Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jose Altuve under a microscope

This is the third post in which I try to rate how well I did on my first ever mock draft. To this point, I liked my catcher (Mauer) and did not much like my shortstop (Desmond). Today, I take a look at my second baseman, Jose Altuve. When I was looking at the available second basemen, I saw Altuve's name and I saw the .290 average and .340 on-base percentage along with the 33 steals. Those things looked pretty good to me so I picked him. I knew nothing about the guy except that he was Freddie Patek-kind of short. Altuve is listed at five foot, five inches which is ridiculously short for a baseball player. I wish now that I had known more than just his size and a few counting stats.

It turns out that Altuve was tied with Murphy of the Mets as the sixteenth best second baseman in baseball last season. Since there were twenty-two qualifying second basemen last year, sixteenth isn't very good. What hurt Altuve the most in his ranking was his fielding. And this was a big surprise for me. Of all second basemen that qualified for the batting title, Jose Altuve ranked next to last with his fielding.

The reason this is such a surprise is that Jose Altuve has better than average range. Both his range factor and his range factor per game were above average. But still, his fielding earned him -15.8 runs in 2012. Among ALL qualifying middle infielders, including shortstops, only one scored worse than -15.8 (Weeks). Heck, even Jeter scored better at -15.2. And that was despite Altuve coming in sixth in putouts and seventh in assists.

The problem, it seems for Altuve is he simply did not convert enough of his chances in the field. If you look at scouting reports, part of the problem seems to be his release is not quick enough and he doesn't have a strong enough arm. Then again, what would expect for an arm from a guy who is five foot, five inches tall?

Jose Altuve is not a bad offensive player. His offense rated at 5.9 runs above average and his base running rated at 4.2 runs above average. He did steal 33 bases, but he was thrown out on 11 attempts, which makes his success rate of 75% marginal. But he did score 80 runs for a team that was woeful on offense, so his on-base skills are noted here.

His patience at the plate improved a lot over the 55 games Altuve played in 2011. In that small sample size, his rate at swinging at pitches out of the strike zone was 41.3% according to PitchF/X. And he improved that to 29.4%. For a guy with Altuve's game, that needs to come down even more. But he hardly ever swings and misses. He did so at a remarkably low 4.1% in 2012.

Altuve hits his fair share of line drives at 20.2%, but he hits a lot of ground balls. His ground ball to fly ball rate is 1.94. That is extremely high on the ground ball side. His BABIP on those ground balls was .277, so it works out okay for him since the league average is .238. One interesting fact, though, is that since he hits so many ground balls, he only popped out to the infield two times in all of 2012. At least he isn't hitting into cheap outs.

All in all though, I probably could have done better with my choice, which shows I shouldn't perform a writing career change and focus on the roto world. But there is a flicker of hope. Two projection systems I looked at believe Altuve will continue to improve offensively while improving defensively to at least not so harmful. Apparently, that is the best I can hope for.

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