UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

How the analytics paint a clear picture of why Jose Altuve is struggling

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The face of the Houston Astros has struggled to start 2020. Jose Altuve is slashing .187/.265/.333. That's...well...not good. No, the struggles aren't because of trash cans or buzzers. It also isn't because of mechanics. Altuve's swing looks the same this year as it has since 2016, the first year he made significant swing changes compared to when he first got called up to the big leagues. Altuve's struggles this season are most directly attributable to issues in approach and plate discipline. This likely stems from some internal pressure to succeed, but nobody really knows the answer to that other than Altuve himself.

Altuve has always had elite bat-to-ball skills. He has a career contact % of 86% (this is buoyed a bit by the few seasons at the beginning of his career). Altuve's contact % has actually gotten worse every year since 2014, which is also around the time Altuve started to overhaul his swing to drive the baseball more, so he was okay with the extra bit of swing-and-miss. Altuve's contact % so far in 2020 is 78.6%, which is actually rather pedestrian.

Why is there so much more swing-and-miss in Altuve's game? It mostly has to do with plate discipline. Altuve's chase % is up over 3% from the last three seasons, meaning he's swinging at a lot more baseballs outside the strike zone. Conversely, his Z-Swing %, which is his swing percentage at pitches in the strike zone, is 3.5% worse than last season and 3% worse than his career mark. So, Altuve is swinging at pitches in the strike zone considerably less and pitches out of the strike zone considerably more. That isn't a recipe for success. What are the results?

Altuve's O-Contact %, which is his contact rate on pitches outside the strike zone, is 8% worse than it was last season, and 13% worse than his career mark. That is MASSIVE. While he has a reputation as a bad ball hitter, he's getting worse and worse at bad ball hitting. Damage is done on pitches in the zone, even for someone with the reputation of having elite bat-to-ball skills.

Within the zone, Altuve is just fine. His Z-Contact % is 90%, which is 3% better than last year. So, it isn't that Altuve is aging and can't catch up to pitches in the zone, or that he can't hit now that he doesn't know what's coming, it's that his pitch selection is worse, and that's probably because he's trying to be the hero.

Altuve just needs to start being a little bit more selective, hunting for pitches he can drive, and then Astros fans will start seeing the Jose Altuve of old.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome