Jose Altuve Is Starlin Castro 2.0

I’ve been meaning to write about Jose Altuve for a couple of weeks now, but with Ryan espousing the virtues of Starlin Castro, this seems like the perfect time to talk about Altuve. Why does an article about the Cubs shortstop lead to a follow-up article about the Astros second baseman? Because Castro and Altuve are essentially the exact same player.

Below are the Major League career batting lines for both Castro and Altuve.


Name PA BB% K% BABIP ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Starlin Castro 1345 5.0% 13.8% 0.350 0.117 0.309 0.345 0.426 0.335 105
Jose Altuve 356 3.7% 12.9% 0.338 0.111 0.301 0.331 0.413 0.328 107

You’d be hard pressed to find two more similar batting lines between any two players in baseball. Castro’s numbers are fractionally higher across the board, but after you adjust for the falling league average during the times they’ve been in the league (average wOBA was .321 in 2010, .316 last year, and .313 this year), Altuve’s line is marginally better. In reality, though, the differences are so small that the best description of their performances is that they’re pretty much the same.

While we’re obviously dealing with a much smaller sample in Altuve’s performance, Castro is the perfect example of this skillset’s upside. While many aggressive hitters get themselves out by chasing too many pitches they can’t hit, high contact/gap power middle infielders have been having success with this kind of approach for years, and Castro just looks like the heir apparent to the Tony Fernandez throne. Guys who can make a lot of contact while also driving the ball into the gaps can have success even without taking walks, especially if they can hold their own at a premium defensive position.

And, while it’s still early in Altuve’s career, he’s actually showing that he might actually be better at the contact/power combination than Castro. In his 234 plate appearances as a rookie last year, his contact rate on swings was 87.5 percent, slightly higher than Castro has posted in any MLB season. During the first five weeks of the 2010 season, his contact rate has jumped up to 93.6 percent, tying him with Marco Scutaro and Ichiro Suzuki for the highest contact rate of any hitter in baseball. If you look at 2011 and 2012 together, Altuve’s 89.3 percent contact rate puts him 23rd in baseball among players with 300+ PA. Castro’s career contact rate is a strong 85.0 percent, but he’s actually trending downwards, coming in at 82.7 percent so far in 2012.

Altuve’s rise in contact rate stems from a similar spike in improved selectivity, as his swing rate has dropped from 55.0 percent last year to 38.9 percent this year, but more importantly, he’s not swinging at pitches out of the zone that he can’t hit. Last year, he chased 41.3 percent of pitches that Pitch F/x labeled as out of the zone and made contact with 72.4 percent of those pitches – this year, his O-Swing is down to 28.5 percent and his O-Contact is up to 86.9 percent. His rate of contact on pitches in the strike zone is virtually unchanged, so this rise in O-Contact is the driving force behind his early season contact improvements.

The rise in selectivity has also resulted in a spike in his walk rate, as he’s drawn three more walks this year than he did in nearly twice the amount of plate appearances last year. Again, we’re still dealing with small sample theatre, but Altuve is showing a greatly improved approach at the plate over what he demonstrated a year ago, so his strong start to the season isn’t all just a dramatic spike in BABIP.

Like Castro, Altuve’s going to need to a post an above average BABIP in order to sustain his offensive value, and like Castro, he’s not likely to keep getting hits to fall in as often as they have so far in 2012. However, he doesn’t have to be a .400 BABIP guy in order to be a productive player – the rest-of-season ZIPS projections expect a .298/.332/.414 line from him over the remainder of 2012, and that’s with a projected BABIP of .332. That’s pretty similar to the .307/.345/.433 mark that ZIPS sees from Castro over the next five months, and even though Castro plays the tougher defensive position, they’re both projected for right around +3 WAR through the rest of the season.

While we have a larger sample of data to evaluate Castro with, we shouldn’t forget that Altuve is actually six weeks younger and is flashing the same skillset and getting the same strong results from it to begin his career. While his height and the general skepticism surrounding second base prospects kept him from getting as much recognition in the minors, you should be nearly as excited about Altuve’s Major League future as you are about Castro’s. Both are showing that they can be effective hitters while defending up-the-middle positions, and Altuve’s early season improvements in approach suggest that he isn’t yet a finished product.

