José Altuve is a unicorn, and it’s not hyperbole to say so. While his reported height is 5 feet 6 inches, Altuve has been a five-tool player for the better part of a decade and has a solid argument for being the finest second baseman of his generation.
Altuve has 1,854 hits, 181 home runs, and 269 stolen bases throughout the course of his 11-plus seasons in the MLB. Currently, his slash lines are as follows: he’s reached a career-high. 306 with an average of.360/.464 over the course of his career.
In 2022, Altuve hit.275/.368/.518 with 17 home runs and eight steals, earning him a spot on his eighth All-Star team.
The best batter in baseball has been a player who is (possibly) 5 feet 5 inches tall in an era when the sport’s pitching has never been more difficult. Imaginatively, how far-fetched is it to think of that?
Altuve’s accomplishments have been nothing short of astounding. In retrospect, I can recall how inconsequential I felt he was when he first emerged as an important player in the Astros’ development system. It wasn’t until 2011 that he began to receive significant national recognition.
Before 2011, he had done nothing but hit his way up the minor leagues. When he made his Double-A debut on June 1, 2011, I was there. A home run by his colleague Jonathan Villar, who was promoted with him to Double-A, was enough to earn him a celebration.
Altuve had a better minor-league record, but Villar was a highly-talented prospect recently acquired by the Astros in the Roy Oswalt trade from the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite his inexperience at the plate, Villar has drawn comparisons to the legendary José Reyes, who played shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers. When I saw his talent and potential, I was enamored.
When it came to Altuve, it was hard to get enthused about a guy so diminutive in stature. That being said, my opinion of Altuve changed once he played in the Futures Game in 2011. On Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list, he was a reasonably significant prospect at the time.
Even so, his height was 5’5″. At age 22, Altuve had a breakout second season following a difficult rookie year, hitting.290 with seven home runs and 33 stolen bases while posting a slash of.340/.399/.399. That July, he was selected to his first All-Star squad.
Despite a good season, I remained skeptical he would be a long-term player for the team. A player whose worth must have been approaching its peak, given his short stature, seemed like a good candidate for the Astros to offload while they were still in the early stages of their rebuild and investing extensively in their farm system.
Oddly (and appropriately), the prominent Twitter account @OldTakesExposed chose to highlight my (most stupid) remark in 2017, just days after the Astros had won the World Series.
For a time, I stood by my tweet about Altuve’s slash line, particularly during the 2013 season, when he slashed. and showed almost no improvement in terms of growth and development.
Despite his youth and inexperience with big-league pitching, I still believed he had reached the pinnacle of his potential. Why? Well, that’s why you’re here.
Then in 2014, things changed. As a 24-year-old, Altuve won the American League hitting title with a.341 average, as well as leading the league in stolen bases (56). He finished 13th in the voting for the AL MVP.
I dimly remember thinking, “OK, maybe he can be that good.” after seeing such colossal figures. That’s how history is made.
I’ve always believed that his MVP-winning season in 2017 would be the high point of his career. With or without the help of garbage cans, the season was just too fruitful for the Astros to not climax nicely in the end for them.
At 32 years old, Altuve has recorded his highest wRC+ since 2017 and leads all second basemen in that category. As a bonus, he’s tied for second in fWAR at the keystone, and he’s done so without hitting for an average above.300 like he used to do. The way he’s done it is by developing into an impressive power hitter, and he’s on track to surpass his previous career high of 31 home runs.
When you consider Altuve’s age, the quality of pitches he’s faced, and the ways in which he’s had to modify his style at the plate, 2022 could be his best season yet. When it comes to hitting, he appears to have traded in or at least devalued his 80-grade hit tool in order to gain more power.
Altuve would not have been able to comprehend such a dramatic change in the species many years ago, as it would have seemed implausible. Even at 5’5″, he’s still a formidable opponent.
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