Altuve: Can MLB’s Newest Slugger keep it up?

Jose Altuve, second baseman for the Houston Astros, currently has 9 home runs in just 115 at-bats to begin the 2016 season. This would put him on pace for 50 home runs through 162 games (Altuve has played all 29 of the Astros’ games through the first month). It goes without saying that this number is probably unattainable for Altuve; however, I would like to put evidence out there as to why even half that number, 25 regular season home runs, may be a stretch for the all-star second baseman.

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At the start of 2016, Jose Altuve had 36 HR in 2,721 career at-bats. In a 650 at-bat season, that would mean Altuve was averaging 8 to 9 home runs per season, though he did hit 15 in 2015, showing that he has developed some more power over time. Now, at the age of 26, it is very likely that Altuve has indeed added enough power to allow himself to threaten the 20 home run mark, especially with his hot 9 HR start. But, I do not personally believe that the power he has demonstrated to this point is truly indicative of who Altuve really is. Last season, Atluve had a 1.33 GB/FB ratio. His career rate is 1.61. This year, he has put up a 1.22 GB/FB rate so far. Thus, there is reason to believe that he could start putting more balls on the ground than he has to this point. Even if he is no longer the 1.61 rate guy that he was to start his career, I could very well see the rate moving back up towards the 1.33 mark. Along that same line of thought, Altuve had an overall 46.7% GB rate last season (18.1% Line-drive rate). His career marks are 48.6% GB and 21.2% line drives. This season, he has again seen a dramatic change in those numbers, putting up a 39.4% GB rate and 28.3% LD rate. Again, it is very possible that Altuve has developed more as a hitter, allowing him to hit more line drive home runs, however, such a drastic change in his batter ball rates are unlikely to be maintained. As those numbers move more towards his 2015 stats and career averages, his home run numbers will decline.

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Line drives are not the only area where Altuve is seeing a drastic improvement. He has also benefited from a 28.1% HR/FB rate this season. This is WAY up from his 2015 rate of 7.4% and his 5.9% career rate. For comparisons sake, here were last season’s HR/FB leaders, their rates, and the number of home runs that they produced:

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Nelson Cruz, 30.3%, 44 HR

Chris Davis, 29.4%, 47 HR

Bryce Harper, 27.3%, 42 HR

Carlos Gonzalez, 25.8%, 40 HR

Mike Trout, 25.3%, 41 HR

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All of the players on the above list had HR/FB rates greater than 25%, and all five of them had 40 or more home runs in 2015. It is safe to say that Jose Altuve is not one of the above five, and therefore should not be expected to maintain similar production. Even if Altuve’s HR/FB rate landed around 14% by the end of 2016, then that would still be almost double of his 2015 rate, as well as half of his current 2016 rate. Again, this would place him at 25 home runs throughout the course of the season, a number which I have already said I do not believe he will reach.

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Opposition may point to Altuve’s improved hard and medium contact rates as evidence that he will maintain his new-found power. His improvements though, have not been as dramatic as to project 40+ home runs. His soft contact rate has only improved 3.6% (19.8% to 16.2%), which is notable, but not player-changing notable. Meanwhile, his hard contact rate has improved from 25.9% to 34.3%, while his medium contact rate has actually declined from 54.3% to 49.5%. Put all these numbers together, and I would believe a total HR/FB rate in the 8-10% range, but 14%, let alone 28%, just doesn’t seem likely to me. For these reasons, I feel that Jose Altuve has the potential to reach the 20 home run mark for the first time in his career, but expecting much more than that would be a mistake.

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