Before the season started, we wondered if the 2012 Astros were going to be one of the worst teams we’ve seen in recent history. Thanks in large part to the success of Jose Altuve (and his double play partner Jed Lowrie, but that’s another post), the Astros are actually a respectable 13-16 and are giving their fans reasons for optimism. Altuve might not yet be a household name, but he’s on his way to establishing himself as a legitimate young star that the Astros can build around.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


66 Responses to “Jose Altuve Is Starlin Castro 2.0”

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  1. Peter O says:

    Instead of pretending that 6 weeks is a big deal, why not just say they’re practically the same age?

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    • drewcorb says:

      Yeah I wouldn’t really say Castro having 6 more weeks to grow into his body as giving him any significant advantage. I think the fact he entered the majors earlier is more significant than the age thing. But whatever, it was otherwise a good read.

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      • drewcorb says:

        I can’t even understand two of the three sentences I wrote above. Sorry for the terrible grammar.

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    • batpig says:

      the “6 weeks younger” note wasn’t intended to imply that Altuve has more growth potential (i.e., it doesn’t confer any advantage in projection). Rather, the point (clear to me at least) was the contrast between their relative “prospect-dom” in terms of general hype and awareness… people gush about how young Starlin Castro is but Altuve doesn’t seem to get the same credit as a prospect, even though he is just as young.

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      • Blackie says:

        Actually, instead of comparing ages why not note that Castro has 313 major league games played to Altuve’s 86, despite being only six weeks older? We can’t know what Altuve would have done in the majors at age 20, but we do know what Castro did, and he gets credit for that.

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  2. akaufman23 says:

    Is a +3 WAR 2B a “legitimate young star”?

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    • Bill@TPA says:

      Having just turned 22? Signs point to yes.

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    • Bill@TPA says:

      He’s also projected at 3 *the rest of the way*, which makes a touch over 4 for the season.

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    • Psst says:

      Here is a list of 2B who have averaged 3+ war over the last 3 years
      Chase Utley
      Dustin Pedroia
      Ian Kinsler
      Ben Zobrist
      Robinson Cano
      Brandon Phillips
      Dan Uggla
      Rickie Weeks

      If there are any star 2B in MLB that list pretty much covers it

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    • Brian says:

      He’s saying 3 additional WAR for the rest of the season along with the 1.5 WAR he already has. He’s saying Altuve is projected for somewhere around a 4.0-4.5 WAR season. From a 22 year old middle infielder playing is first full year in the Show. Yes. you can build around that.

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  3. BassmanUW says:

    Except for the fact that over Castro’s first two seasons Castro posted nearly identical BABIPs (.344 in 2010, .346 in 2011). Altuve posted a .309 in 234 PAs last season. We have enough data on Castro to say he’d a .340 BABIP guy at the major league level. We do not on Altuve.

    The more accurate headline on this would be that Altuve MIGHT be Starlin Castro 2.0. Or he might just be off to an even hotter start than Castro is, but not be anywhere near as good a player. This is a SSS issue until at least mid-season.

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    • Royo says:

      An even more accurate thing to do would be to put the entire article in the headline.

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    • Matt says:

      Watch the guy bust his a$$ out of the box and look at his infield singles and you’ll see that a high BABIP is sustainable. Obviously not .400, but .340 sounds about right. Dude is speedy and determined.

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  4. dan woytek says:

    Does the 1000 difference in PAs matter? It seems as though Castro’s ability to sustain high BABIPs through 1300+ PAs seems more sustainable than Altuve’s through 350.

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    • Terence says:

      The 1000 PA’s gives us more confidence in Castro’s ability to sustain a high BABIP, it doesn’t make it more sustainable. Looking at Altuve’s better contact rates and their identitical speed scores, one could argue that Altuve’s BABIP is more sustainable. Or it’s just SSS.

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    • Christian says:

      Altuve was a very high BABIP hitter in the minors, especially last year where he won the MilB batting title.

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      • Matt says:

        I’m your standard stats guy who would never normally say “take a look at this guy with your eyes”, but take a look at this guy with your eyes. He busts out of the box like Ichiro. It seems like he’s halfway to first by the time the ball leaves the bat. High BABIP seems sustainable. Not .400, but .340 seems right given his contact skills.

