It has been documented that he rarely walks, consistently chases pitches outside the strike zone, has not shown much power development and on the defensive side is a middle of the road or less fielder. The biggest question currently is why would he regularly appears in the 2nd or 3rd spots in the lineup – he does not get on base and he has little power.

Regular contributor Eric Girard pointed out that Altuve looks exhausted, probably from playing year-around and his miniscule .498 OPS in August sings to that. But he has not been a good player since early May and this has to have the Astros’ brain-trust pondering the future.

Besides the fact that at this point you would be trading Altuve at a low point of value, we do have to remember that he is only 23. He has been asked to be an important cog in a lineup that has given him very little protection and I think he has imposed on himself the duty to make things happen even when the pitchers are throwing their pitches, not his. Jose’s numbers leading off, which he did consistently earlier in the season are far superior to when he has batted down in the lineup.

And as others have pointed out – there is no better 2nd base choice in the high minors at this moment – though folks like Deshields and Fontana may be close next season. The specter of the Joe Morgan trade has always hung over this franchise, but I’m pretty sure Altuve is not the OBP machine that Morgan was and will not be headed to the Hall of Fame. But that does not mean he will not be a solid major leaguer.

So – in a multiple choice quiz question, if you were Jeff Luhnow – would you:

  1. Have Bo Porter give Altuve lots of rest down the stretch?
  2. Move him to a different spot in the lineup (and which one)?
  3. Trade him in the off-season?
  4. Have him take the winter league off?
  5. Have him personally tutored by Biggio, Morgan or others in the off-season?
  6. See if he will perform hot in the early season (like he has in 2012 and 2013) and then get the most value for him?
  7. Use him as a placeholder until one of the younger guns is ready?
  8. Some combination of the answers above?
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34 comments on “Dan on the problem at second base: The Altuve Conundrum

  1. Not sure why Altuve should be exhausted. He’s played in 126 of 136 games. Lot’s of guys play more. He’s 23. And as you note Dan, he’s been struggling since May. Maybe he’s mentally weary. He’s probably not had such a frustrating stretch since he started playing the game as a kid.

    He’s not a three hitter. In the long run, he might be best hitting 2nd or 7th, or maybe even 9th in the AL. Regardless of where he hits, he simply has to become more selective. But hitting third has him trying to pull most everything. He’s at his best when he’s spraying the ball all over the field and finding gaps.

    No need to trade him now. I still think he can be a .300 hitter. And we don’t have another guy ready to take his place in 2014.

    I think winter ball for full time major leaguers should be a thing of the past. For a utility guy, or a guy who has not gotten a chance to play everyday and is trying to win a starting job at any level, then winter ball makes sense. Why should a guy making a ML salary risk injury?

    Regardless of who the messenger is, someone has to convince him to work the count and to use the whole field again. He’s succeeded at every level, including the majors. He can be fixed.

    Fontana or Sclafani (significantly better stats than Fontana) might be good second base candidates down the road. But DeShields is going back to the outfield next season.

    Dan, yes, he’s our second baseman until we have someone better. That’s the thing about a great minor league system. We’ll be producing multiple options for a position like second base.

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    • Lots of good points daveb. Trying to pull the ball has done nothing for him. He only has 4 HR and his OBP is barely above .300.
      He will always be a bit of a free swinger – but like you said has to hit to all fields and walk sometimes.

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  2. Bad loss today – slowly leaking away 5-1 and 6-2 leads and then Lo giving up the salami in the 8th.
    Altuve must have known I was writing this as he has had 2 three hit days in a row.

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  3. DanP – keep writing about Altuve. Have only seen him in about 7-8 games against the Rangers, but he looked like he was pressing. But he is terrible about swinging (and lots of time hitting or fouling off) pitches a foot off the plate. It is discouraging to think that Altuve, JMartinez, and Paredes – all three after such an exciting start – might all turn out to not be able to hit in the majors.

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  4. I would agree that he needs to stop playing winter ball, even if management issues the statement that he is trying to get a better eye for the strike zone. With the less than MLB pitching in the winter ball, he probably has more hits on out of the zone pitches and this would defeat the purpose of him playing. He would be reinforcing a very bad habit. At this point I would not trade him since he is holding no one back, but i do think that Porter needs to get his attention regarding the strike zone.

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    • Ted –
      I agree with your premise. Not sure what it will take to get him to lay off. Sometimes the manager has to sit guys to get them to pay attention.

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  5. Wouldn’t it have been nice to fall back on Giovanni Mier for a future 2nd. baseman.
    This guy was the #*1* pick in 2009, and he has done ziltch. His average is 194…….
    doesn’t that just make you drool?? Altuve needs to back home a chill until next year.
    I wouldn’t be opposed to having Biggio give him some help, but that’s all. Nolan
    Fontana has made some good strides this year, and I look for him to get to OKC by the end of July next year. I’m sill perplexed about the DeShields move. What a game today…….glad I couldn’t make it to the park, ’cause paying to see that would have pi$$ed me off.

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    • Bad draft decisions sure helped put us in the hole we are in and having a #1 bust-out is a bad draft decision.
      Don’t know why they are moving Deshields to OF but I have not seen him play – maybe they think they need more OF help than middle infield help.
      Bad game today – one you end up with a frown on your face.

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      • 24 errors at 2B this year was likely a big factor. Primarily, I think the move was made because the organization has a lot of SS who profile out more as 2B in the long term, and in the short term he is blocked by Altuve. I would suggest the hope is they can get him to CC by mid-2014 and then see whether his offensive talents can translate enough to fast track him to the big leagues.

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    • When I last saw Gio in CC, he was hitting .204, struck out three times, made two errors at short and looked totally disinterested. Would not be surprised to see him out of the organization next year.

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  6. It is interesting and probably reflects where things are. I think we have some good pitching prospects in the minors but not the Top of the rotation ones that are mentioned here.

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  7. I have consistently railed against the lack of pitching prospects in this organization since 2008. Luhnow seems to be the first with at least a little focus in it. I think they may underestimate McCullers, but he is the only one with the numbers that make me think he is going to be successful, since Cosart is already here.

    Baseball is a funny game. Oberholtzer’s great start not withstanding, I would be surprised if any of the current rotation guys are here 2-3 years from now, maybe with the exception of Cosart. Keuchel, Lyles, Oberholtzer, Clemens, or whomever else is fed to us in the coming weeks, or even next year, they all fit the profile, the profile is they are all capable of going out and pitching a good GAME, but baseball isn’t about 1 good game, its about 30 good games for a starter.

    Admittedly noone would have looked at Tom Glavine’s minor league numbers, his K rates, his BB/K ratio’s, or his first season in the majors and thought he was going to be anything. They all have a chance if they can just be consistent in their preparation, consistent in their ability to throw pitches that are out of the zone but so close the hitter offers, consistent in location and movement – but without a Cosart or McCullers arm it’s a lot to ask, which is why it happens so rarely. Again, I would like to give a shout out to CSN, Comcast, the Astros, and greed, since they only thing I can look at is box scores.

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    • Steven – having watched the guys actually pitched – I think Oberholtzer is showing the most as far as a guy who does not have a rifle arm, but knows how to pitch. He has good control in the zone and good control of his breaking pitches – broke off some beautiful curves back door in his shutout the other day.
      We of course don’t know if Appel will also be one of those TOR guys, but Lord – he should. And perhaps we will add Rodon this time around.

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  8. And on the topic of the day – Altuve. A winter off will probably be a good thing. He isn’t a superstar in the making. He is offering way too much out of the strike zone. I wouldn’t try and change his aggressiveness, I would just try and work on his strike zone recognition. He is one of those guys that just isn’t built to draw 100 walks a year, or even 75, but he can still be a positive WAR guy that contributes.

    The day something else comes along that is better, we go with it. Until then, I take option 1.

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  9. Pagnozzi ? ? This is just getting downright comical. We have young catchers that it will not ruin them to at least watch them play defensively. This guy has not been in the majors in 2 years, is 30, and with what little he has played – has a negative WAR. Please don’t tell me about our injuries and this move is part of “the plan.”

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    • This is a move that only costs us cash. They don’t want to pillage OKC, CC, or any other team heading to the playoffs for players. This might be a bit of backwards thinking – don’t worry about winning at MLB level, but go for it on the developmental teams…but I think they’re concerned about sending a statement that shows the immediate merits of the rebuild from nothing strategy.

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      • Just a thought Devin. Lets assume one of us is Rene Garcia or Carlos Perez. We are hitting near .300 and throwing out near 50% of the runners. And you read this Pagnozzi story. It would tell me there is no need to bust your butt in the Astros minors. Not sure how they would take it. Crowe’s article yesterday was he had rather be in the majors.

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  10. I guess they think Castro and /or Corporan will be back fairly soon – that is all I can see.
    Shame Castro got hurt he has been killing it lately and even his hitting against lefties has improved a bunch since early in the season.

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  11. I’m sorry, but I am so tired of the “building plan” through the waiver wire and rule 5 — then this guy jumps up and he has not even made TO THE WAIVER wire. Don’t expect them to go after Buster Posey, but GEEEZZZZ. Activate the bullpen catcher for a week.

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  12. Not only is Altuve a bad second baseman, which he is – not only the balls he misplays or “lolly-gags”, he is too small and has no range. Too many balls get by him or over his head that a “normal” size second baseman converts into outs. His nonchalance on routine plays, including some double play turns is becoming bothersome. His total lack of hustle, not to mention stupidity, on the bases, or even running out ground and fly balls, is something that I’m surprised Porter has not addressed. He should be told by someone to emulate Biggio and run our everything.

