If you watched a majority of the 2012 Houston Astros games, 1) I feel your pain, and 2) you probably noticed Jose Altuve. Altuve was one of the few bright spots on the grease stain, known as the Astros. His Oompa Loompa-like build has been an ongoing joke since he has come to the Majors, but people are also noticing that the kid can play some baseball. He was the Astros lone All-Star from the 2012 season, and is made to look even better by playing with a team full of triple-A caliber guys. Altuve did improve in many facets of his game in 2012, but as the numbers show, he still has a ways to go before you can call him a top-tier second baseman.
One of the main focuses of Jose Altuve’s 2012 Spring Training was to become a more patient hitter. The Astros’ new approach to hitting has been to draw more walks by laying off the borderline pitches. Altuve has been an aggressive hitter for most of his professional career, so this was no small task, but the Astros definitely saw a more patient Altuve in 2012. In 2011, Altuve swung at an alarming, 43.7% of pitches outside the strike zone. He was able to knock that number down to 30.5% in 2012, which was sixth among National League second basemen. The result of taking more pitches for Altuve was a walk in 6.3% of his plate appearances, which is up from 2.1% in 2011. He also struck out in only 11.7% of his plate appearances compared to 12.4% in 2011. Altuve has proven to have exceptional bat control by making contact with 95.3% of pitches that he swung at in the zone. That ranked 2nd among all Major League second basemen in 2012. Jose is also a very good base runner, ranking third among all second basemen with a 4.2 BsR, or Base Running Runs Above Average.
While Jose Altuve has shown flashes of brilliance at the plate, he still has room for improvement. He seems to have some difficulty with curveballs and opposing pitchers have taken notice. In 2011 7% of the pitches Altuve saw were curveballs. In 2012, that number jumps up to 12.9% of pitches. His wCB (Curveball Runs Above Average) dropped a full point to -0.7 in 2012. Jose must do a better job of picking up the spin on the ball so that he can recognize a curve sooner, and either take it or hit it after the break instead of during the break. Also, Altuve’s patient approach led to quite a few strikeouts looking. He swung at only 56.5% of pitches that were thrown in the strike zone. It is difficult to preach patience at the plate and then hound on him for taking too many pitches, so he must find a happy-medium to do a better job of protecting with two-strike counts.
Jose Altuve must improve in the field as well. When I think back on last season, I think of many of the great defensive gems that Altuve made, so it really surprised me to look at the stats and find out that Altuve was actually a below average fielder. He did make plays on 43 balls outside of his zone, which was 5th best in the National League among second basemen. His issues came on balls inside his zone. Altuve had 413 balls hit inside his zone, and only 313 of those resulted in an out. That is .763 RZR (Revised Zone Rating), which ranked him as the 21st best second baseman in baseball.
Jose Altuve has quickly become the face of the franchise, and if he is to be a mainstay for the Astros for years to come, he will have to continue to improve. One of the Astros’ top prospects is second baseman Delino DeShields, Jr., and he is shooting through the system and stealing every base along the way. The best-case scenario for both the Astros and Altuve is that Altuve can become a star and force the team to either trade DeShields or turn him into an outfielder. Remember, depth is never a bad thing!