Jose Altuve’s Size: Boon or Bane?

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” J.R.R. Tolkien

By most accounts, Jose Altuve did not have the most impressive debut for the Houston Astros on Wednesday. The 21-year-old second baseman stepped into the void left by Jeff Keppinger‘s move to San Francisco and… well, he didn’t fill that void. Aggressive in each of his at-bats, he went one for five with a strikeout. The fact that he was in the major leagues at all was a bit of an upset, however: Altuve is only five foot seven, and perhaps generously listed as such.

With the Astros not headed to the post season and looking to see what they have for the future, Altuve is in line for at least 200 plate appearances the rest of the way. The team is likely to give him enough leash to finish the year no matter how he fares. Only 22 middle infielders that were his height or shorter have ever accomplished that feat in their first year. But how did those comp players fare at the plate? And how did those numbers compare to the general middle infield population? That might help us manage our expectations for the diminutive one.

Sort for middle infielders, 67 inches or shorter, and with 200 plate appearances in their first season, and you don’t receive a collections of who’s whos. Only three players managed an OPS over league average, and all three did so before 1919, back when baseball was different and shorter. The group averaged an 80 OPS+ and a batting line of .250/.313/.312 overall. That they didn’t have much power might not be surprising given their stature, but there wasn’t much else they were bringing to the table either.

Compare that to the general population for our study, and you’d think they came up short. All middle infielders that debuted with at least 200 plate appearances put up a 77 OPS+, however. Their .251/.310/.334 line shows that whatever advantage the average infielder might have had over his smaller counterpart in power they gave up slightly in on-base ability. The tighter the strike zone, the easier it is to take a walk, right? We’ve seen Bradley Woodrum tackle this subject recently, but Altuve is no three-foot-six Lilliputian. He’s only marginally shorter than the average American, and so he’d only benefit marginally from a smaller strike zone.

Let’s look at tall players on the infield – six foot two or taller. Now we’ve got 21 players, about the same as our short list. Oof. They had a 66 OPS+ on average by hitting .238/.288/.321 on average. Not pretty, even if Yunel Escobar, Alexei Ramirez, Jhonny Peralta and Michael Morse have figured it out since. Let’s try to zoom out a little too, by asking for 200+ PAs in seasons one or two of the career. Short: 83 OPS+, .251/.318/.317. Tall: 74 OPS+, .249/.299/.346. All: 78 OPS+, .253/.311/.339. The same mini-trends hold: shorter players have a tiny boost in on-base percentage, and tall players in slugging. With power being the tool that develops latest, perhaps it’s no surprise that the “baseball short” players debut with a minuscule advantage over the taller players.

Look at the list of first-year debuts among short players, and a few names might leap out of the fray: Phil Rizzuto, David Eckstein, Freddie Patek and Bip Roberts. Roberts might be the best comp. He walked in 9.2% of his at-bats in the minor leagues, and Altuve in 8.4% of his. Altuve had a .154 ISO on the farm, Roberts a .110, though, despite their similarity in strikeout rate (Altuve 11.8%, Roberts 11.9%). Still, add a tiny bit of power to Roberts and you might have Altuve. Roberts managed a .294/.358/.380 line in 12 seasons, and if you add a little power to that you’d be even happier. Especially if Altuve manages to put up a similar 14.5 WAR in his first (arbitration-controlled) six seasons.

With only 153 plate appearances above Double-A, we’ll see if Altuve’s bat is ready to play with the big boys even if it hasn’t spent a ton of time on the farm. Size may have a little something to do with his chances. Being short might give you the tiniest of boosts to your walk rate and make you a little less likely to have power. If Altuve can use that boost to achieve a league-average walk rate while retaining his league-average power, he has the chance to be one of the better short middle infielders we’ve seen.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


31 Responses to “Jose Altuve’s Size: Boon or Bane?”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    How does this article not mention Dustin Pedroia?

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  2. YP says:

    As much as I hate him, I’m surprised there’s no mention of Dustin Pedroia.

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    • YP says:

      Well, according to Fangraphs, he’s 5’9″…I always thought he was shorter.

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      • RC says:

        Dustin Pedroia is listed at 5’9. He’s no taller than 5’6.

        Then again, up until last year, David Ortiz was 220lbs.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      5′ 9″. I would have expanded the ‘short’ players to something like 5′ 9″, but I’m not even sure Altuve is 5′ 7″. He looks shorter than that. So Pedroia is maybe baseball short, but Altuve looks more like short short.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        I do believe Pedroia’s actual height is 5’7″. Any idea of Altuve’s actual height?

        Also worth noting is that the only reason Pedroia didn’t meet the article’s other criteria (200 plate appearances in their first season) is because he was first called up late in the season (8/22). He was never sent down again, and was never a part-timer.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        But his listed height is the main reason, since I also tried 200 plate appearances in first two seasons. I still think Altuve is significantly shorter than Pedroia, and going by listed height is all we have.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        No, I understand that. You can’t be expected going around with a tape measure.

