When preparing for a new season, fantasy baseball enthusiasts are always wanting to know who is going to be the next big breakout player. Drafting or picking up a player on waivers for his breakout season gives fantasy owners a feeling of superiority, a feeling of omniscience in some sense. Whether that feeling is justified or not is another question. But even if your team comes in last place, you can take ownership that you “knew” Jose Bautista would bust out for 54 HR, or that your hunch that R.A. Dickey would knuckle his way into a Cy Young Award panned out. So at The Backwards K, there is a series of posts titled “This Year’s…” where I will tell you who I think this year’s version of a 2014 breakout player will be, providing some background and analysis.Embed from Getty Images
If you are a viewer of the television show The League, I think that we would be able to agree upon the notion that Jose Altuve is quite the firecracker, a real spark plug for the Astros. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I shall refer you to here. But in all seriousness, Altuve really has proven to be a spark plug and the brightest part of a failing team the past few years. Coming up through the Minors, Altuve displayed his contact making skills that has always been an integral part in his ability to hit for a high average. He possessed a .324 career Minor League average before being called up to the Majors in the middle of the 2011 season at the ripe age of 21. Altuve never played at AAA, which either suggests that the Astros were either really desperate to be calling up their young second base prospect, or that Altuve was just that good of a player that he was ready for the Majors. Well, it was probably a combination of the two and things have turned out pretty well for both parties.
Altuve’s performances in each of the 2011, 2012, and 2013 seasons were all pretty identical. He wasn’t threatening to win any batting titles, but he was proving to be a very useful and exciting player in both real life and fantasy. Over those seasons, Altuve hit for a .285 AVG with a very good 12.2% strikeout rate, and he showed that he could be an annual threat for 30+ SB. Those seasons can be viewed as learning experiences and growth time for Altuve, considering that he skipped AAA. So last year as a 24-year old, Altuve had his coming out party where won the AL batting crown as he hit for a .341 AVG with 7 HR, 59 RBI, 85 R, and 56 SB. The batting title that he earned was aided by the fact that he significantly decreased his strikeout rate, a rate that was previously already one of the better ones in the league. Altuve trimmed his strikeout rate all the way down to 7.5%, which was second to only Victor Martinez’ 6.6%. Putting the ball in play always gives you a better chance of getting a hit, as opposed to striking out being an absolute out outcome each time. But Altuve also received some good fortune with his BABIP. At .360, Altuve’s BABIP was the second highest in the league (Starling Marte had the highest at .373). Not much had changed for Altuve in his batted ball profile from the previous years except for the fact that he got infield hits at a little better rate. So he may have been fortunate to hit for such a high average, but there’s still no doubting that he has the skills to be a .300 hitter from year to year. The stolen base total of 56 was a significant increase from the previous years when his career high was 35. While he did attempt more steals on a per rate basis than the previous years, it was also the increase in hits and being on base so much more often that truly allowed him to break the 50 SB plateau. I am not meaning to take away anything from the great year that Altuve had, but I do just want to shed some light on his 2015 outlook. However even with regression, he appears to be locked in as a surefire top second baseman at the short height of 5 foot 5 inches tall.