Can Jose Altuve be Jose Altuve again?

While the biggest story of the 2020 season (if we ignore “IT”) for the Astros was the decimation of their pitching staff and the rise of young pitchers to try and re-float the boat, the story that received less attention was the collapse of the Astros’ offense.

Yordan Alvarez played two games and missed the rest due to injury. Alex Bregman went from MVP candidate to Mr. Blah. Carlos Correa dropped from premier offensive numbers to average shortstop numbers. Yuli Gurriel suddenly looked like someone who had turned 36 but also like someone who had lied about being 36. And Jose Altuve…..well Jose out-did or rather under-did them all.

Back in the can banging days of 2017, Jose was El Primo. He was 27 years old and putting up career highs in BA (.357), OBP (.410) and OPS (.957). And he beat out Aaron Judge for AL MVP and of course helped lead the Astros to their first World Championship.

He was still quite good in both 2018 (.316 BA/.386 OBP/ .837 OPS) and 2019 (.298 BA/ .353 OBP/ .903 OPS and a career-high 31 HRs). And of course, in 2019 he capped things off with the ALCS winning walk-off HR against the Yankees.

And then 2020 happened. Jose was consistently rotten throughout the season and put up a career-low slash of .219 BA/ .286 OBP/ .629 OPS with only 5 HRs and 18 RBIs on the shortened season. He gave the team and fans some hope with a good performance in the playoffs, but folks have to be bothered that the soon to be 31-year-old may not be worth $116 MM over the next 4 seasons. That is a pretty huge salary anchor for the team’s ship to carry, if he does not improve over 2020 when he was arguably the worst offensive starter on the team.

So are there any reasons for optimism heading into 2021 for Altuve?

  • Well, first of all, anyone watching him flail away in 2020 could tell that the man was stressing himself out to the maximum to try and make up for “IT”. He looked like someone trying 200% to prove that he was a great hitter, who was not assisted by the scandal and as often happens when people try too hard, he ended up proving to some the opposite. He seemed to relax a bit more in the playoffs after the Carlos Correa supportive statement and hit more like his normal self.
  • For his career, Jose Altuve’s Batting Average for Balls in Play (BAbip) is .334. Before last season it had never been below .303 in any season. In 2020, it was a career-low .250. This would seem to be a combination of bad luck along with someone who rather than hit the ball where it was pitched was pulling everything into the defensive shift. This can be corrected and as per the first bullet, was corrected a bit in the playoffs.
  • If George Springer does not return, Jose should be the natural first choice to lead off in the lineup. When he has led off in the past, he has done a better job of laying off the bad stuff, working counts and getting on base rather than trying to be a middle of the order home run cranker. This approach, if applied again should help him improve as a hitter in 2021.
  • If, and this is an important proviso, the rest of the lineup behind him improves from the malaise of 2020, that should help Jose get better pitches to hit. If he is batting first in front of a back to normal Bregman, a healthy Alvarez, a playing-for-the-big-contract Correa, a young and improving Kyle Tucker and whoever may be brought in to help in the outfield, Altuve should be someone they cannot pitch around. That of course depends on him being a bit more selective.
  • He also must work on improving his strikeout percentage. His K% has gotten worse every single year from 2014 to 2020. It was an elite 7.5% in his first All Star season in 2014 and still was a good 12.7% in his MVP season of 2017. In 2020 it rose to an unacceptable (for him) 18.6%. Watching him hit in 2020 was painful because we knew what this same player could do when he made the pitchers come to him.

So, to answer the question in the title….yes, Jose Altuve can be the Altuve of 2018 and 2019 again. At 31 years old he is not likely to be the MVP again, but if he comes back in 2021 ready to be more selective, go with the pitches and put the ball in play, there is no reason he can’t be a top-notch hitter again.

17 comments on “Can Jose Altuve be Jose Altuve again?

