Batting Champ Altuve Still Underrated

added 10/8/2014 by Greg Thurston

Jose Altuve's .341 batting average was the best in the majors in 2014. The numbers don't lie. The batting title helped Altuve gain some respect as one of the best hitters in baseball but the Astros' second baseman is still underrated in other areas - especially defensively.

Altuve has worked hard on his defense and has become one of the better second-basemen in the league. But don't expect him to be honored with a Rawlings Gold Glove Award any time soon. The award was little more than a popularity contest for the first 56 years of its existence. Raphael Palmeiro was the American League winner at first base in 1999 despite playing only 28 games at the position and Adam Everett's incredible 2006 season was somehow overlooked.

So, in an effort to further legitimize the award, Rawlings finally added a sabermetric component last year. In 2013, the SABR Defensive Index (SDI) comprised approximately 25 percent of the overall selection total. Unfortunately, like many defensive metrics, that particular statistic is seriously flawed.

As Jeff Passan pointed out in a recent article questioning the validity of WAR, the defensive metrics currently in place do not count plays in which a defensive shift is being employed. With the Astros leading the league in shifts, that puts Altuve at a distinct disadvantage.

As a result, Fangraphs calculates a dWAR of -10.1 for Altuve. Meanwhile, Howie Kendrick is credited with a dWAR of 8.8 and Ian Kinsler comes in at 15.4. The SDI totals are similar, with Altuve ranking dead last among A.L. second sackers. But a closer look at the raw data tells us that Altuve ranked third among his peers with 459 assists and second with 268 putouts. Altuve had a hand in .5336 outs per inning played. Kinsler is only slightly better at .5353 and Kendrick is considerably off the pace at .4855. Altuve also led the league with 105 double plays. Not exactly numbers befitting the league's worst second baseman. I'd argue quite the opposite, in fact.

On the offensive side of the ledger, Altuve put up a combination of numbers that hadn't been seen in the big leagues in nearly 100 years. But Jose's historic season isn't likely to garner much attention from the MVP voters.

I'm not hearing the name Altuve being mentioned in the early MVP discussions. Maybe that's because he played on a team that was never in contention for a playoff spot. Or maybe it's because people still view the 2014 batting champ as nothing more than a singles hitter. For those in the latter group, I offer up the following statistics.

Altuve had 25 more hits than any other player in the majors. His 56 stolen bases were 17 more than his nearest American League competitor. His 47 doubles ranked third in the majors and his 7.5% strikeout rate was second. Of the 39 big league players with at least 20 stolen bases this season, only two (Michael Brantley and Carlos Gomez) had a higher OPS than Altuve's .830. Only two others finished above .800.

Want more? Altuve's 225 hits ranked 57th all-time for hits in one season but jumps to 13th-best if you count only seasons after 1950 when modern-day concepts like night baseball, relief specialists, international talent and coast-to-coast travel began to take shape.

Amazingly, Jose compiled 69 multi-hit games during the season, which also topped the majors. That's 44% of the games he played in.

I could go on all day marvelling at Altuve's 2014 statistics. The man had an incredible season. It would be nice to see Jose finish in the top five in the MVP voting, but that's probably not going to happen. Maybe I'm wrong, but Houston players generally don't get that kind of respect.