The Astros in their 58 seasons of existence have had a mixed bag of success by position. On the low side, you have these five fine gentlemen as the top five catchers of all time. Note – when Jason Castro comes in third, the depth is nothing to write home to mama about.
And yes it is a short DH history for the team, only since 2013, but when your top DH has only played a half-season that is saying something too.
But when it comes to second base, the Astros have had a regular cornucopia of riches. Three Hall of Famers, Nellie Fox, Joe Morgan and Craig Biggio have manned the second sack for the team, though obviously, Biggio manned it for a lot longer than the other two. Hall of Very Good Jeff Kent was at second base for a couple strong seasons and hit a game-winning home run that brought the team within sight of their first World Series. Bill Doran was quietly a solid cog for 9 years with the Astros and a big contributor for the 1986 team that fell just short of the WS.
Which brings us to the current occupier of the second base position, Jose Altuve. The question is and will continue to be, who is the greater Astro – Altuve or Biggio? It is always tough to compare players across eras, even when those eras are not that far apart with Biggio retiring after the 2007 season and Jose Altuve leaping from AA ball to the majors in 2011. Jose has always played second base. Biggio made the unprecedented leap from catcher to 2B early in his career and then wandered out to the outfield towards the end of his career. Biggio played more than half his career (the first 12 seasons) in the Astrodome, while Altuve has spent his whole career in the much more hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. Craig played 20 seasons with the Astros, while Jose is one season short of one half of that long.
But we love a challenge, so where does Altuve stack up against Biggio at the same point in their careers. Craig Biggio reached the same amount of plate appearances (5456) that Jose Altuve has right now on May 31, 1997.
Honors. We will compare Jose (2011-2019) to Craig (1988-1997), so Craig has a slight advantage of time here, though he really did not take off until after his position shift. Altuve made 6 All Star games, the same as Biggio. Jose had 5 Silver Sluggers to 4 for Craig and 1 Gold Glove to Craig’s 4. Altuve has the one league MVP amid 5 appearances in the top 20, while Biggio made 4 MVP top 20’s topping out at #4 in 1997. So, Altuve has a small edge here, but they are basically in the same neighborhood.
Here are career stats – Altuve through the end of 2019 and Biggio through the end of May 1997…..
Biggio – .286 BA/ .372 OBP/ .420 SLG/ .792 OPS/ 768 runs/ 259 Dbls/ 103 HRs
Altuve – .315 BA/ .364 OBP/ .463 SLG/ .827 OPS/ 734 runs/ 299 Dbls/ 128 HRs
Biggio – 1345 hits/ 492 RBIs/ 226 SBs/ 683 Ks/ 96 HBPs/ 570 BBs/ ~ 38 WAR
Altuve – 1568 hits/ 538 RBIs/ 254 SBs/ 623 Ks/ 49 HBPs/ 360 BBs/ 36.7 WAR
This shows that Altuve is the better striker of the ball with a bit more power. It also shows that Biggio is better at getting himself on base and home. Something interesting is that though there is a bit of gap between them in OPS that when you go to OPS+ (which kind of normalizes it against the rest of the league around them) Altuve is only up 126 to 123 on Biggio for this time period. Very close. Stats tell you these are comparable players.
This is apples and oranges at this time. Altuve already has 207 ABs in his postseason career and Biggio had only 167 ABs only and on May 31, 1997…..he had none. All of his playoff experience occurred in his 30’s. Anyways, Jose has put up a .290 BA/ .345 OBP/ .872 OPS slash with 38 runs/13 HRs (including an ALCS winner)/ 29 RBIs. Craig in his whole career put up a .237 BA/ .295 OBP/ .618 OPS with 23 runs/ 2 HRs/ 11 RBIs. So, Jose has this area in spades.
All in All
Jose Altuve stacks up very well against the Hall of Famer Craig Biggio. The one piece of the story yet to be told is sustainability. Biggio was extremely durable, even playing 141 games at 41 y.o. (though this was as much to get him over 3000 hits as anything). Altuve has been overall durable, but has lost time the last two seasons, though Craig missed time with his knee blow out too. It will be interesting to revisit these numbers in a few years and see how Altuve is doing in his chase of history.