The four ways Astros star Jose Altuve is a baseball miracle
The Astros' second baseman and AL MVP candidate defies expectations in lots of ways
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has long since ceased being merely a diminutive novelty act. He was always far more than that, of course, but now Altuve is rightly known as being plainly one of the best baseball players on the planet. This season, he may be on his way to the AL MVP award, as he's presently leading the majors with an OPS+ of 173 while manning an up-the-middle position and adding lots of value with his base-running. So in appreciation of Altuve's current excellence and the fact that he recently notched his 1,000 career hit at the age of 26, let's run down a non-exhaustive list of the ways in which Altuve is a certifiable baseball miracle ...
1. He's one of the quickest ever to reach 1,000 hits.
In the ninth inning of Tuesday's eventual loss to the Cardinals, Altuve reached quadruple digits in hits ...
When Altuve notched that 1,000th hit of his career, he was 26 years and 102 days old. It was also his 786th major-league game. As you might imagine, that's a hasty pace. In fact, only Ichiro Suzuki among active players reached 1,000 hits in fewer games, and Altuve got to 1,000 in 45 fewer games than did Pete Rose, MLB's all-time hits leader. In terms of age, there's this note from MLB.com's Jordan Ray ...
At 26 years and 102 days old, Altuve reached 1,000 hits at a younger age than all but eight of the 30 members of the 3,000 hit club. The eight who were younger than Altuve at the time of their 1,000th hit are Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Alex Rodriguez, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker, George Brett and Derek Jeter.
Needless to say, Altuve is off to a fine start when it comes to one day joining that 3,000 hit club.
2. The entire field belongs to him.
Now let's put those 1,000 hits in perspective by eyeballing where they went on the field ...
Sure, Altuve shows some pull tendencies when the ball's on the ground (not a bad thing for a right-handed batter with his speed), but when he puts the ball in the air, which he does more than half the time, there's no predicting where it goes.
3. He hits for remarkable power given his size.
Altuve is famously 5-f00t-6, 165 pounds. Despite those dimensions, he's presently slugging .570 and on pace for 74 extra-base hits. Players of Altuve's size don't often make the majors, as you probably guessed. But how many not only reach the majors become frontline power hitters? Just 65 players 5-foot-6 or less have homered even once in the majors. Altuve has to his credit 55 homers, which already puts him third on the list of career home runs by a player of his height or less. Just ahead of him is Tommy Leach, who hit 57 across 18 seasons. Altuve could pass him before the week's out. Tops is the legendary Hack Wilson with 244.
As single-season totals go, Altuve's 19 and counting in 2016 is already the top non-Hack Wilson total among players 5'6" or smaller. Altuve right now is seventh on that list and with a hot finish to the season could rise as high as third. In terms of slugging percentage, Altuve's current mark of .573 for the season ranks fifth among his "stature peers," behind, again, only Wilson. Altuve's OPS+ of 173, if it holds up, will be second only to Wilson's 177 in 1930.
4. His combination of power and contact skills are rare in today's game.
We're of course in an era of unprecedented strikeout rates, and part of that is the natural consequence of hitters swinging for the downs almost every time up. Altuve, though, has as many walks as strikeouts right now even though he ranks among the top power producers of 2016. Altuve's contact percentage of 86.5 percent ranks 17th among qualifiers this season, which is an impressive figure especially, again, given his power outputs.
But it's perhaps even more impressive that it sounds for reasons that circle back to Altuve's size. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan wrote in late 2013, Altuve has thrived despite the fact that plate umps in general haven't properly reduced their strike zones to reflect his five feet and six inches. So he's putting the bat on the ball even though the called strike zone very likely treats him unfairly. How does one pull that off? Like this ...
Those are Altuve's contact rates by location this season, and please do let us know if you can find any glaring weak spots anywhere within or near the strike zone. That's one antidote against a called zone that's out of step with the batter's height.
More broadly, not since 2011 (Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder) has a qualifying hitter slugged .550 or higher while walking at least as many times as he struck out. Even then, though, strikeout rates weren't what they are in 2016, so Altuve also has historical trends working against him. Seemingly, he has a lot working against him, at least when you look at him. Look at his bestowals, though, and it seems he has a lot going for him.
These have been four ways in which Jose Altuve is a baseball miracle. There are others, of course. After all, this is Jose Altuve we're talking about.
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