Jose Altuve is like Major League Baseball’s version of Earl Boykins; whenever you watch him standing at the plate you can’t help but think “wait, the Little League World Series started already?” He might be big league ball’s shortest active player, but his fantasy exploits per inch stack up well with any of the other second basemen you stand him up against. Altuve came in 11th on Zach Sanders’ end-of-season 2B rankings, meaning that in 2012 he was a viable starting 2B in all but the shallowest of fantasy formats, not bad for a guy who was 22nd off the board at his position and 230th overall (by way of ESPN, at least).
Altuve’s emergence as a middle infield option in fantasy leagues didn’t exactly appear from the abyss. In fact, prior this season, fellow Rotographs contributor Mike Podhorzer pegged Altuve as a solid target in fantasy leagues thanks to some impressive rate stats in the minors and his 2011 major league cup of coffee, projecting 8 homers coupled with 55 RBI, 70 runs, a 0.291 average as well as 24 stolen bases. Altuve didn’t disappoint, nearly matching Mike’s projections in dingers (7) and average (0.290) while putting up more runs (80) and stolen bases (33) thanks to getting a whopping 630 at-bats as he quickly became a fixture at the top of the Astros lineup. Altuve also came out of the gate strong in April, putting up a 0.360/0.404/0.547 triple slash which probably meant he was picked from the wire early and often in fantasy leagues, but also meant he was providing solid value all season long.
Much of Altuve’s value is derived from his speed coupled with his ability to square up the ball. His season-ending 20.2/52.7/27.1 LD%/GB%FB% put his xBABIP in the neighborhood of a sizzling 0.357, in large part thanks to his 90.7% contact rate and high number of infield hits. The driving force behind Altuve’s near-0.300 average was his 0.321 BABIP and given how the numbers show that he lined the ball all over the field, it was certainly no fluke. The biggest knock on Altuve coming into the season was likely his walk rate, which was a rather pathetic 2.1% in 2011 as the aggressive 21 year-old made it to the majors for the first time. That number climbed to a more reasonable 6.3% in 2012, boosting a sub-0.300 on-base percentage into one that was 0.340, erasing the concern that he would be a liability in OBP leagues. Even better, Altuve showed increasing discipline as the season went along; his 4.9% BB% before the all-star break was still better than his previous MLB rate, but he was able to further bump that to 8.0% in the second half, a sign that he is still continuing to mature as a hitter.
Not surprisingly (given his xBABIP and minor league rates, at least) Altuve has a set of speedy wheels on the basepaths. His 33 stolen bases outperformed every projection system other than ZiPS (which nailed it) and – like his BB% – his numbers climbed as the season went along; 15 thefts before the all-star break and 18 after (in 54 less plate appearances, too). Not only did his raw totals go up (the actual stat that counts in fantasy) but his success rate didn’t suffer (hovering around 75%), a good sign that he’ll continue to be turned loose in the future. Just using his 0.0625 SB/PA ratio in the second half projects Altuve out to 40 stolen bases in a 640 PA season, so the potential exists for him to become an elite speedster for the foreseeable future.
One surprising aspect of Altuve’s game given his diminutive stature is his power. Baseball is littered with small speedsters who slap the ball around the field for high BABIPs, but they generally fit the Jason Tyner or Ben Revere mold, guys who lack the pop to hit anything more than the occasional home run. Altuve put up a 0.109 ISO, which, while not earth-shattering by any stretch, still outpaced bigger fantasy names like Ichiro Suzuki, Cameron Maybin, Dustin Ackley, and Alexei Ramirez. Given that you drafted/acquired Altuve for his speed and potential help in runs and batting average, the 7 homers were a nice benefit out of a slot where most owners probably expected little-to-nothing in the power department. In fact, his 0.399 slugging percentage helped him to a 0.740 OPS, which meant he slotted in just behind Ian Kinsler (0.749) and ahead of Howie Kendrick (0.725), Rickie Weeks (0.728), and Dan Uggla (0.732) in roto leagues which count that category instead of average (which would have likely driven him well up into the top-10 2B in that scoring format).
One of the few real knocks you can find on Altuve’s player page is the sub-par grading he has received as a fielder, although it’s tough to find anecdotal reports that he is a stone-handed guy on the infield. His -15.8 UZR kept his WAR down to 1.8, which only graded out 16th of 22 qualified second baseman (the UZR figure was also bested (worsted?) by Rickie Weeks at -16.0). That said, defensive statistics tend to take notoriously long to stabilize and all but the most esoteric fantasy leagues wouldn’t even bat at eyelash at anything I’ve said in this paragraph so far. By all measures owners consider actually important, Altuve had a very successful season and those who are lucky enough to own his keeper rights while he’s in his early-mid 20′s hope that the sky’s the limit (side note: a passenger jet flies at 6,461 Altuves) for the runt of the Astros.