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Entries in Jose Altuve (2)


Jose Altuve Shortens His Strike Zone

At a listed five-foot-five, Houston's Jose Altuve faces an uphill climb to big league success. He's the most vertically-challenged hitter in the majors since Al Montreuil had a cup of coffee with the Cubs four decades ago. And the list of short guys with good bats and meaningful careers is, well, short. According to Baseball-Reference, Topsy Hartsel, Willie Keeler, Bill Keister, Charlie Duffee and Albie Pearson are the only batters standing 5-foot-5 or under with at least a league-average OPS while getting at least 2,000 career plate appearances. The first four of those fellows began their careers before the Spanish-American War and the Wright Brothers' famous flight.

While Altuve has a tall task in front of him, he raked in the minors (.327/.326/.481) and has shown improvement with Houston in 2012 after a shaky rookie stint last year. Altuve had an 81 OPS+ in 2011. But in 2012, he has a 174 OPS+. A major reason for the uptick is improved plate patience: Altuve has already drawn seven walks in 77 plate appearances after taking just five free passes in 234 plate appearances in 2011.

Altuve has one of the smallest natural strike zones this side of Eddie Gaedel, but he made it much bigger than it had to be last year by swinging at anything from his eyes to his ankles:

Altuve's swing rate by pitch location, 2011

The Astros' second baseman swung at 42% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, one of the ten highest rates in the majors and much higher than the 28% MLB average. This year, however, Altuve is showing a far more selective approach at the plate:

Altuve's swing rate by pitch location, 2012

His chase rate is down to 23% in 2012. That, combined with a decrease in his number of cuts on in-zone pitches, means that Altuve has boosted his average number of pitches seen per plate appearance from 3.06 last year to 3.92 (the MLB average is about 3.8). History shows it's hard for little guys to last in the majors. But Altuve could have a long, productive career if he can complement his contact skills with a good eye.



Altuve's Short Plate Appearances

Since signing with the Astros out of Venezuela in 2007, Jose Altuve has gone from pint-sized novelty act to a prominent part of the team's rebuilding efforts. The 5-foot-7 second baseman, a career .327/.386/.481 minor league hitter, made his MLB debut in late July and holds a .322/.336/.400 line so far in 121 plate appearances.

Altuve has succeeded to this point while swinging at just about everything. He has offered at about 54 percent of pitches seen overall, which is nine percentage points above the league average. Altuve might be short, but his strike zone is gigantic:

 Altuve's swing rate by pitch location

Altuve has chased 39 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, compared to the 28 percent league average. It's no surprise, then, that he has drawn all of two walks and has seen the fewest pitches per plate appearance (3.1) of any major leaguer with 100+ plate appearances.

Despite his hacking, Altuve has fared well due to a low strikeout rate (under 11 percent) and a +.350 batting average on balls in play. It will be interesting to see if the 21-year-old can continue to defy expectations with his aytypical hitting approach and small frame. The Hardball Times' Oliver projection system has Altuve becoming an above-average hitter in the years to come, posting near-.300 averages with a dash of power.

Should Altuve settle in as a quality batter, he would be in rare company among his vertically-challenged brethren: just 21 hitters in MLB history have posted an OPS+ above 100 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances) while standing 5-foot-7 or shorter, according to Baseball-Reference. And keep in mind that most of those guys played in the early 20th century, when the height of the average male was a couple of inches shorter than it is today. Joe Morgan, Yogi Berra, Don Buford, Albie Pearson and Bip Roberts are the only players on the list who played after World War II. Scouts have been selling Altuve short for years, though, so I wouldn't count him out.