On Track for Third A.L. Batting Title, Can Jose Altuve Hit .400?

Jose Altuve's the best player in baseball.
Jose Altuve's the best player in baseball. Eric Sauseda
Jose Altuve is a two-time American League batting champion. He's been to five All Star games. He has won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence. He's won the Silver Slugger award three times, and he's twice led the American League in stolen bases. (And hey, he also stars in television commercials.)

It's easy to take Altuve for granted since he rarely takes days off and consistently hits above .300. He may always deliver at bat and in the field, but still, fans need to recognize that Altuve's 2017 season is, at this point, one for the ages — the MLB Network is even speculating about his chances to hit .400 for the season.

Altuve is currently hitting .365, better than anyone else in the majors. He's hitting a scorching .494 in July and riding an 18-game hit streak in which he's hitting .531. He leads the league with 141 hits, has scored 72 runs and has 59 RBIs.

The national media has latched onto Altuve this week, calling him the best player in baseball — referencing his hitting streak, and impressive numbers despite his small stature. They talked about his role in propelling the Astros to a 67-34 record and to a 17-game lead in the AL West. Richard Justice wrote a story Thursday about Altuve's continued growth as a player and how he strives to improve every season. Deadspin wrote about how he has arguably been the best player in baseball for several years.

This current Astros team is arguably the most talented one in club history. Carlos Correa has put up great numbers, while George Springer is springing into superstardom. But the obvious leader of the pack is Altuve, and though he has seemingly been with the Astros forever (he was called up in 2011), he is still only 27 years old. In his seven big league seasons, Altuve has accumulated 1,187 hits (that's approximately 170 hits a season, though the number is probably closer to 200 when you account for his spending most of 2011 in the minors and there still being 61 games left this season). He has a career slash line of .317/.362/.451.

"There's no way to get him out," Astros manager A.J. Hinch told Richard Justice. "You can find a hole with most Major League hitters. [With] Jose, it's as much a mystery to us as it is to our opponents."

Jeff Bagwell is joining Craig Biggio in the Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend. They're the only two Astros enshrined. But judging by Altuve's career so far, he may one day join them in Cooperstown.

The question then becomes a simple one: Will Jose Altuve go into the books as not only the greatest Astros player ever, but one of the best baseball players ever? He's still relatively young, and he is improving his game every season.

"The one thing you learn about him is that he is never satisfied," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa told Justice.

It used to be a discussion every season whether Rod Carew or George Brett would eclipse the .400 mark for the first time since Ted Williams in 1941. Neither accomplished the feat. If Altuve's bat stays hot, he'll soon have .400 in his sights.
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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal