Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has improbably found a way to top his already impressive career.
The 26-year-old is batting .357 with a .427 OBP and .990 OPS this season — all career-highs by a wide margin.
Additionally, Altuve has discovered power, seemingly out of nowhere, as he’s already hit 15 home runs and 54 RBIs, on pace to break his own personal-bests of 15 and 66, respectively.
While Altuve is still young and improving, he’s also made a point to make adjustments to his approach in the batter’s box each year, so as not to become complacent. This year, his adjustment was mental as he told USA Today’s Jorge L. Ortiz.
“Every year since 2012, which was my first full season, I’ve changed something,” Altuve said.
“ is when I realised you should be pleased with what you’re doing, but not be satisfied. There’s always something to improve. … This year I’m trying to drive the ball regardless of how many strikes I have in the count.”
What Altuve is referring to is a mental switch to be more patient when he’s in the box.
In baseball, it’s common to see batters refuse to simply watch a pitch when they have two strikes in the count. With the at-bat on the line, batters tend to swing rather than go down looking. But Altuve is being more picky about his pitches, and it’s working.
According to Fangraphs, this season Altuve is swinging at 46.3% of pitches, down from 52% and 51% in the previous two seasons. Perhaps more importantly, his percentage of swings at pitches outside the strike zone is down to 31% from 37.7% and 35.9% in the previous two seasons.
Altuve told Ortiz, “I’m no longer afraid of being called out on strikes. If it’s not the pitch I want, I’ll let it go. It was a matter of changing my mentality, not my swing.”
And surprisingly, Altuve’s strike-out percentage is actually down from last season, dropping from 9.7% in 2015 to 9.3% this year.
Altuve, who is leading the majors in batting average, looks like an obvious contender for the hitting crown and perhaps MVP, thanks to newfound power and newfound patience. And with the Astros surging since May, the baseball world should be frightened that Altuve keeps finding ways to improve.
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