Astros' Jose Altuve Is on a Hall of Fame Path

Jose Altuve is chasing history, and chasing Craig Biggio.
Jose Altuve is chasing history, and chasing Craig Biggio.
Photo by Marco Torres

Sometimes greatness comes in the unlikeliest of packages at the least likely time. When Jose Altuve was first called up to the big leagues, it was during the second half of the 2011 season, which was really the first full season of the teardown that would lead to a four-year rebuild of the Houston Astros' minor league system and, eventually, the big-league club.

Altuve hit .276 in 57 games that season as a 21-year-old rookie, and on a roster of young players that were all thought to be placeholders for soon-to-be-drafted better young players, Altuve was the one guy in whom you could see traces of an everyday major leaguer on that 2011 team. Maybe not an All-Star, but a guy who could play a credible second base and handle a bat.

Then, in 2012 and 2013, while the Astros were averaging 53 wins a season, Altuve increased his batting average to a two-year average of .286. While the baseball earth was swallowing the Astros whole, Altuve managed to survive a tumble into the abyss, and represented the Astros in an All-Star Game. The serviceable big leaguer was becoming more than just a cute little story.

Then came 2014, in which Altuve took his game to the next level, winning a batting title (.341) with 225 hits and 56 stolen bases. He was now an All-Star for more reasons than just the existence of the "every team must have at least one All-Star" rule. Altuve was an impact player. By 2015, the Astros were actually winning baseball games, and making the postseason, and Altuve hit .313 and, for his next trick, added a power stroke to his repertoire, hitting 15 home runs to go with 40 doubles. 

Now, here we are in 2016, and the 5-foot-6 bundle of energy, the one-time 21-year-old who was going to be a rudimentary cog in helping the trains run on time in a big-league lineup, is now, at age 26, perhaps the best player in the American League, certainly one of the top four or five. Altuve's further trick that he's added this season? A keen eye at the plate, which has led to 44 walks, already a career high for a full season with two months to go. He is leading the league in hitting and on base percentage, and already has his career high in homers as well (17, as of Tuesday night).

So now, halfway through season six of the Altuve era, it bears watching how Jose Altuve compares to the all-time greats at his position, the modern Hall of Fame second basemen — Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg. 

As of Monday night this week, here are the numbers for all five through 767 games played in the Major Leagues: 

JOSE ALTUVE, 2011-present
Age   G    AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     SB     BB     SO     BA    OBP    SLG    OPS
26    767  3111  416  970  188     17       53     286    194    190   348    .312    .354    .435    .789

ROBERTO ALOMAR, 1988-1993
Age   G    AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     SB     BB     SO     BA    OBP    SLG    OPS
25    767 2985  441 867  147      31      39     304     193    294   372    .290  .354    .400    .754         

CRAIG BIGGIO, 1988-1993
Age   G   AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     SB     BB     SO     BA     OBP    SLG    OPS
27    767 2754 387  754  140    15       46      242     123    318    408   .274   .351      .386    .737    

JOE MORGAN, 1963-1971
Age   G    AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     SB     BB     SO     BA    OBP    SLG    OPS
27    767 2824 467  746    119    48      51      242     163    514    326    .264  .378    .394     .772

RYNE SANDBERG, 1981-1986
Age  G     AB     R     H     2B     3B     HR     RBI     SB     BB     SO     BA    OBP    SLG    OPS
26   767  3050 483 874   147    37      73      334    181    234    435   .287    .337     .431    .768 

A few observations on these numbers...

1. Altuve leads this group at this juncture of their careers in the following categories: hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting average (by 22 points!), slugging and OPS. He is second in home runs and on-base percentage.

2. The only categories in which Altuve trails significantly are home runs (20 behind Sandberg, whose career was front-loaded with an MVP season in 1984), and walks (behind everybody on this list, because Altuve hardly ever walked until this season).

3. Altuve's three-year batting average of .335 from 2014 through 2016, as he is heading into his prime, would seem to be a gateway to Altuve's making a run at some serious climbs up the all-time leader charts if he is able to continue this pace into his early and mid-thirties, as Biggio was able to. (I doubt Altuve is ever going to play the outfield, for the record.)

4. Altuve makes $17 million in 2017, 2018 and 2019...combined. The Astros may need to do a "James Harden deal" with Altuve in which they bump him up the next few years to get him locked in beyond 2019. 

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.    


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