Breaking Down Jose Altuve’s (Somewhat Milder) ALCS Struggles

© Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Part 2 of my new series, How Did Jose Altuve Hit in the Last 36 Innings? For those of you who missed Part 1, the answer last time was, well, badly enough to write a whole article about it!

Here in Part 2, I’m happy to report that Altuve’s performance over the most recent 36 innings has been upgraded to “still bad, but with reasons for optimism.”

Before we dig in, I should probably mention that Altuve is excellent. His playoff struggles are notable because he’s normally so fantastic at the plate. He posted a 164 wRC+ this year, fourth among qualified batters. He’s a great hitter. Now let’s talk about why he’s not hitting so great right now.

In my previous installment, I broke down how the Mariners pitched Altuve during the ALDS and his resulting performance. I’ll do the same for the ALCS and then take a look at what he can expect from the Phillies in the World Series. Here’s how Altuve has fared so far in 2022:

Jose Altuve Batting – 2022
Regular Season 10.9% 14.4% .300 .387 .533 .397
ALDS 5.9% 35.3% .000 .059 .000 .041
ALCS 11.1% 27.8% .188 .278 .250 .245

Altuve went 3-for-16 with two walks and five strikeouts in the ALCS. While that obviously isn’t great, it’s miles ahead of his production in the ALDS. Let’s take a look at his plate discipline numbers:

Jose Altuve Plate Discipline – 2022
Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
Regular Season 31.4% 65.0% 43.8% 76.8% 91.0% 84.6% 44.2%
ALDS 56.2% 84.0% 68.4% 66.7% 81.0% 74.4% 43.9%
ALCS 30.4% 45.8% 35.7% 71.4% 90.9% 80% 34.3%

The Yankees threw just 34.3% of their pitches in the zone against Altuve, as opposed to 40.7% against the rest of the Astros. It’s hard to say how much intention there was behind that number since their overall zone rate also was down significantly from their regular season mark of 47.7%. Either way, the good news is that Altuve’s plate discipline and contact numbers were much closer to his season norms. Although he went into Game 1 hacking, he was no longer swinging at everything. Perhaps due to an effort to be more selective, Altuve swung at fewer strikes than usual.

In Game 1, Jameson Taillon started him off with a four-seam fastball right over the heart of the plate; Altuve didn’t miss it by much, flying out to center. He also swung at the first pitch in his second plate appearance, a sinker low and inside off the plate. He ended up drawing a walk, crucially laying off two sinkers low and away in the process.

Before moving on to his batted ball stats, it’s worth noting that Altuve had three called strikes on pitches outside and off the plate, tied with three others for the most in the ALCS. Indeed, 4.3% of the pitches he saw went as strikes despite being outside the zone. Now on to his batted ball stats:

Jose Altuve Batted Ball Stats- 2022
Regular Season 20.4% 41.0% 38.7% 12.0% 85.9 16.1 .397 .354
ALDS 0.0% 30.0% 70.0% 50.0% 79.4 40.8 .041 .099
ALCS 18.2% 63.4% 18.2% 9.1% 78.2 6.3 .245 .247
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There’s plenty of good news here as well. Altuve hit two line drives, and he didn’t pop up half his balls in play. The bad news is that he still didn’t hit the ball hard. One of his line drives was a weak single that just made it over Anthony Rizzo’s head. The second was by no means a rocket, but it was a nice piece of hitting. He stayed with an outside slider, reaching out and slapping it down the line for a double:

Altuve did have three hard-hit balls, one of which was well and truly ripped, so he was just about in line with his hard-hit rate on the season. (Four of the five balls he hit over 85 mph were groundouts.)

While still nowhere close to his normal production level, Altuve was miles better in the ALCS than in the ALDS, and looked much closer to the player we know:

Pitch charts that show the Mariners throwing sinkers inside, and the Yankees throwing four-seamers outside.