    He is not the second baseman of the future. That should be DeShields. Do not understand why they moved him to the outfield again. I know these guys know baseball much better than I, so they will do what they think is appropriate.

    I for one am tired of watching his lack of hustle, and his “me-niss”. Don’t think he is the team guy that he’s been pointed out to be.

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    • No, he’s not a very good second baseman, but actually range is not an issue. He’s third in the league in Range Factor. I’m not sure how much you’ve seen Altuve play, but I’ve not heard anyone anywhere accuse him of “lolly-gagging”, nor have I seen the nonchalance that you describe. He’s actually been involved in more double plays than any second baseman in the league too. Of course our pitchers have put plenty of guys on base to help create all those double play opportunities, but nonchalance does not describe Altuve. And a total lack of hustle? Stupidity? Me-niss? Pepper, you lack any credibility.

      As far as attitude and hustle go, I’d like to have nine Altuve’s on the field. Sure he’s got some significant weaknesses in his game, but you sure didn’t hit on any of them.

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      • Thanks for the critique, and I appreciate your thoughts. I watch games almost every night (yes I have Comcast), and I have one of the 28 game packages, so I get to see him quite often. He consistently does not “hustle” to first, while he watches the balls, and then, if the ball falls in for maybe extra bases, he turns on the speed, thus gets thrown out at times when had he been running from the start, as I’m sure he’s taught to do, he would have the extra base easily. He seldom runs hard on ground balls while he’s watching where they are going. I don’t think that is a universal trait of our guys.

        Yes, as you say, he’s been involved in more double plays than other second basemen, but that is not a result of his play, rather, as you point out, there’s a lot of opportunity for that. If you’ve truly watched him as much as I, you have seen him at times nonchalance (yes he does that quite often) the ball to first, missing on additional double plays that he could have closed out. His base running is stupid, maybe not him, and if you are honest and have watched, you would admit that.

        I apologize for the comment on “Me-niss”. Might have been a bit over involved in my typing. I do not see him with the guys so can’t and shouldn’t have made any comment.

        I know he is the “hero” here, but if folks will honestly watch him, you will see what I am talking about. As I also said, I am merely a fan of the Astros and have been since 67 when I moved to Houston. I would prefer someone else playing second.

        Plus as all point out, while he might be able to hit, his obs etc are horrible. Trying too hard? Maybe

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    • Thanks for jumping in daveb – I thought I had fallen into a parallel universe here. Yes, Jose has faults but not hustling is not one of them. I think he may care too much.

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      • Actually it is. Take time to watch him “run” after he hits ball. He merely jogs while watching the ball until either the ball falls in or is caught. Ground balls are seldom “run out”. Balls to outfield result in outs at second numerous times due to his lackadaisical jog to first – ball falls in, and he then “hustles” to second. Generally too late. Other signs of his “hustle” are merely stupidity on the bases.

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    • I agree with daveb and DanP here. I will say, occasionally in professional sports you’ll see players be instructed to pull back and not go 100% when they are nursing an injury or in a bad situation. Basically, the teams feel certain players at 75% effort are more valuable than their replacements at 100% effort.

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  13. Thought Barnes was going to be the hero tonight, but the bullpen raised it’s ugly head again. Porter pulled Villar out of the game tonight for a bonehead base stealing move. GOOD……this kid has a LOT to learn if he wants SS to be handed
    to him next year.
    The only knock about Altuve might be as Dan said……..he cares too much. I’ve never seen a kid want to win as much as he does. PERIOD.

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    • Altuves last at bat last night the pitcher threw the first 4 pitches way outside the strike zone and he’s sitting there with a 1-2 count. I don’t know why anyone throws him a strike.

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  14. I would tell him winter ball is out. I know he likes to play back home, and he just has a drive to be on the ball field every day. But even 23-year-olds get worn out. He needs a rest.

    And he needs to come back in the spring and focus on pitch selection. Going deeper into counts will help Altuve in many ways. More walks. Pitchers forced to throw him more strikes. More fastballs. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but players who see more pitches per at bat do better. It’s a fact.

    Also, I think that hamstring or quad or whatever is hurting him at the plate. It messes with his swing and drops his power a bit. And that can be seen across the board in his hitting.

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  15. wow. Finally I can speak my mind. Altuve’s legs are so short he has to move them so much faster to be fast. He cannot cover as much ground at second. He is frustrated being on a team that loses 2/3 of it’s games so he has no patience at the plate. Teammates have no stability so his buddies are constantly disappearing.
    He doesn’t talk about it so we don’t have a clue what is in his head.
    I think the club is makinfg a mistake taking DDJ out of second because he is a weapon playing second just as Correa is a huge weapon at SS, leaving all the “power” positions to be filled by power players. I would plan for Altuve to be at second until DDJ moves him out in the spring of 2016 or the trade deadline of 2015.

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