In some ways, this is one of those throw down topics that may not be proved for a long time, but it is still one of interest. Will Yordan Alvarez, who in his 89 game Astros “career” has posted an incredible .312 BA/ .410 OBP/ 1.064 OPS with 28 HRs and 82 RBIs become the greatest Astro left-handed hitter of all time?
An argument could be made that the greatest left-handed hitter in Astro history was somebody who only batted left-handed in about 3/4 of his ABs, switch hitter Lance Berkman. His career numbers from the left side only included a slash of .304 BA/ .420 OBP/ .995 OPS with 316 HRs and 1001 RBIs. But since Lance did hit a pedestrian .260 BA/ .360 OBP/ .775 OPS from the right side, he will not be part of this discussion on purely left-handed hitters. Wandering down the Astro team statistics for best single seasons and best career numbers, the lists are dominated by the right-handed hitters – Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Moises Alou, Jimmy Wynn, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Cesar Cedeno, Bob Watson, Glenn Davis and on and on.
Left-handed hitters are few and far between on either the career or single-season Top 10 lists. Greg Gross shows up with his .293 career BA, but I hit as many HRs (0) as Gross did in his 1612 ABs with the Astros. (We can save for a later date discussing how a man can hit the ball solidly enough to hit almost .300 but not even have one fluke HR in his 5 seasons with the Astros). Terry Puhl shows up on a number of career lists such as WAR (28.5), hits (1357), runs (871) and doubles (226). And while he was a solid hitter, his longevity (14 seasons) is what put him on these lists. Dave Magadan had one hot season with the Astros (.313 BA/ .428 OBP/ .827 OPS) but he had only a little more power than Greg Gross (2 HRs / 51 RBIs) in 1995.
A couple what-ifs show up on the list. Rusty Staub with his .333 BA in 1967 and Joe Morgan with his 30.7 WAR with the Astros, but both were sent away too soon to star elsewhere. In recent times, Michael Brantley brought a very good bat to the team during his two seasons with the team. His 2019 season was especially strong with a .311 BA/ .372 OBP/ .875 OPS and 22 HRs and 90 RBIs. However, Alvarez already has more HRs than Brantley in 105 fewer games and should sail past him in career Astro RBIs somewhere in the first couple months of next season.
Basically, the purely left-handed Astro hitter that Alvarez would be chasing in this hypothetical race is long time icon Jose Cruz. When looking at Cruz’s stats with the Astros it has to be remembered that it was a different time offensively in baseball and that Cruz played in an unforgiving environment in the Astrodome. But Cruz in his 13 seasons with the Astros has placed himself on many of the Astros’ career top 10 lists. He is 7th in BA (.292), 3rd in WAR (51.4), 3rd in hits (1937 hits), 5th in doubles (335), 9th in HRs (138), 5th in runs scored (871 runs), 4th in RBIs (942), and 4th in total bases (2846).
Of course, Cruz never had the out of his mind kind of season that Yordan seems capable of producing. His best season arguably was in 1983 when he slashed .318 BA/ .385 OBP/ .848 OPS with 14 HRs and 92 RBIs and came in 6th in the MVP race. He never hit 20 HRs in a season (he only topped 15 once) and never drove in over 100 runs, but he was a very consistent and good producer. In a right-handed dominated offensive history, he stands out as the best up to this time from the left side.
So, what would it take for Alvarez to overtake Cruz? Certainly, he does not have to catch him on the career lists, but if he puts up 5 seasons like he seemingly is capable of producing, he will take this crown from Cheo. There is one thing for certain here and that is there is one statistic for which Yordan will never overtake Jose. Jose Cruz is the all-time leader in Astros triples with 80. In today’s game with today’s stadiums that is a number that neither Yordan or any of his teammates will ever touch.