  1. Yes, Altuve can be MVP guy again. His 2020 postseason proved it. How does it prove it? How did he do it?
    In the regular season Jose saw a total of 762 pitches. 500 strikes and 262 balls. Remember that strikes include pitches that were outside the zone that were swung at. His ratio of strikes to balls was basically 2 to 1(66% strikes and 34%balls).
    Now let’s look at his postseason, and please remember that in the postseason he saw only the best pitchers from 3 different division winners.
    In the postseason, Altuve saw 251 pitches: 138 strikes and 113 balls or 5.5 strikes for every 4.5 balls. That is an incredible difference from the regular season. What happened?
    Altuve started taking pitches out of the zone, not swinging at them.
    Altuve started swinging at pitches in the zone and making hard contact.
    His BB% went from 8.1% in the regular season to 18.8% in the postseason.
    His K% went from 18.6% in the regular season to 13.3% in the postseason.
    His BA went from .219 to .375 and his BABIP went from .250 to .371, that’s because he was swinging only at pitches in the strike zone and barreling them up.
    Altuve can be the old Altuve by taking pitches out of the zone and hitting pitches in the zone. He can be the old Altuve by doing what he did in the 2020 postseason.
    Altuve finally focused. And, if he focuses, he will hit like the player he has always been.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Pretty much nailed it. To take it a step further, if you compare 2017 to 2020 his BABIP on ground balls went from .338 to .203 and for fly balls from .258 to .100. I think it’s fair to assume a good chunk on both was from lack of selectivity. To which field he hit the ball did not appear to be largely different.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. 1OP nailed it as he always does. The team in my opinion and Altuve would be better served if he reverted to his line drive singles and doubles and the high batting average that comes with it. Forget 30+ hrs and let the true bombers get him home. I would also hope the coaches work with him on his baserunning. His sandlot mentality runs into unnecessary outs. Also, I think that the team should consider and spend more training time with bunting. They seem to run into more double plays than almost all the other teams.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t have a clue, but I anticipate it is going to continue to be slow.
        There a a few teams who will spend money, but this will not be a regular off season.
        I reread McTaggart’s article with Click answering questions, but I had to work hard to distinguish between what McTaggart suggests and what Click said, because Click is the GM and what he says is what we need to focus on, not McTaggart’s wish list.

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      • Yeah basically it was typical GM speak (which I don’t blame them for not answering questions and giving away state secrets).
        You know “Would you be interested in trading every player in the system for Mike Trout”
        “Well without getting into specifics, we will be looking at every move we think could improve the club”

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      • Dan, there was not a definite denial by Click that Correa would be traded either. There was just the statement that the Astros are better with Correa at SS, that all avenues were open and the Astros are planning on contending in 2021 and in the coming years.

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  3. In 2014, Jose Altuve had 47 doubles and 56 SBs
    In 2015, he had 40 doubles and 38 SBs.
    In 2016, he had 42 doubles and 30 SBs.
    In 2017, he had 39 doubles and 32 SBs.
    In 2018, he had 29 doubles and 17 SBs.
    In 2019, he had 27 doubles and 6 SBs.
    in 2020, he had 9 doubles and 2 SBs.

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  4. Some Astros thoughts:
    # With Sugarland being the AAA team, the AAA players will have easy access to Astros medical facilities and can live in Houston.
    # With Sugarland as the AAA affiliate, players who sign minor league deals with a ST invite will still be able to live in Houston, even if they start the year in AAA. When they are eventually called up, they don’t have to move.
    # The Astros will have a summer league team in Palm Beach. And they will have their summer Dominican League team.
    # I wonder if there could be some TV coverage of the Skeeters in the Houston market.
    # Jim Crane said “We are looking forward to partnering with the City of Sugarland’s great leadership to reinvest into the ballpark to make it one of the best AAA facilities in the country.”
    # First, there was the refurbishment of inner city ballparks by the Astros. Then there was the Astros saving the Houston Open and rebuilding the Memorial Park golf Course. Now, there is the purchase of the Skeeters, making it a AAA affiliate and, next, upgrading the ballpark.
    # I think January 15th is going to be an interesting day for the Astros.

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      • Maybe. Maybe someone different. Maybe more than one. Maybe a surprise.
        I just think something good is going to happen.
        I have been right a few times and wrong more than a few times. We’ll see.
        I will point out that International free agents don’t get added to the 40-man unless they sign a major league contract. MLB layers who sign minor league deals don’t either. The Astros still have spots on the 40-man. So they have room in their organization for a number of players.

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  5. I went and looked at Altuve’s numbers in the postseason again.
    If the Jose Altuve that showed up in the postseason should show up in 2021, he wins the MVP unanimously. That is how good he was.

    Liked by 1 person

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