Though the Houston Astros have definitely seen their fair share of bright spots in a trying 2013 season with some of their emerging young players, they’ve still experienced more disappointment than most, given that they’re 44-88 and hurtling towards another 100-plus loss season.
Still, to think that Jose Altuve might have regressed into one of the team’s least valuable players this season might be the biggest letdown yet.
That doesn’t sound quite right, no? After all, the second baseman was an All-Star in his age-22 season, and is still poised for a 5-35 campaign even in down year. Yet, those counting numbers do little to hide just how much of a step back he’s taken overall in 2013.
To illustrate by comparison, here are the players who have produced more value for the 2013 Astros than Altuve heading into play on Thursday: Human air conditioner Chris Carter, the now departed Justin Maxwell, perennial disappointment Brett Wallace …
The list could go on, really. The fact is that at 0.1 fWAR through 122 games, Altuve is barely above replacement level in 2013; and with that number being -0.2 fWAR since the All-Star break, you could have a pretty good argument that he’s actually the been the worst player on the Astros for some time now.
It didn’t start out that way, though.
The youngster got off to a scoring start to the season, posting a .330/.374/.438 line in April. Unfortunately, it was not something that he was able to sustain, as his month-to-month OPS hasn’t been above .642 since. So if you wanted to call it a slump, I guess you could say it’s been a long one even before he hit rock bottom with a .498 OPS through 103 PA in August thus far.
Combined with the fact that he continues to be a defensive liability at 4.5 fielding runs below average, and you could see why Houston might just have a problem.
But can Altuve break out of his slump? Well, that depends on how you want to see his developmental curve. Was last season’s 1.3 fWAR, All-Star campaign an outlier, or is the second baseman’s skill set really more like the .654 OPS one he showed back in 2011 (.654 OPS)?
Any time a young player shows regression like this, it’s a definite cause for concern; and as he’s been more of his 2011 self than what he accomplished overall last year (keeping in mind that he put up a .687 OPS in the second half of that season too), the Astros can only hope that this slump is exactly what it is, because they don’t really what to think about what happens if Altuve’s slump is actually the norm.