Jose Altuve's Performance Has Been Even More Impressive This Season

So far, the 2017 Jose Altuve has been hitting like the 2016 Jose Altuve, which is fantastic news. What's made it interesting, though, is how he's done it.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has built his reputation upon being a hit machine, but he took things to another level during the 2016 season.

After needing 2,932 plate appearances between 2011-15 to hit 36 home runs and post a cumulative Isolated Power (ISO) of .110, it took him just 717 trips to the plate to launch 24 balls over the wall, while finishing with a career-high .194 ISO last year.

This led to career highs in a number of different areas on his stat sheet, with his 6.7 fWAR and third-place finish in AL MVP voting jumping off the page. After such a successful year from an individual standpoint, the big question would be whether or not he could replicate that production again in 2017.

So far, so good, but his current campaign is even more impressive, considering how he's accomplishing it.

New Year, Same Results

When we compare some of Altuve's stats from 2016 to what he's done this season, it seems like more of the same story. The below table compares his OPS, Isolated Power (ISO), home-run-to-fly-ball ratio (HR/FB%), strikeout rate (K%), walk rate (BB%), wOBA, and wRC+ during this time.

2016 717 .928 .194 13.0% 9.8% 8.4% .391 150
2017 299 .939 .205 14.3% 13.4% 9.4% .397 153

Outside of an increase in his strikeout rate, each of these statistics have improved compared to last year. While it would've been tough to expect something like that considering how dominant he was across the board, it also shouldn't be surprising considering Altuve is in the midst of his age-27 season, with his physical prime fast approaching.

As mentioned before, the sustainability of his power emergence was likely the biggest question, but so far, his ISO has shown us that it's not going anywhere.

What has changed, though, is the fact that he's arriving at either the same or better overall numbers in 2017 without similar peripherals to back it up.

But With Some Different Peripherals

In 2016, opposing pitchers recorded a first-pitch strike against Altuve 61.1% of the time, which was a single-season career low. That number has ballooned up to 69.2% in 2017, which is on pace to be a single-season career high. Getting into an 0-1 count instead of a 1-0 count changes the entire complexion of any plate appearance, and it's shown up in Altuve's batted-ball profile.

The below table displays the changes in his line-drive rate (LD%), ground-ball rate (GB%), fly-ball rate (FB%), pull rate (Pull%) and hard-hit hit rate (Hard%).

Year PA LD% GB% FB% Pull% Hard%
2016 717 26.2% 41.6% 32.2% 45.3% 33.8%
2017 299 17.1% 51.4% 31.5% 38.5% 26.5%

His fly-ball rate has largely stayed the same -- which bodes well for his new-found ability to hit homers -- but that's about it. And if we dive in a little deeper, we can see how he's been able to sustain last season's performance.

The frequency with which he's hitting line drives has taken a dive, but his .725 wOBA in this situation is higher than last year's .678 mark, mostly because his 47.4% hard-hit rate is on pace to be a career high. Fewer line drives is never a good thing, but he's at least making the most of the ones he's hitting.

This is the only area he's seen sizable growth, though.

Altuve's wOBA on ground balls has spiked (.334 so far in '17, .254 in '16), but he hasn't seen a similar rise in hard-hit rate (17.5% in '17, 16.8% in '16). However, the drop in how well he's hitting fly balls is even more troubling. His overall performance when getting balls in the air hasn't changed much yet, but it's difficult to not be concerned upon seeing his hard-hit rate has dropped from 48.4% last year to the 28.6% mark it's currently at.

So, in a sense, he's been fortunate that his overall numbers have gotten better, while being supported with a .358 BABIP.

Is it time to get concerned for Altuve moving forward? Probably not -- he's shown an ability to be a successful hitter with a suppressed hard-hit rate, but it's definitely something to keep in mind as we approach the dog days of summer.