The Houston Astros can now boast that Jose Altuve is the best second baseman in baseball.
Or at least by MLB Network’s standards anyway. And Houston Astros fans should be thrilled about this since it now appears that Jose Altuve is getting the attention he deserves. Last year he fell well down the list on the top second baseman before the start of the 2015 season, as CTH wrote here: Is Jose Altuve Really the 6th Best 2nd Baseman Right Now?
The Astros second baseman finished ahead of the likes of Robinson Cano, Joe Panik, Ian Kinsler, Josh Harrison, Ben Zobrist, Neil Walker, Dustin Pedroia, Dee Gordon, and Logan Forsythe in the MLB Network’s rankings. That is quite a notable when considering that the list of second baseman has won multiple World Series, MVP awards, Gold Gloves, and hitting titles. Of course, Jose Altuve also has a Gold Glove and a hitting title, so it’s not like he is out of his element.
Altuve may be diminutive in size, but his star status in Houston is definitely Texas-sized. He has accomplished a great deal since his debut in 2011 such as earning a place on a major league roster, winning a hitting title in 2014, and leading a rebuilding franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. In many ways, Altuve’s journey is a microcosm of the Astros story in recent years. Almost a rags to riches kind of story.
But how did Altuve exactly beat out all of those other worthy second basemen? After all, players like Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia are not newbies. They have represented the American League in recent years when it comes to top second baseman. The others second baseman are no slackers either. Well, looking at the numbers is a fine place to start.
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Consider this: Altuve is the only second baseman to finish in the top five in WAR for both 2014 and 2015. He led the majors in hits in 2014 with 225 while placing second in 2015 with 200. Two-time Silver Slugger and three-time All-Star. Second in stolen bases with 38. In 2015, he ranked fourth in wRC+ with 120 and fifth in BABIP at .329. Altuve also more than doubled his home run total from 2014 with 7 to 15 last season. There is also his wOBA of .363 and .347 each of the past two seasons. So it is plainly obvious that Altuve has been not only one of the best second basemen from an offensive standpoint, but also one of the top hitters in all of baseball.
But the offense is only half the battle. The defense must be accounted, even though the measure of how effective a player is with the glove is more difficult to gauge. After all, Altuve has never been known as a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman before 2015. The fact that he won the AL Gold Glove at the position is quite impressive. Improvement with the glove and range was necessary for the native Venezuelan to reach this level. And if you believe in defensive metrics then UZR/150 provides a snapshot of that improvement. In 2015, the Astros second baseman posted a UZR/150 of 4.3.
But in 2014, his UZR/150 was -14.7 (negative 14.7!). So in other words, he went from downright awful to a hair below above average. The same improvement was true for RngR (Range runs above average), which was -13.5 in 2014 and 3.0 in 2015. Due to these improvements, Altuve effectively went from being one of the worst at his position per defensive metrics to one of the top six last season.
Between his ability with the bat and his newfound defensive prowess, it is no wonder why the Astros second baseman was named the best second by MLB Network. His hit tool is only second to a handful of players in the game today and his ability to generate havoc on opposing pitchers is something to be noted. But it was his overall improvement in 2015 that propelled him to be under consideration as the top player at second base. Jose Altuve has truly come a long way since his debut in 2011. The only question is will he keep it up. I like to think yes, yes he will.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs**