Jose Altuve is, without a doubt, the most recognized celebrity on the Astros current 40-man roster. The second-baseman is the star of a new television commercial in his home country of Venezuela and has an entire website dedicated to his awesomeness.
Altuve is also a fan favorite and a pretty good little player (pun intended). An All-Star in his first full season in the big leagues, Altuve’s overall production dipped slightly in his sophomore season of 2013.
After a nice start (.325 avg & .805 OPS in April) Altuve’s numbers leveled off through the months of May, June, and July. During that span he posted a .266 average and an OPS of .634. What makes those splits even more interesting is Altuve’s position in the batting order. In April, 22 of his 27 starts were made in the leadoff spot. Over the next three months, Altuve batted leadoff in only 11 of his 72 games, spending 10 games in the #3 spot and 51 games batting second.
Then came the month of August. Altuve would slump badly, hitting only .200 and posting a lowly .490 OPS. In hindsight, the slump seems to be directly related to Bo Porter‘s decision to move Altuve to the #3 spot in the batting order. After hitting second in the first two games of the month, Altuve batted third for the next 24 games.
On September 1st, Altuve was moved back to the #2 spot in the order. He would respond with a 3-hit game and would hold down that spot in the lineup for the remainder of the season. Jose finished strong, hitting .357 and posting an OPS of .839 for the season’s final month. Let’s just hope that Porter now realizes that the #3 spot in the order is Jose Altuve’s kryptonite.
Altuve is the one player that would appear to be staying with the team for the long haul. The second-baseman is the only Astro that is under contract beyond the 2014 season. In July, Jose signed a 4-year, $12.5 million contract that also includes club options for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. If Altuve can continue to build on his success, he could prove to be quite a bargain over the next six years.
One thing that Altuve will need to improve upon is his plate discipline. Last season Jose swung at 37.6% of pitches that were out of the strike zone. That’s well above the league average of 31%. Altuve was also among the league leaders in double-plays grounded into. His 22.6% line drive rate is good but his 49.2% ground ball rate has not proved advantageous.
Outstanding hand-eye coordination has resulted in a contact percentage that is well above the league average in each of Altuve’s first three seasons. I believe becoming more selective at the plate and taking advantage of his small strike zone would allow Jose to make more solid contact and increase his line drive percentage. The result would be more extra-base hits and a higher slugging percentage.
Altuve is still only 23 years old and the potential for growth (as a hitter) is still there. I’m also interested in seeing what new infield coach Pat Listach can do to help Altuve improve defensively.