Surprisingly, the Yankees seemed completely uninterested in the approach that kept Altuve hitless in the ALDS, aside from hoping he’d chase breaking balls down and away. Altuve didn’t see more sinkers than the rest of the Astros. He saw just 10 pitches up and in, and two of them were bad misses. The Yankees didn’t try to tempt Altuve with four-seamers above the zone at all. Instead, they threw them outside, usually off the plate. Altuve only whiffed on one of them.

Taillon threw just one sinker inside to Altuve in Game 1. Altuve chased and fouled off the pitch even though it was well off the plate, but Taillon never tested him there again. Lou Trivino, who relieved Taillon, likewise threw one inside sinker to Altuve, drew a chase and a foul, and never tried it again. Altuve only saw two pitches on the inner third in Game 2, and both were misses.

Game 2 and 3 starters Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole don’t throw two-seamers, and both were content to challenge Altuve away. It wasn’t until Game 4 that Altuve was attacked on the inner half. Lefty Nestor Cortes threw four-seamers outside and off the plate, and when Altuve didn’t bite, he threw cutters and sweepers inside.

Once Cortes left the game, catcher Jose Trevino began setting up on the inside edge, just below the top of the zone, right where the Mariners had attacked Altuve. In the fourth inning, Wandy Peralta came inside with a four-seamer and a slider, inducing a weak groundout. In the seventh inning, Jonathan Loáisiga hit the spot with a sinker and an even weaker grounder, but Altuve was able to beat him to the bag for a single. In the ninth, Clay Holmes, who throws his sinker over 80% of the time, threw Altuve five in a row. He wasn’t able locate one on the inside corner until the fifth pitch, by which time Trevino had given up and just stuck his glove in the middle of the plate. Altuve hit the aforementioned weak line drive over the first baseman for his third hit of the series.

Attacking Altuve on the outside edge and shadow, as the Yankees did, certainly isn’t a bad plan. During the regular season, Altuve had a wOBA of .286 against pitches there, compared to his .397 overall wOBA. He fares better if you only look at four-seamers, but at that point the sample includes just 10 balls in play.

Altuve has a tough challenge ahead of him in the World Series. Below are pitch charts for Philadelphia’s top three starters when facing righties this season:

Pitch charts for Nola, Wheeler and Suarez, facing righties

They throw an awful lot of pitches in the spots where both the Mariners and Yankees chose to challenge Altuve. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia’s aces, both use four-seamers away as their primary weapon against right-handed batters. They throw sinkers roughly 20% of the time. Nola keeps his on the outer half, but against righties Wheeler ups his sinker usage to 32.5% and attacks the inside corner. Nola also throws a changeup inside to righties, using it 12.6% of the time.

Meanwhile, third starter Ranger Suárez has been fantastic in his three postseason appearances. Suárez leads with his sinker and isn’t afraid to throw it anywhere. The lefty will look to come inside with his cutter and four-seamer, then follow with a change low and away.

Altuve’s ability to hit the inside fastball will be tested in the late innings. Philadelphia has leaned heavily on relievers José Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez throughout the playoffs. Alvarado lives on the inside part of the plate, throwing sinkers and cutters almost exclusively. He throws the cutter when he’s ahead in the count and the sinker when he’s behind. Domínguez generally throws a four-seamer away and a sinker inside, but he’s comfortable locating each pitch on either side of the plate. He’ll throw his slider down and away when even or ahead in the count.

Before we end this installment and anxiously await Altuve’s next 36 innings, it’s worth taking a moment to put his performance in context. So far, 106 players have had at least eight postseason plate appearances. On average, their wOBA has been 19.1% lower than it was in the regular season. Altuve’s is down 63.2%, which puts him near the bottom. The league has a wOBA of .283 in the postseason. Altuve’s .254 wOBA in the ALCS is much more in line with that number, and he still has time to improve.

Altuve has had a dozen four-game stretches with a .254 wOBA this year, and he still managed to put up a .397 wOBA overall. Both his swings and his takes looked better in the ALCS. It seems like he at least has a fighting chance going into the World Series like the Jose Altuve we’ve come to expect.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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1 year ago

Is it just me or should a 10.9% walk rate (alds) yield at least a .109 obp? He’s down for .059 obp.