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  5. Jack says:

    ZiPS projects Sarlin for 4.3 total WAR in 2012.

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  6. Table says:

    This past off season I was looking at the free agent market for right handed platoon outfielders whom the Dodgers could sign. I was surprised at how similar Juan Rivera, Cody Ross, Scott Hairston, and Jonny Gomes were.

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  7. Falco says:

    Glad that Altuve is getting good press. He has been fetishized on the “Up and In” podcast for a while; they even got a very quick little interview with him while he was still in AAA.

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  8. reillocity says:

    Or could Starlin Castro be Jose Altuve 1.0?

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  9. Snarf says:

    How do players like Castro and Altuve age? How much of their high BABIP is driven by their speed?

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    • Christian says:

      Castro and Altuve aren’t incredibly speedy guys. Above average, but not blazing fast. Castro is maybe a bit faster than Altuve, but will probably slow down a bit more as he ages since he has more room left to fill out. (That in turn suggests he may have more power potential than Altuve, though.)

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  10. Doogolas33 says:

    Contact rate isn’t really important in figuring out if a guy is going to have high BABIP though. It’s about hard contact. Castro, at least in watching, is taking harder swings this year, which I think is why his contact rate is moving down. Castro’s LD% is 23.8% and that doesn’t even include his line-drive grounders, of which he’s hit a ton this year. I know this might sound bias, but I’m almost certain his contact rate is down because he’s taking harder swings.

    To my earlier point, look at someone like Ryan Theriot or Darwin Barney. They make a ton of contact, but making contact like Ichiro isn’t always a good thing, if you can’t put the ball in play hard, you can easily just make a ton of easy outs.

    I have no idea if Altuve is like that, it’s very possible he’s not, all I’m saying is I don’t think the contact rate is really the skill that would bring him closer to Castro necessarily. Because if he’s putting it in play with less authority than he’ll ultimately make more outs from it.

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    • Andy says:

      Where’s the threshold on hard contact vs soft contact? Not sure that’s something we’ll ever be able to measure and until then, contact rate warrants inclusion in BABIP discussion.

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      • adohaj says:

        I’m pretty sure he was just saying that higher contact does not necessarily = higher bapip, and in fact could mean a lower bapip

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    • Atari says:

      Altuve makes a ton of hard contact too – 2 HRs/3 3Bs / 7 2Bs so far this year. Castro has – 1 HR / 2 3Bs / 6 2Bs. That is why you see the similar ISOs and slugging percentage.

      You should watch him just for the effort he puts in. He is so much fun to watch.

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  11. Andy_B says:

    Altuve has never even had 450 PA at a single level in his career…..

    Castro had 2+ WAR his rookie season, and 3+ WAR his second season, and is on pace for 4+ WAR this season.

    Castro is 4th on the list of most Hits since his debut….others on that list: Ichiro, M. Young, A-Gon.

    Altuve is a SSS stud. He will wear down as the season goes, and could possibly be a 2 WAR player by year’s end, but as with any SSS examples, extrapolating April-May stats for 600 PA is absurd.

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    • mcbrown says:

      I think you mean extrapolating 356 PAs over two seasons plus 3 full seasons of minor league statistics covering another 1399 PAs is absurd. I mean, how could anyone project 600 PAs of MLB-equivalent projections from such a small sample? Ridiculous.

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    • Jacob says:

      You’re the one using the dangerous phrase “on pace for.”. Altuve is “on pace for” over 8 WAR. However, he is project for about 4.5. Also he’s never had 450 PA at a single level because he played at six levels in his three full years. And since when is hits a good way to judge a player haha? But I think it’s a safe bet that Altuve will have more than the .286 wOBA necessary from here on out to break 2 WAR

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      • Paul says:

        Exactly. When a guy is wearing out the level to the tune of a .350 BA or so and plays good D, you move him up. That he’s never had a full season at the same level is a point in his favor.

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      • adohaj says:

        I would say that Castro, Ichiro, Adrian, and young are good hitters. Hits are correlated with talent. Just because they aren’t the best judge in all situations doesn’t mean hits are useless.

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  12. yoni says:

    this upsets me in that the basis for jose altuve being as good as starlin castro has to do with an increase in plate discipline along with a sudden spike in babip. while altuve has been the better player in terms of discipline, he is ONLY as good as castro after making that change in approach at the plate. what dave cameron is suggesting is that a 22 year old castro will never become a more selective hitter at the plate. moving on to babip: altuve’s spike in babip is a ridiculous 89 points, while castro’s is a less whopping 56 points. while neither increase in babip is likely sustainable, if both players babip’s are deflated to career norms, castro has a significantly better batting average than altuve. dave cameron also avoided the issue of power potential completely. simply put, starlin castro is predicted by scouts to be something of a useful power hitter, while altuve is not. to break this down, castro is 5 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than altuve and has not yet tapped into his power potential.

    dave, you’re right that starlin castro is far from the perfect hitter, but jose altuve is no starlin castro. youre article title that calls altuve the starlin castro 2.0 is much more valid than the points that you make in the article stating that altuve is nearly as good or as good as castro. i believe that by the end of this season we’ll see castro as a significantly better hitter than altuve, and in a few years there will be no comparison. jose altuve is a nice player at second base for a rebuilding organization, but he is never going to be starlin castro

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    • Jacob says:

      Did you miss the part about career stats? Is Altuve’s whole career a huge increase? They’re the same age and have similar career rate statistics over a decent sample size thus they are likely to be similar players especially since Castro’s K/BB is getting worse.

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      • yoni says:

        altuve’s whole career is a small sample size, totally 356 at bats. and castro’s decline in BB/K rate this year comes from a terribly small sample size of 124 at bats, and above all it is barely declining.

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      • This guy says:

        Yeah, good point about sample size, yoni. I keep telling people you can’t trust Mo Rivera’s stats. The guy never even pitches 75 innings! I hate it when people don’t understand SSS.

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    • Daniel says:

      You probably shouldn’t let it upset you but I do agree that there seems to be an over-reliance here on 122 PAs. I know we’re talking about Altuve’s total Major League line but the massive difference in his 2011 and 2012 performances suggest we might need to wait a little longer before we decide Altuve really has the same offensive ability as Castro. The argument for Castro, built on what is now two full years in the majors, is just a lot stronger at this stage. Altuve’s 2012 wOBA is the exact same as that held by Ryan Sweeney (93 PA) so the SSS issue is clearly still there.

      Of course, to be fair, Dave mentioned that several times in the article and none of this really takes away from the face that Altuve appears to be displaying genuine improvement. To take the article as a slight on Castro is to miss the point.

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      • yoni says:

        my taking this article as a slight on castro was not to say that dave cameron’s point was to slight castro, rather to say that by comparing castro to altuve is a knock on castro because altuve is a player of lesser value.

        a couple more points: altuve HAS improved this year based on his increase in iso (stating small sample size of course), which is actually higher than castro’s. he even lacks a single infield fly ball, which proves that he is making better contact more often as dave pointed out. but the majority of altuve’s improvement does come from that .398 babip, and only because of his unsustainable babip is he as good as castro for his career numbers. castro’s (less unsustainable) high babip this year effects his career numbers about 5 times less than altuve’s year to date stats do. Sure, as of right now the career numbers of altuve and castro look similar, but once altuve’s and castro’s year to date numbers level out, castro will once again look (on paper) like the better hitter. and this is all ignoring future prospects for these two hitters.

        bottom line, the only way to judge this article will be based on what the numbers look like at the end of the season. dave is right that altuve is a highly improved player, but he is wrong to assume that based on career stats one can say that he is as good as starlin castro.

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      • Daniel says:

        Oh I agree. I would take Castro any day of the week. But the article was also more about upside than what they’ve done to date and in that regard I think it could be argued that there exists the potential for them to be similar long-term. I’d still have Castro’s upside, mind you. I reckon he has the better year and the better career. I think there’s a decent chance that Altuve ends up more Darwin Barney than Starlin Castro but right now they are both interesting players to watch. Altuve and Castro that is, not Barney. Barney is, well… Just keep plugging away Darwin.

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  13. stefangfg says:

    Altuve btw is the spitting image of Kenny Powers’ devilish imp of a Mexican half-brother, Casper. Do a google image search on it, uncanny!

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  14. Andy_B says:

    Career Stats:

    Player A:
    .356 BABIP
    .314/.384/.451
    8.9% BB
    14.8% K
    .370 wOBA
    125 WRC+

    Player B:
    .350 BABIP
    .309/.345/.426
    5.0% BB
    13.8% K
    .335 wOBA
    105 wRC+

    Player C:
    .338 BABIP
    .301/.331/.413
    3.7 % BB
    12.9% K
    .328 wOBA
    107 wRC+

    take a close look at those rates. any analyst could easily argue that all three are very similar, minus the better BB% by player A. But once we say that Player A is Derek Jeter, Player B is Starlin Castro and Player C is Jose Altuve, now will any analyst make that argument??

    Saying Jose Altuve is Starlin Castro 2.0 is inferring that he is the new and better version of Starlin Castro. This is simply not true. I can easily argue that Altuve is to Castro just as Castro is to Jeter…my stats can prove that. It’s all about which stats you choose to use to make your points. If in three years Altuve is still as comparable to Castro, then we can all revisit this post and say, Yes Dave Cameron, you were correct. But until then I think your desire to proclaim your love for Altuve is driving your analysis.

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    • Jacob says:

      But Player A isn’t that terribly similar?

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      • Andy_B says:

        The point of that example was to show that difference between Player A and Player B is very close to the same as the difference between Player B and Player C. I was never stating that Player A (Jeter) is the same as Castro, but showing that there are differences and that Jeter’s line is fractionally higher across the board, just as Dave’s first example between Castro and Altuve, “You’d be hard pressed to find two more similar batting lines between any two players in baseball. Castro’s numbers are fractionally higher across the board”. Well i found two, its obvious Jeter is better across the board, but the amount is very similar to Castro’s advantage over Altuve.

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      • Daniel says:

        There’s a much bigger gap between the numbers for Jeter and Castro than there is between those for Castro and Altuve. I don’t think your numbers are telling you what you think they are.

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      • batpig says:

        you’re bad at understanding numbers. The gap between A and B is MUCH MUCH larger than the gap between B and C.

        skip down to the wRC+ numbers and note that Altuve’s figure (107) is better than Castro’s (105). Remember that this is park adjusted and wOBA is not.

        and then note that Jeter is at 125. Like, MUCH MUCH higher. WAY higher.

        your numbers don’t tell the same story that your mouth is telling.

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    • Joe says:

      Every analyst would say the Player A is clearly offensively better from those numbers

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      • Sam Samson says:

        Agreed. Player A doesn’t just walk more. He hits more, walks more and hits for more power. This adds up to a much better player. The differences between B + C are less significant, and so any comparison between them is more persuasive.

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  15. B_Fraser says:

    I don’t expect Altuve to wear down, but is never uncommon for a player to have a year or two, before pitchers start figuring him out.

    The only reason he has not had those number of plate appearances, is because he has moved up so quickly through the system. It hasn’t been because he has been worn out.

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    • Atari says:

      I think the whole wearing down thing is because he is short.

      Between the minors, majors and winter ball I am sure had close to 1000 PAs last year. Altuve strikes me as the kind of player who loves to play baseball and would have to be dragged away from the playing field. I think it fuels him to prove people wrong and I don’t think he will be wearing down.

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    • Andy_B says:

      It’s not that he will wear down over the course of 600 PA at the same level, but more so that he hasnt had to so the ability to adjust over the course of a season. As soon as he started producing he was promoted and was never tested to see how he will respond during a slump or when major league pitchers start to figure him out. The competition level at A, A+ and AA is far less than at the pro level, and we all know that. I think the safest assumption for him is to simply say, after a full season of 600 PA he might prove a lot of people wrong, but until that point, everything else is just an assumption on a small pro level sample size.

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      • Atari says:

        everything else is just an assumption on a small pro level sample size.

