Baker: Altuve will 'rise to the occasion'

September 23rd, 2020

With second baseman closing in on finishing what would be his poorest regular season at the plate, by far, in pro baseball, Astros manager Dusty Baker is standing by his struggling All-Star and continues to hold out hope Altuve can turn things around in October.

"He's Jose Altuve," Baker said. "He's always risen to the occasion. … The law of averages is on his side."

Altuve, a three-time American League batting champion and the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner, had a .215/.282/.314 slash line with three homers and 14 RBIs in 188 plate appearances entering Wednesday. Baker said he has no plans to drop Altuve lower in the lineup like he did for a couple of games earlier this year, even into the postseason.

"I did that earlier in the year and it didn't help him," Baker said. "It helped him to come back up [to the No. 2 spot]. He's hit some balls hard this last week. He's made contact. I'm thinking more in terms of he'll rise to the occasion. He's always been a big-game-guy. You get to the playoffs and you start your season all over again."

Altuve's chase rate is 35.5 percent, which is significantly higher than last year (30.0 percent), according to Statcast, while his chase contact rate (65.7 percent) has dropped from 2019 (68.6 percent). His strikeout rate is 19.7 percent, which is also up significantly from last year (15.0). Altuve was in the top 5 percent in the AL in the four previous years in whiff rate.

Astros hitting coach Troy Snitker said Altuve's struggles are "direction issues," and some inconsistencies in a swing can make a big difference.

"Right now, I see a Jose Altuve that feels like he's on the up," Snitker said. "I know he feels confident right now. He feels like he's going to finish his season strong, he feels he's going to carry us in the playoffs and throughout the rest of the year and down the stretch.

"I've seen a lot more consistent swings, even [Tuesday] night. He's just missing some balls to the outfield that are some high-quality swings, and the direction is better and he's barreling some balls and just missing them a tic. I see the swings getting more consistent and feeling more dangerous. It's definitely been on the up here."

Altuve has a very strong postseason resume, slashing .290/.345/.527 with 13 homers and 29 RBIs in 50 games, but he's never entered the playoffs in such a rut. But Altuve is not alone. The Astros' offense is a shell of what it was last year when it set the Major League record for slugging percentage.

Sure, the Astros have been without 2019 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner Yordan Alvarez basically all season, but down seasons from Altuve, Alex Bregman George Springer, Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick have reduced Houston's once-potent offense to middle-of-the-pack in the AL.

"It's been a little difficult to get a bunch of guys locked in and keep them locked in for an extended period of time," Snitker said. "Some guys have been battling some stuff, be it their swing, fatigue, off-days, inconsistency. We've seen some bright spots from some guys and had some guys who have been consistent, and we've also had guys grinding away to try to get locked in and stay locked in. In a really short season, you don't have the length to get going and stay here. Sometimes hitters need time."