Not everyone was happy when the Astros signed 2B Jose Altuve to a 4-year, $12.5 million extension last July. I wonder how those naysayers are feeling now.
Many of Altuve’s critics called the deal an overpay. They questioned whether or not the diminutive second-baseman was even an average major leaguer. When Altuve finished the 2013 season with an OPS+ of 89 those questions seemed legitimate. But, with the way Altuve has played this season, I think the questions have pretty much been answered.
Jose Altuve (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
I know it’s still early in the season, but Altuve has been the most dependable offensive player on this team. The only Astro to appear in each of the club’s first 30 games, Altuve leads the team in batting average, hits, doubles, and total bases. And, despite being miscast in the cleanup role for the first half of April, Altuve leads the entire American League with eleven stolen bases.
Convinced that Altuve would benefit hitting in the #2 spot behind Dexter Fowler, I was a little upset when he was moved to the leadoff spot. But Altuve has responded with a roar, proving Bo Porter actually made a wise decision. Since replacing the more experienced (and higher paid) Fowler at the top of the order, Altuve has raised his OPS from .672 to .730.
Altuve has also shown improvement in the one area that has been an issue for him in the past — plate discipline. He’s doing a better job laying off pitches that are out of the strike zone. According to Fangraphs, Altuve is swinging at 30.2% of pitches that are out of the strike zone. Last season he swung at 35.9% of such pitches. He’s also pulling the trigger more often on pitches that are in the strike zone (62.3% as opposed to 60.9% last year).
As a result of his new approach at the plate, Jose has drawn eleven walks and struck out only ten times. Meanwhile, he continues to produce an above average line drive percentage of 21.7%. These early season results suggest that Altuve is showing growth as a hitter. He came to the big leagues at such a young age that we sometimes forget how young he still is. Jose will celebrate his 24th birthday next week.
If he continues to show this kind of growth as a player, everyone will be talking about what a great bargain the Astros got when they signed Altuve to a long term deal. And, the $6 million and $6.5 million team options for 2018 and 2019 will be no-brainers.