        I just thought it was pretty surprising to see an article about short middle infielders that somehow omitted the him, even if only to note why he wasn’t included in the sample.

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        “My legitimate height and weight…,” he says, answering a question no one has asked but he probably knew was inevitable. “I’m 5-8, 170.”

        http://www.bostonmagazine.com/articles/dustin_pedroia/

        5’7″, 5’8″; I still think it’s whacked that he received no mention in this article. Arguably the best middle infielder in baseball who is very short, gets no mention in an article asking: Is 5’7″ tall enough to play 2B effectively?

        Even if Sarris decided to stick to a baseline just one inch shorter, you still have to mention Pedroia because unless we’re going all anal about a single inch, he answers the writer’s question: Of course Altuve at 5’7″ can play 2B, height has nothing to do with it. Just look at Pedroia (and Morgan, and others not mentioned).

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  3. Kevin says:

    I remember BP guys who followed him in minor leagues say his likely height was more around 5’4″.

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    • OremLK says:

      His actual height is 5-foot, 5-and-one-half inches. From the horse’s mouth.

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      • OremLK says:

        Please keep in mind that almost all listed heights are inflated for players under 6′ tall. Pedroia is not actually 5’9″.

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      • RobK says:

        I don’t think its just guys under 6′. It seems like they add one to two inches to everyone’s heights. Guys who are 6’2″ but skinny automatically become 6’5″. I guess they’re just trying to give the perception that they’re all physical specimens.

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      • Feeding the Abscess says:

        Like in basketball, most guys list their height in shoes, which typically adds at around an inch in height, sometimes even up to 1.5″ of height. Taken into account number rounding, someone who is 6’1.25″ in socks could legitimately list 6’3″ as their height (sounds like Altuve, who claims to be 5’5.5″, can be explained with this theory).

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  4. lex logan says:

    Reporter: “How does it feel being the shortest player in the majors?”
    Freddie Patek: “Beats the heck out of being the shortest player in the minors.”

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    • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

      The day I checked out Freddie’s BRef page was depressing. I thought he was a very good player when I was young.

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  5. nathan says:

    Joe Morgan laughs at all of you…but doesn’t understand why.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Really should have mentioned him just in passing, but he’s not a good comp for Altuve in particular. Way more patience and speed and showed more power in the minors.

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  6. Lyle Schweik says:

    Joe Morgan was 5′ 7″ or so it says at Baseball Reference. But he only played 8 and 10 games in his first 2 seasons. Anyway nathan beat me to it.

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  7. Llewdor says:

    In the time he’s been a major-leaguer, Ichiro has been listed anywhere from 5’9″ to 5’11”, but none of them have been true.

    He’s exactly the same height as Omar Vizquel, if that helps. They stood back-to-back and measured once, during a game.

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  8. Winfrey says:

    As Orem said, most heights are inflated. I met Prince Fielder at Spring Training. He’s 5’8 or 5’9 even though he’s listed at 5’11.

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    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      Like in basketball, most guys list their height in shoes/cleats, which typically adds at around an inch in height, sometimes even up to 1.5? of height. Taken into account number rounding, someone who is 6’1.25? in socks could legitimately list 6’3? as their height (sounds like Altuve, who claims to be 5’5.5?, can be explained with this theory).

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  9. camisadelgolf says:

    Who will have the better career? Jose Altuve, or Ron Torreyes? (Speaking of which, there’s no way Torreyes is 5’10″; he’s more like 5’6″)
    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=sa546565&position=2B/3B
    http://images.checkoutmycards.com/zoom/e8b1cf03-5cd2-4c06-ace8-952eb8537e54.jpg

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  10. Paul says:

    Good scouting report on him from last year when he was in the Sally, from of course, ScoutingtheSally. The summation:

    “As you can tell, this scouting report has much more assumption in it than most of what I write. With a prospect like Jose Altuve, it’s needed because there’s simply not another player to compare him to. In all honesty, the easy out is to simply write Altuve off as a AAAA-utility type at the major league level due to his lack of size. However, if Jose Altuve really was his listed Baseball Reference height/weight of 6’1?, 185 lbs., we’d be discussing a surefire top-100 prospect and one of the top-5 position prospects I scouted in 2010. So while I can’t say he will ever be an impact talent, to rule out a scenario where he does not at least become a second division starter and instant fan favorite would be irresponsible of me.”

    http://scoutingthesally.com/jose-altuve-houston-astros-baseball-prospect-scouting-report-video/

    I’m certainly intrigued when a scout puts any A- player on the Top 100, which is what he did based just on his talent.

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  11. J-Roll says:

    I am 5’8″ in my spikes on a hard floor.

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  12. Hal Jordan says:

    Although the Astros still officially list Altuve as 5’7″, Ed Wade said he was 5’5″ during a pregame interview today at Wrigley Field. Just a few minutes before a graphic had been shown on screen listing him as 5’7″.

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  13. Rimarlin breton says:

    Height has nuthin to do with it just to prove it rememba the name rimarlin breton

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