Houston Astros: Jose Altuve ranked too low by MLB Network

Aug 4, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 4, 2020; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve isn’t getting enough respect.

Jose Altuve has been told his entire career that he isn’t good enough. He was too short, wasn’t a top prospect, didn’t hit for any power — all of which he’s overcome. He’s a six-time All Star, a former MVP and is halfway to a Hall of Fame career. Yet for some reason the Houston Astros star is still being underrated and underestimated.

MLB Network recently ranked its top 10 players at each position, and the geniuses who worked on that list had the audacity to rank Altuve ninth among second basemen. Quite frankly, I’m offended. Although at this point I’m just assuming the people who did these rankings never watched an inning of baseball before 2020.

Yes, he had a bad 2020, hitting just .219/.286/.344 in 48 regular season games, but are we really going to knock him down that far based on a 48-game sample in a pandemic-shortened season? Besides, he came alive in the playoffs, hitting .400 or better in both the ALDS and ALCS with five combined home runs. Those who are writing him off do so at their own peril.

I shouldn’t have to address the cheating scandals, but I will. Anyone who cares to pay attention will have seen that Altuve didn’t utilize the trash can scheme, and the ridiculous buzzer accusations have been shown to be a baseless conspiracy theory. The people who label him a cheater simply hear what they want to hear and don’t care about what’s right or fair.

The Rankings

MLB Network had Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu as the top player at the position, and I don’t disagree with that. He’s hit .336/.386/.536 with 43 doubles, 36 homers and 129 RBIs in 195 games over the past two seasons and led the league in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS in 2020.

The Mets’ Jeff McNeil comes in second place in the rankings, and he’s hit a strong .319/.383/.501 in his three major league seasons. But it’s hard to justify calling him a second baseman when he’s started 113 games in the outfield over the past two seasons compared to just 33 at second base. He’s a good player, but it’s hard to argue that’s his primary position anymore.

Next is Ketel Marte, who had a spectacular 2019 when he posted a .981 OPS. But aside from that one season, he’s been quite average, never posting an OPS north of .768 in any other season. By contrast, Altuve had six straight seasons with an OPS over .800 prior to 2020. Marte has compiled 16.6 WAR over the past six seasons; even with his bad 2020, Altuve has 27.9.

Fourth on the list is Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe, who has an .855 OPS in parts of three major league seasons. He had his best year in 2020, belting 14 homers. He also couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag in the postseason, and his 5.8 WAR over the past three seasons still doesn’t match Altuve’s 8.4 mark.

Ranked fifth is Cavan Biggio, who of course is the son of an Astros legend. He’s tallied 4.9 WAR in his two big league seasons, has shown some pop, the ability to draw walks and to play all around the diamond. But his .798 OPS is dwarfed by what Altuve did in his last full season (2019), and you really can’t argue that Biggio is a better player than Altuve. He may be one day, but not yet.

The next three are a rookie with an .831 OPS (Jake Cronenworth), a journeyman who suddenly found the ability to hit for average but with no power or walks (Donovan Solano) and a utility player who’s started a total of 55 games at second base in his seven-year career (Chris Taylor). These guys aren’t bad players, but come on. This is an insult.

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Where Should He Rank?

If we’re only looking at the 2020 regular season in a vacuum, Altuve doesn’t look like a top player in the game. But if you’re ranking the top 10 second basemen right now, as these rankings purport to do, you can’t look at it that way. Otherwise you’d have to call it the top 10 second basemen of the 2020 regular season only.

The fact is Altuve is still one of the premier players in the game, as evidenced by his mashing in the postseason. I would not expect a repeat of the 2020 regular season, and anyone who does is just a fool. I don’t know if we’ll see MVP numbers again, but the Astros should definitely expect him to hit for a good average and a little power as well.

Defensively, Altuve is not what he used to be, as we painfully saw when he got the yips in the ALCS. Despite that, however, he can still handle the position, and I don’t think they cared a whole lot about defense when compiling these rankings; otherwise, two-time Gold Glove winner Kolten Wong would have shown up.

I do agree that LeMahieu should be first on the list, but I don’t think McNeil or Taylor should be listed as second basemen. I also think Altuve has proven to be a better player than any of the remaining players we’ve talked about. It’s pretty clear he should be listed as the second-best player at the position right now.

But maybe this is a good thing. Let the critics underestimate him again. The Astros will certainly be competitive this year and some of this can be some good bulletin board material. This team was just one game away from another World Series appearance, and Altuve is a big reason why they can get back there again.

Next. Houston Astros: Carlos Correa makes top shortstop list. dark