JOSE ALTUVE DEEP DIVE

Here's the version of Jose Altuve the Astros should expect to see in 2021

Altuve was terrific in the postseason. Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Jose Altuve had a similar season to his middle infield counterpart Carlos Correa. Both had subpar regular seasons at the plate before lighting it up in the postseason. Altuve is under contract through 2024, so there aren't any extension questions like there are for Correa, but Altuve's performance is vital to the Astros future success. Which version of Altuve is real? The regular season one or the postseason one?

Hard Hit % - 33.3%

Barrel % - 4.6%

K% - 18.6%

BB% - 8.1%

Chase % - 35.2%

(Above numbers from 2020)

There are a few statistical changes for Altuve in 2020 from past seasons. First, his Barrel % dropped from 8.1% to 4.6%. That would be his lowest Barrel % since 2015 (3.1%), which was the last season before Altuve began a swing overhaul to start working more uphill and drive the ball more. Altuve had established himself as a star by then, but he was hardly a home run threat, and he relied more on his speed.

Next, his Chase % increased to 35.2%. That was a 5.2% increase from 2019 and 2018, when he had exactly 30% marks both times. Again, it was the highest his Chase % has been since 2015, when it was 34.1%. However, Altuve made contact on those swings 79.7% of the time. In 2020, he made contact on chase swings just 67.3% of the time. Altuve has a reputation as a good bad ball hitter, but he's gotten worse and worse at that the older he's gotten. Is it because of age? No. It's because of swing change.

Look at the evolution of Altuve's swing from '14 to '17. In '14 and '15, Altuve clearly swung downhill. He's not thinking about driving the ball whatsoever; he's just trying to put the bat on the ball and find a hole. While '16 & '17 are also ground balls, the swings are completely different. In the latter two swings, he's working more uphill, his bat enters the zone at a more vertical angle, and he's trying to drive the baseball.

The swing evolution is a good thing. It's why Altuve is a better overall hitter now than he was then. It just means that he isn't able to do as much with those pitches off the plate. He has to wait for a ball he can drive.

Year

Chase %

Chase Contact %

Slugging %

2015

34.1%

79.7%

.459

2016

30.5%

75.1%

.531

2017

31.8%

72.3%

.547

2018

30%

70.3%

.451

2019

30%

68.6%

.550

2020

35.2%

67.3%

.344

The outliers here are 2018 and 2020. Remember, Altuve was playing on a bad knee for a good portion of 2018, and that played the biggest factor in the dip in power production. In 2020, it's the chase rate and all the other factors of a COVID season.

So how did Altuve turn around his performance in the postseason? He started chasing less. Postseason splits aren't provided for those statistics, so I went through each postseason game and tallied his discipline. Here are the results:

  • Saw 173 pitches outside the strike zone
  • Chased 31 times
  • Chase % - 17.9%

He cut his Chase % in half. Essentially, Altuve went from chasing about as often as Kansas City Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi to chasing about as often as teammate Alex Bregman. Altuve's Hard Hit % in the 2020 postseason was 41%, a 7% improvement on his regular season mark. It makes sense, as pitchers are forced to come to hitters and give them pitches they can do more damage with if they chase less often. It resulted in a postseason where he slashed .375/.500/.729 with five homers and walked more than he struck out (11 BB vs. 8 K).

Altuve also had some indicators of bad luck that made his regular season numbers look worse than they really should have been. He had a .250 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), which is a .053 point drop from last season, and it's .084 below his career mark. His .230 xBA (Expected Batting Average) isn't great, but it's still a touch better than the .219 he finished with. Similarly, his .352 xSLG isn't great, but it's a little better than the .344 SLG he actually recorded. Altuve, for his entire career, has outperformed his expected statistics. Altuve has outperformed his xBA in every season since Statcast was adopted (2015). He's outperformed his xSLG in all but one season. That doesn't mean Altuve has been perpetually lucky and that luck finally turned, it means that a "normal" Altuve will outperform those metrics, and it was unlucky this year that he didn't.

Some people may be concerned that Altuve is losing some athleticism now that he's on the wrong side of 30. There aren't any signs of him losing a step. His 28.4 ft/s average sprint speed is just 0.2 ft/s worse than last year. It's better than 2017 and 2018, and it's tied with 2015 and 2016. He's the same runner he's always been. Altuve was in the 89th percentile in MLB in sprint speed. Altuve was the second fastest player on the Astros, just 0.2 ft/s behind Myles Straw.

Altuve isn't over the hill yet. He proved in the postseason that he's still an elite hitter when he's on his game. As long as he fixes the issues he had with expanding the zone in 2020, he should be back to the Altuve of old for the entirety of 2021.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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