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Under the radar, this former MVP is killing it

@_dadler
September 16, 2019

The Astros have so many stars that there aren't enough headlines to go around. Alex Bregman is going to be an American League MVP Award finalist. Yordan Alvarez is a shoo-in for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are 1-2, in some order, in

The Astros have so many stars that there aren't enough headlines to go around. Alex Bregman is going to be an American League MVP Award finalist. Yordan Alvarez is a shoo-in for the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are 1-2, in some order, in the AL Cy Young Award race.

But what about their original superstar? What about José Altuve?

Altuve was always the headliner through his 2017 AL MVP Award-winning season, until knee and hamstring injuries and the meteoric rise of the Astros around him got in the way. But it's high time to pay attention again, as Houston rolls toward the playoffs.

Do you know just how good Altuve has been since he came back from the injured list? He's doing it all.

Altuve is mashing

Altuve has been great from the day he got back to the Astros, June 19. But he really took off in July. Over the last 2 1/2 months, he's been a top 10 hitter in baseball.

Altuve is batting .336/.385/.619 with 18 home runs and a 1.004 OPS in 64 games since the start of July. He has a 165 wRC+ -- that means he's been 65% better than league average at the plate.

Look at Altuve's 2019 stats now: a .302/.360/.552 slash line, a .912 OPS, a 141 wRC+ as a second baseman. He's among the top five qualified infielders in terms of offensive value this season, and it's a bunch of MVP Award contenders.

Infielders with the highest wRC+ in 2019
1) Alex Bregman (HOU): 164
2) Anthony Rendon (WSH): 161
3) Ketel Marte (ARI): 149
4) Pete Alonso (NYM): 142
5-T) Jose Altuve (HOU): 141
5-T) Freddie Freeman (ATL): 141

Altuve's 18 homers since July are just as many as his teammate Alvarez, who's been slugging since his first day in the big leagues. The 5-foot-6 Altuve has 28 on the year, a career high and a record for an Astros second baseman. Altuve has taken advantage of the Crawford Boxes in Houston, but he's also gone deep to all fields.

Altuve is flying

But Altuve's real value comes from all the different ways he can get on base. For him, anything can be a hit, because he can turn on the jets at any time.

Almost no one can get down the line like Altuve, and his speed has been a huge part of the surge he's on.

Statcast's Sprint Speed measures a player's top speed on the bases. MLB average sprint speed is 27 feet per second, and anything 30 feet per second or faster is elite. Altuve has 17 base hits this season on which he's reached that elite 30-plus territory. That leads the Major Leagues.

Most base hits with elite 30-plus feet per second sprint speed in 2019
1) Jose Altuve (HOU): 17
2) Delino DeShields (TEX): 15
3-T) Victor Robles (WSH): 14
3-T) Tim Locastro (ARI): 14
5-T) Starling Marte (PIT): 13
5-T) Mallex Smith (SEA): 13
MLB average sprint speed: 27 feet per second

Statcast tracks batters' home-to-first times, too. If you can go home to first in under four seconds -- especially if you're a right-handed hitter -- you've got top-tier speed. Well, Altuve also leads the Majors in hits with a sub-4 home-to-first.

Most base hits with home-to-first under 4 seconds in 2019
1) Jose Altuve (HOU): 11
2) Kolten Wong (STL): 10
3-T) Delino DeShields (TEX): 8
3-T) Adam Eaton (WSH): 8
3-T) Hanser Alberto (BAL): 8

Fourteen of Altuve's 17 hits with 30-plus feet per second sprint speed have come since he returned from injury; the next closest over that timespan is Smith, with 11. Ten of his 11 hits with a sub-4-second home-to-first time have come since his return. That's twice as many as anyone else -- Jarrod Dyson and Dee Gordon have five each.

This is even more noteworthy when you consider that Altuve's injury this year was to his hamstring, and last year was to his knee. It hasn't stopped his ability to fly.

Altuve is raking

Of course, what really makes Altuve Altuve is that he hits everything. Well … he's been hitting everything.

That's true for pitch types.

Altuve since July
vs. fastballs: .335 BA (52-for-155)
vs. breaking/offspeed: .315 BA (34-for-108)

And it's true for pitch locations.

One of Altuve's trademarks is that he's a "bad-ball hitter" -- he can and does hit the ball no matter where you throw it. No one's gotten more hits off pitches out of the strike zone than Altuve the past 2 1/2 months.

Most hits vs. out-of-zone pitches since July
1) Jose Altuve (HOU): 28
2) Hanser Alberto (BAL): 25
3) Trea Turner (WSH): 24
4-T) Nicholas Castellanos (CHC): 22
4-T) Corey Dickerson (PHI): 22
4-T) Victor Reyes (DET): 22

That hit-it-all skill set is how you get a Major League-leading 90 hits and AL-best 166 total bases since the start of July. Altuve looks like classic Altuve again. The Astros need all the superstars they can get if they're going to get through fellow juggernauts like the Yankees and Dodgers in October. Add the original back to the bunch.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.