Jose Altuve Is Shining as the Engine That Powers the AL's Best Team

Aaron Judge may have the flash and the power, but the Astros' Jose Altuve is putting on his own show night in and night out, and just may be the most pure hitter in baseball.
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Jose Altuve continued his 15-game hitting streak Sunday, with a third-inning three-run shot in the Astros’ 9–7 loss against the Orioles.

Altuve finished the afternoon going 4-for-5, a triple away from the cycle. He’s now batting .358, tops in the American League, and has a 5.3 WAR, second only to Aaron Judge (5.4). He’s the best player on the best team in the AL.

Altuve and Judge are the AL’s two breakout stars. Judge has the power, the size, the bombs. Altuve has the speed and bat control. One’s the tallest. One’s the shortest.

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But Altuve’s story makes his phenomenal MLB success even more unbelievable​. He was cut by the Astros after a tryout—they told him he was too small. He showed up the next day anyway, and signed for $15,000 as a 16-year-old Venezuelan. He batted .343 as a 17-year-old in the Venezuelan summer league and took off from there. In 11 professional seasons across seven levels, Altuve has only hit under .300 five times, and only two times were those numbers set across more than 100 games. He’s had 200 hits in each of the last three seasons, and will do so again this year.

Altuve has added power to his game (24 home runs last year, and with 15 currently he will most likely get to 20 this year) and is a consistent base stealer. He’s certainly not as flashy as Judge (Altuve’s average exit velocity? 86.20, below the MLB average. Judge's? 96.80), but there’s also no denying this: if the Yankees were to lose Aaron Judge, there would be a gigantic hole in their offense. The Astros lost Carlos Correa and went on to score seven or more runs in three of the next five games.

The Astros are the class of the AL, 10 games ahead of the next best team, the Red Sox. They lose a star player in Correa and don’t seem to skip a beat. They could make a move for a pitcher like Sonny Gray, although they don’t seem to really need it. Meanwhile, for all of Judge’s heroics, the Yankees are in a wild-card fight, and need at least two starting pitchers and a new first baseman. Judge has been great, but Altuve is the engine.

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He also might be the best pure hitter in baseball. Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manger, told SI in 2014 that even though strikes are called a bit higher on Altuve, “it doesn’t matter because he’s got such good bat-to-ball skills that as long as the ball is anywhere near the strike zone, he’s going to be able to put it in play.”

SI famously said, back in 2014, that the Astros were going to win the 2017 World Series. (Not to toot our horn, but we also said in 2011 that the Royals were the team of the future.) Houston will have a hard time against the Dodgers. Any team would. But assuming a healthy Correa, it would be one great series. Imagine: Bellinger and Correa, Altuve and Seager, Kershaw and Keuchel. It may not be New York-L.A., but it’s pretty good on its own.

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