        ::Joe Pesci voice:: YOU making some kind of commentary on a small pro level on account of my stature, WISEGUY??! ::Joe Pesci voice::

        I think at the end of it we are trying to make projections and sometimes we only have a SSS to work with. Sometimes we go with a gut feeling, damn all conventional thinking. My confidence would be higher with a greater sample size, especially with one at the major league level but what would be the fun with that??? This guy has produced at an All-Star level for the last 5 years, watch out, he is going to produce at an All-Star level this year!!! I know! I know! I don’t even know where I come up with these things!

        Altuve has become one of “my guys” on my fantasy team, so you do need to know I have an irrational exhuberance for the guy. I just like the fact that he looks like he actually gives a rats ass when he is playing. Maybe he will carry a chip on his shoulder a outperform his minor league numbers ala Dustin Pedroia. I just know I like to watch him play and I see him having the skills along with the will to improve. He definitely looks like he has improved his plate discipline and it looks like the numbers so far this year are backing him up.

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  16. Andy_B says:

    @ Daniel

    .356 BABIP vs .350 BABIP
    .314/.384/.451 vs .309/.345/.426
    8.9%BB & 14.8%K vs 5.0%BB & 13.8%K

    .350 BABip vs .338 BABIP
    .309/.345/.426 vs .301/.331/.413
    5.0%BB & 13.8%k vs 3.7%BB & 12.9%K

    Jeter’s boost in BB% is apparent in his OBP difference over Castro, but overall BABIP, AVG, BB% and K% are all very similar in the gap from one to the other.

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    • CJ says:

      4% BB rate difference is, like, a big deal. In 600 PAs it is 25 walks. It’s also 30 wOBA points. 4% BB is the difference between an average walk rate and the league-leading walk rate.

      I’m uncomfortable with comparing two players based on triple-slash anyway, I think Cameron’s point would have been made better if he just used discipline and contact rates. But you absolutely cannot handwave away 4% BB differences.

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      • Andy_B says:

        You’re right, a 4% change in BB rate is a big thing. But don’t forget that we are using Jeter’s career numbers here….things look a lot closer (minus the BB rate, Jeter has always been good at that) when you compare Jeter’s age 20-23 seasons against Castro’s.

        Here i did the work…

        Jeter
        1453 PA
        .300/.368/.415
        ISO: .115
        BABIP: .352
        wOBA: .349
        BB%: 8.6
        K%: 16.4
        wRC+: 107
        WAR: 6.5

        Castro
        1345 PA
        .309/.345/.426
        ISO: .117
        BABIP: .350
        wOBA: .335
        BB%: 5.0
        K%: 13.8
        wRC+: 105
        WAR: 6.9

        now granted i already stated that Jeter’s walk rate is a big plus for him over Castro. I’ve never said Castro is better than Jeter, just that at this age they are closer than most would like to admit. So removing the amazing career Jeter has had, and all of his prime years, you can see that at this same point in their careers, they were pretty damn close to the same player. Jeter walked more, but also struck out more….

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  17. Paul says:

    If you don’t want to believe your eyes, believe the eyes of a great talent evaluator and writer, FG contributor Mike Newman. He wrote up Altuve over at Scouting the Sally two years ago. Said he was a Top 25 prospect (in low A ball) if not for the height issue.

    One thing some people do not seem to be grasping over the past couple years is how much offense has changed. SO rates are up, walk rates are way down, and power is down. The point is not just the Altuve has elite contact skills, it’s that in a pitcher dominated environment guys with elite contact skills and athleticism will outperform their peers. In the post-strike era up to about 2009, it was the opposite.

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  18. Matty Brown says:

    He has my vote for the all-star game.

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  19. MoB hostilE^^ says:

    So, Jose Altuve = Starlin Castro

    & Starlin Castro = Ronny Cedeno

    So, Jose Altuve = Ronny Cedeno?

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  20. Mike says:

    Eventually, Pedroia might be a better comp in position and stature.

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  21. pdowdy83 says:

    How about this comp…

    Player A
    .292/.328/.436
    4.1 % BB
    17.2 % K
    .333 wOBA
    104 wRC+

    Player B
    338 BABIP
    .301/.331/.413
    3.7 % BB
    12.9% K
    .328 wOBA
    107 wRC+

    Player A is Howie Kendrick, player B is Altuve. Those are pretty similar lines other than Kendrick having a much higher K rate and a bit more slugging.

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