I thought I would start a little series on good players that play on really bad teams. The subject has always fascinated me. The ultimate example, of course, is Steve Carlton who won a Cy Young Award in 1972 by winning 27 games on a team that lost 97 games. Just to give you an idea of how much of an anomaly Carlton was that season, he went 27-10 that year. The rest of the starters went 19-68! Carlton was rewarded for his efforts. But usually, good players on bad teams are overlooked because nobody is paying attention to teams playing so poorly. Jose Altuve is one of those good players.
Altuve is not without some notoriety. Known as the shortest player in baseball, Altuve is generously listed as 5'5" and 175 pounds on his Baseball-reference.com player page. And perhaps most know him as one of the best players on a really bad team. But I think he is still overlooked a bit. His numbers from his first two seasons in 2011 and 2012 do not blow you away. But most will not consider that he was only 21 and 22 years old during those seasons. Now in his third year, at the age of 23, he is still improving.
And despite his team's 13-33 record thus far, Altuve is certainly a bright spot. According to Fangraphs.com's leaderboard, Altuve ranks tied for sixth of the 28 qualifying second basemen in the majors. That is pretty darned good. While it is too early to really tell, one of the biggest upturns for Altuve has been his fielding.
In 2012, both B-R and Fangraphs ranked his fielding pretty poorly. B-R had him at 18 runs below average and Fangraphs at 13.4 runs below. This season, Fangraphs has him at 4.3 runs above average and B-R gives him five above. Altuve has made only one error this season, has improved his double play ratings and is showing more range.
And for a guy his size and considering that he has little support and protection, he is a very good offensive player. Altuve should easily surpass 180 hits at his current pace with an outside chance at 200. He has always had a good line drive rate and was over 20% in that category in his first two seasons. That rate is at 25% this year. He hits a lot of ground balls and that rate is up this year too. But that is not necessarily a bad thing for a small, quick guy. He has a .296 average on ground balls, which is way above the league average.
The big thing to watch for this season for Altuve is how he holds up during the season. Last year, his OPS for each month dropped every single month of the season. His OPS in the second half last year was 87 points lower than his first half. Like last year, Altuve is off to a good start. It will be interesting to see if he can hold up better than he did in his first full season a year ago.
I would not call Jose Altuve a superstar or even a great player. But he is a very good player who can do some things offensively, is playing better defense, will get his 30+ doubles, steal some bases and be an above average base runner.
Altuve is a very good player on a very bad team. That is a shame. He would get a lot more attention and be appreciated a bit more if his team did not guarantee that his efforts would be obscured by the mediocrity around him.