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.

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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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