Jose Altuve: Power Hitter

He’s listed at a generous 5-foot-6, and he’s never hit more than 15 homers, so when you look up and see that Jose Altuve has hit five home runs already this year, you really just want to shrug and sing a song of sample size. But if you’ve been watching for longer, you’ll have noticed that this has been a long time coming, and that under the hood we find reasons to believe that this young man is just growing into his power stroke.

Last year, Altuve added a leg kick that improved his ability to leverage his frame into more power. “I’m hitting the ball harder, not as many singles, more power,” he told me last year when we talked about the change. Starting the process earlier with a leg kick also helped him recognize pitches earlier, which helped keep his strikeout rate down even as he hit for more power.

A quick look at what the change has looked like for Altuve. First, his swing in 2012:

And then again in 2015:

Another part of hitting for power is lifting the ball. Altuve has quietly increased his fly-ball percentage every year he’s been in the big leagues. Watch his ground-ball rate (in green) take that dive:

5417_2B_season_mini_9_20160420

In more new-fangled language, he’s upped his launch angle over time, and he’s continued that process this year. He’s already moved his launch angle from 9.2 degrees on average last year to 10.8 so far this year. And the percentage of his balls in play in the ideal home-run range (25-30 degrees) plus ideal line-drive range (10-25 degrees) has increased from 28% last year to 40% this year.

And the rest of the picture is how hard he’s hitting the ball. Not only is Altuve ninth in baseball in exit velocity, he’s improved more than anyone. Here are the players who’ve recorded at least 30 balls in play this year — significant because exit velocity stabilizes around 40-50 balls in play — and improved their exit velocity the most over last year.

This Year’s Biggest Exit Velocity Improvers
Player 2015 BIP 2016 BIP 2015 Exit Velo 2016 Exit Velo Difference
Jose Altuve 530 44 86.2 94.5 8.3
J.J. Hardy 278 33 87.9 94.2 6.3
Scooter Gennett 255 33 85.1 90.8 5.7
Derek Norris 335 31 87.5 93.0 5.5
David Freese 298 39 89.4 94.8 5.4
Kole Calhoun 424 35 86.4 91.6 5.2
Ryan Howard 310 33 91.7 96.8 5.1
Nick Markakis 452 42 89.1 94.1 5.0
Mike Moustakas 406 41 90.0 94.2 4.2
Yasmany Tomas 252 34 90.2 94.4 4.2
B.J. Upton 123 33 88.2 92.3 4.1
Carlos Gonzalez 371 46 90.9 95.0 4.1
Starlin Castro 408 39 86.6 90.4 3.8
Adonis Garcia 148 32 89.5 93.0 3.5
Jean Segura 389 42 87.2 90.7 3.5
Freddy Galvis 403 40 85.7 89.1 3.4
Francisco Cervelli 327 37 88.1 91.4 3.3
Yadier Molina 391 40 86.5 89.8 3.3
Anthony Rizzo 434 36 89.1 92.2 3.1
Brandon Phillips 460 36 86.5 89.5 3.0
SOURCE: Statcast
BIP = Balls in Play
Exit Velo = Velocity off the bat, in MPH

Because Altuve has a long history of lesser power, the projections have him falling behind the league-average power that he showed last year. But, given what we know about exit velocities and launch angles generally — and Altuve’s exit velocities and launch angles specifically — it’s probably more reasonable to expect something that starts with last year’s power as a baseline. And if you do that, you’ll find that it’s more likely that Altuve hits 20 home runs this year than 16.

And if Altuve does that, he’ll likely become the sixth person since 2000 — joining Hanley Ramirez, Mike Trout, Eric Byrnes, and Carlos Beltran — to record 20 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season. And if he does all of that, Altuve will become only the second player (besides Jimmy Rollins, who managed it in 2007) since 1980 to record a 20/40 season at a listed height of 5-foot-7 or less.

He’d also zoom to the top of another leaderboard, hitting the eighth-most home runs for a hitter 5-foot-8 or shorter, behind Rollins (four times), Ray Durham, Dustin Pedroia, and Marcus Giles.

Yeah, you can call him a power hitter.

Best Power Seasons By a Player 5-foot-8 or Shorter
Name Height Season PA HR SB ISO BABIP wRC+ WAR
Jimmy Rollins 67 2007 778 30 41 0.235 0.300 119 6.5
Ray Durham 68 2006 555 26 7 0.245 0.291 126 3.6
Jimmy Rollins 67 2006 758 25 36 0.200 0.281 103 4.3
Jimmy Rollins 67 2012 699 23 30 0.177 0.262 101 4.7
Jimmy Rollins 67 2009 725 21 31 0.173 0.251 85 2.6
Dustin Pedroia 68 2011 731 21 26 0.167 0.325 133 7.8
Marcus Giles 68 2003 635 21 14 0.211 0.337 139 6.7
Ray Durham 68 2001 691 20 23 0.200 0.294 108 3.9
Ray Durham 68 1998 723 19 36 0.170 0.315 115 3.2
Jimmy Rollins 67 2014 609 17 28 0.151 0.269 102 3.8
Dustin Pedroia 68 2008 726 17 20 0.167 0.331 127 6.3
Ray Durham 68 2004 542 17 10 0.202 0.291 120 3.1
Ray Durham 68 2000 709 17 25 0.169 0.310 105 2.7
Jimmy Rollins 67 2011 631 16 30 0.131 0.275 103 3.6
Jose Altuve 66 2015 689 15 38 0.146 0.329 120 4.3
Since 1980 — data fully complete since 1999.

We hoped you liked reading Jose Altuve: Power Hitter by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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A Flock of Seagers
Member
A Flock of Seagers

What about just guys 5-6 and under?

Yirmiyahu
Member

Hack Wilson hit 56 homers in 1930.

jruby
Member
Member
jruby

Yeah, but, that was 1930 inches. Inflation and whatnot…

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

If anything, that makes it less impressive because average height has increased.