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Will Jose Altuve really regress that much in 2015?

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Jose Altuve is coming off a breakout 2014 campaign. Here's why his regression isn't so certain.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Altuve's 2014 season summed up in one word: hits. Yes, he did that a lot. Altuve won the Silver Slugger Award and led the majors in hits with 225. He also led the majors with a .341 average, and finished second in stolen bases with 56. That's pretty impressive for a guy who was barely drafted in the top 100 in drafts. This is 2015, so most baseball fans realize that you can't really evaluate a player's productivity based on his total number of hits, however, 225 hits is pretty special.

Going into the 2015 season, people are saying Altuve is a bust candidate because he's due for regression. Looking at his .360 BABIP, of course he'd be a candidate for regression. It will be quite difficult to produce a .360 BABIP, 225 hits, and a .344 average again, simply because those are astonishing numbers. But, to attribute Altuve's breakout season to his high BABIP isn't giving Altuve the credit he deserves. In the offseason, Altuve worked with hitting coach John Mallee, and made adjustments to not only his swing, but also his approach at the plate. Here's what they had to say to the Houston Chronicle:

After hitting .283 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .363 slugging percentage in 2013, Altuve followed the Astros' instructions and sat out the Venezuelan winter league. He returned earlier than usual to Houston in January to work out at Minute Maid Park and arrived at spring training in March in the best shape of his career. Once at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., he sat down for an honest critique from his hitting coach.

The duo discussed Altuve's approach at the plate. They considered whether he would benefit from some mechanical adjustments to make his swing more efficient. Mallee told Altuve why he should alter the way his swing stayed in motion. Then Mallee gave Altuve a plan for getting better pitches to hit, being more selective and attacking pitches in his strength early in the count.

"So even if it's a pitch that's a strike, if it's not something he can drive, being able to take it," Mallee said. "We identified where his strengths were within the strike zone, and then we did a lot of drills on working on just attacking that and taking (and not swinging at) everything else that's in the strike zone. Truly, that's what selective aggressive hitting is."

To that end, Altuve altered his stride toward the plate by adding somewhat of a leg kick this season. He no longer had a hitch in which he started, stopped and then swung, as he did in 2013.

Last year, Altuve would stride early with his left foot and then swing. That stride left him vulnerable because after he would stride early to his left toe he had to regain momentum and restart his swing again when he was getting ready to attack the ball.

"His left foot would stride to his toe early, and he would be down real early. And when the pitch came, he had to restart," Mallee said. "Now he just stays in motion, and he lets his eyes tell him when to put his foot down. His timing has been better, and when he's off time, he's in more of a powerful position.

"Instead of just getting little chink hits, he's hitting the ball harder when he's off time. Now, he does a nice little knee tuck and he stays in motion, so his swing is constantly in rhythm."

You can clearly see the difference between his 2013 and 2014 swing.

Here is his swing in 2013, you can see that he strides early and has a hitch in his swing.

Courtesy of crawfishboxes.com.

Here is his swing in 2014. The leg kick eliminates the hitch in his swing and makes for a much more smooth swing at the plate. He was in a much better power position to drive the ball .

Courtesy of FanGraphs.

His high BABIP can partly be attributed to his speed. Altuve was not only a terror on the base paths swiping bags, he was also a terror beating out infield hits. He tied with Dee Gordon for the most infield hits in baseball with 31. He only had 20 in 2013. Putting the ball in play at a higher rate arguably led to more infield hits for Altuve in 2014. He dropped his K% from 12.6% in 2013 to 7.5% in 2014. His contact numbers also improved in 2014. Let's take a look at his plate discipline numbers according to Baseball Info Solutions.

Season

K%

SwStr%

O-Swing%

Z-Swing %

O-Contact%

Z-Contact %

Contact %

2013

12.6%

6.1%

37.6%

64.4%

77.4%

94.8%

87.2%

2014

7.5%

4.4%

37.4%

67.7%

85.0%

94.9%

91.1%



As you can see, his K% and SwStr% (swinging strike%) improved quite a bit in 2014. His O-Swing% (percentage of times swing at pitches out of the zone) was pretty much the same as 2013, but the big difference was his O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside of the zone) and his overall Contact %. Putting the ball in play more would undoubtedly lead to a higher possibility of getting a hit. So, with all that said, Altuve's biggest improvement in 2014 was putting the ball in play and using his legs more, so his increase in BABIP may not be as lucky as some might think.

Another surprise from 2014 was his steals total. Altuve swiped 56 bases and was only caught stealing 9 times. His 56 steals in 2014 was quite a jump from 35 in 2013. The number of steals isn't as surprising as was his success rate. 56 steals can be largely attributed to his higher number of hits and higher OBP. His success rate of 86% was much higher than his previous two season percentages of 73% and 75%. We'll have to see if that's something he can keep up.


When should you draft Jose Altuve?

With Houston having significant power behind him this season (George Springer, Chris Carter, and Evan Gattis) we should see Altuve's run total rise. This should help his stock quite a bit in 5x5 leagues considering he'll battle with Dee Gordon for the highest amount of steals among second baseman in 2015, and should be a .300 or better hitter. Where you draft Jose Altuve is completely dependent on what strategy you have entering the season. If you're looking for a guy with a high average, steals, and runs, then Altuve is your guy to target. If you're looking for a second baseman with power, look at grabbing Brian Dozier or Anthony Rendon. Let's take a look at the projections.

Projection

AVG

HR

RBI

Runs

SB

Steamer

.299

9

62

84

35

Myself

.309

8

57

95

42



I have Jose Altuve as my top second baseman entering 2015 simply because I believe he will keep a .300+ average and keep his steals up. I'm also expecting a rise in his runs total with Springer, Gattis, and Carter hitting behind him. Regardless of the change in his swing, repeating his 2014 season is probably unlikely. However, I think people are taking too much credit away from Altuve entering 2015.

All data courtesy of FanGraphs.