You look at Jose Altuve's numbers and laugh. They do not seem real. They are the stuff of video games: .431 batting average on the road, .494 in July, .365 overall, tops in the Major Leagues.Altuve is on a hitting streak, too -- one he extended to a career-high 18
You look at Jose Altuve's numbers and laugh. They do not seem real. They are the stuff of video games: .431 batting average on the road, .494 in July, .365 overall, tops in the Major Leagues.
Altuve is on a hitting streak, too -- one he extended to a career-high 18 games on Wednesday in Philadelphia. He's hitting .513 during the streak.
This is insane even by the standards of a two-time American League batting champion and someone who has 112 more hits than any other Major Leaguer since Opening Day 2014.
Altuve does all of this with a infectious joy -- the product of his love for the game and having made it after an array of scouts watched him as a kid in his native Venezuela and decided that he was too small.
Altuve is 5-foot-6. He may also be on his way to beating out 6-foot-7 Yankee rookie Aaron Judge for the AL Most Valuable Player Award. Altuve certainly has closed the gap with this month's insane hot streak.
"He can handle any pitch, any time, any location," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "He can handle bad balls. He can handle balls in the strike zone. Breaking balls don't bother him."
Cubs hitting coach John Mallee, Altuve's former hitting coach with the Astros, occasionally tears up when he talks about his onetime pupil's relentless pursuit of greatness.
"Never satisfied," Mallee said, "and you may never see someone with quicker hand-eye coordination."
Or as Altuve's friend and role model, Victor Martinez of the Tigers, a fellow Venezuelan, said, "His preparation is just unbelievable."
As for Mallee, he declines to take credit for Altuve's success, but that would not be accurate. After Altuve hit .283 in 2013, he was unsatisfied with his game. So he changed pretty much everything.
Altuve lost weight and focused on nutrition and strength. And with Mallee's help, he came up with a daily routine that consisted of video study and hours of work in batting cages.
Altuve found another level and won his first batting championship, hitting .341 in 2014. Mallee left for the Cubs after that season, and Altuve has continued to fine-tune his preparation and approach.
"The one thing you learn about him is that he's never satisfied," Astros shortstop Carlos Correa said.
Even watching him collect 782 hits the past four seasons -- Colorado's Charlie Blackmon is the next-closest Major Leaguer with 670 -- Altuve's friends and teammates say they're constantly amazed by his ability to adjust to pitches up or down, in or out and to make contact.
Altuve is hitting .381 on four-seam fastballs, .244 on curveballs, .275 on sliders. Regardless of the pitch, when a pitcher leaves a ball in his hitting zone, Altuve does not miss often.
"There's no one way to get him out," Hinch said. "You can find a hole with most Major League hitters. [With] Jose, it's as much a mystery to us as it is to our opponents."
Altuve broke into the big leagues in 2011, when Houston was beginning a stretch of three straight 100-loss seasons. Since then, he has seen the franchise evolve into one of baseball's best teams, with a 2017 record of 67-34 and a 17-game lead in the AL Central entering a weekend series in Detroit.
Hinch's favorite Altuve story happened moments after the Astros had lost an AL Division Series to the Royals in 2015.
"He came in my office and was very upset and took complete responsibility for not playing well during the series," Hinch said. "I wanted to remind him, 'You're the reason we're here, not the reason we lost.' I hope that type of approach never goes away."
When Altuve, 27, made his fifth AL All-Star team earlier this month, he said he was still growing and that the ultimate measure of a player isn't a handful of All-Star Games, but a decade's worth of them.
Altuve said that's the thing the separates some players from others. And having lived through the bad times, Houston still has some unfinished postseason business.
Meanwhile, Altuve continues to spray hits around the diamond. In his past 16 games, he has had more than one hit 13 times, including three hits six times and four hits twice.
Those who are around Altuve every day have run out of words to describe what they're seeing.
"Amazing," Hinch said. "I don't know how else to describe it."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.