Jose Altuve: Little Player, Big Game

At just 5’5 and 175 pounds according to our data, Jose Altuve is tiny, at least compared to his colleagues in the professional athlete world. In fact, his size is so much fun to discuss that a new unit of measurement was devised in his honor. How Many Altuves are you? I am 1.03 Jose Altuves. Altuve finished the season in fairly expected fashion, earning the 11th highest value among second basemen, which is exactly where he ranked during his first full season in 2012. Can the little man take his game to an even higher level?

Altuve makes excellent contact and has maintained a rather stable strikeout rate. It will allow him to continue contributing positive value in batting average, though gives him little upside since he’s already starting from such a strong base. With a ground ball and line drive swing that results in few pop-ups, it might appear that he would be capable of better than a .316 BABIP. However, his .326 xBABIP matches pretty closely, suggesting there really isn’t a whole lot of upside there. Without a power spike, it might be difficult for him to reach the .300 plateau, but he should flirt with that level pretty regularly.

Given his small stature, one wonders how he generates any power at all. Would anyone have been surprised if he performed more like Jason Tyner, he of the .049 career ISO, than the non-zero in power he actually is? Did you know that Altuve actually hit 11 long balls back in 2010 in Single-A in just 393 at-bats? He actually hit 15 home runs that season when you combine that total with his High-A output! So maybe there is some hidden power upside still left in him.

With just a 4.1% HR/FB rate for his career, he certainly seems to have ample upside starting from such a low mark. But, his 267 foot average batted ball distance doesn’t provide for much optimism, though his 2012 mark of 274 feet does offer a glimmer of hope. Sub 30% fly ball rates will cap his home run totals either way and so he may very well peak at just around 10, which won’t move the fantasy value needle much at all.

Really, there are two sources for fantasy value improvement. One is a better surrounding lineup. The Astros scored the fourth fewest runs in baseball, which held Altuve’s runs scored total to just 64, despite coming to the plate more than 650 times and getting on base at a near league average clip. A better supporting cast could help increase his paltry 116 runs plus RBI total.

The other path for boosting his value is of course related to his stolen base total. His minor league stolen base high was 42 in 2010, but there have been several issues limiting his running game. First, he hasn’t been a great base-stealer in the past. His Major League success rate is an acceptable 74%, which is slightly higher than his minor league success rate. It’s not low enough to expect a decline in stolen base opportunities, but not high enough to think he is going to want to run at every chance.

The other, and perhaps bigger, problem is that he’s simply not that fast. His Spd scores have hovered around the league average and his triples totals have been much lower than what you would expect from a speedster. Both of these stats represent pieces of evidence that this isn’t a 50 steal burner. With the Astros offense as poor as it was, you’d think Altuve would have been more inclined to run to drum up some offense. But that didn’t happen. So there doesn’t seem to be much more upside unless we learn that the Astros plan to be much more aggressive on the base paths than they had been.

So the bottom line is that as cliche as it sounds, Jose Altuve is what he is. Though still young heading into his age 24 season next year, there just aren’t that many ways he could increase his fantasy value. That doesn’t mean you should avoid him on draft day, but that he’s probably better acquired at a discount, because you don’t win leagues by getting players at fair value.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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