They say the best things come in small packages. In the case of Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, a very good thing has come in an exceptionally small package. At just 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds, Altuve is the shortest active player in Major League Baseball, but he is making the biggest impact on this postseason.
What is it about Altuve that makes him so good? How is he able to make plays like his 6-foot-4 middle infield counterpart Carlos Correa? How does someone who’s barely 66 inches tall hit 20-plus homers in a year? There are a few things that make Altuve the transcendent talent that he is. Some things are physical, others mental. Let’s examine.
When you’re not very big, it’s easy to get down on a groundball. Altuve has this working for him. However, the thing he has working against him is the ability to use his body as a backstop if he does get a bad hop. Despite his size, Altuve can play in front of the lip of the outfield grass to play the true hop of the ball on the infield dirt. Even still, he has the range to field the baseball behind second base and make the throw to first on the shortstop side of the bag.
During the 2017 season, Altuve belted 24 home runs and slugged a career-best .547. How, you ask? In short, he’s really strong. The bat Altuve swings is 33 inches and 31 ounces. Relative to his height and weight, that’s a log. No other major leaguer swings a bat that is exactly half his height.
Not only can Altuve swing the lumber through the zone, he can still extend his arms despite his big bat. For example, New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hits balls so far because of his size. He has long arms and when he extends them, the point of contact is so far from it body that the ball is nearly launched into orbit. Altuve is fantastic at extending his arms and hitting the ball as far away from his body as possible to create leverage and power.
It’s possible to be great at baseball, but have a low baseball IQ. This is absolutely not the case for Altuve. His anticipation and awareness of what’s happening around him is second to none. In the Astros’ 2-1 win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday night, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka bounced a sinker in front of catcher Gary Sanchez. The ball deflected off of Sanchez’s chest protector and bounced about 10 feet to his right. Before Sanchez was even on his feet, Altuve was halfway to second base because he had anticipated the ball in the dirt. Correa drove hime home later in the at-bat.
After Friday night, Altuve is 11-for 19 in the playoffs, with three home runs, four RBIs and six runs scored. It’s hard to argue that anybody else has, or will have, the effect Altuve is having on this postseason.
Photo by Brigham Berthold