Keeper Conundrum: How Many Altuves?
I find one of the more difficult decisions in a dynasty league involves the length of commitment to give a young player who bursts onto the scene, shows a bunch of upside and promise, but remains several years away from his physical prime and probable peak years. On one hand, there’s the allure of long-term control once the player does reach those peak years. On the other hand, growing pains are the norm for young players, and in most leagues with any kind of depth locking yourself into a long-term deal with a player who is not likely to produce peak value until a couple years down the line is a harrowing proposition. When you do take the plunge, you better be right.
Case in point Jose Altuve, the diminutive Houston second baseman and meme generator extraordinaire. His rookie season last year as a 22 year-old was extremely solid. He posted a .290/.340/.399 triple slash with top 12 wOBA (.325) and wRC+ (103) numbers, and he led the league in stolen bases among keystoners. The whole package added up to the 8th best season by a second baseman per ESPN’s player rater and made for a tantalizing keeper investment. There were warning signs of some trouble on the horizon, however.
Perhaps most obviously, his placement at the top of a Houston lineup that threatened to be historically bad for the short- and likely medium-term put a significant damper on his counting stat upside. And while he didn’t whiff much in his rookie season (11.7%) he also didn’t walk much (6.3%), suggesting a heavily BABIP-dependent on-base profile. His .321 mark in this area ranked him 8th among second basemen (min 300 PA’s), but a 20.2% line drive rate simultaneously ranked 25th and suggested some potential regression moving forward.
And regress he has this season. His strikeouts are up (13.3%) and his walks are down (5.9%), and both trends are consistent with an O-Swing % that has jumped 5.5% to an unhealthy 36% (4th worst among second basemen). Pitchers have been happy to oblige his freer swinging ways as well, as he’s seen a notable 6% drop in the percentage of in-zone pitches coming his way this season. While he again leads his position in stolen bases, his non-existent power (4 homeruns, or as many as mid-season call-up Scooter Gennett has hit in 84 AB’s) and mediocre R/RBI totals (he ranks 13th in both) have conspired to undermine his fantasy value. He currently sits 15th on ESPN’s player rater, hovering on the fringes of rosterability in a standard 12-14 team league.
So what to do with Altuve in keeper leagues? Any way you want to slice it, this has not been a good season for him. And while the sub-par present production is tough enough to handle, aside from base-stealing proficiency his underlying skills appear to have stagnated or regressed. It is tough, in other words, to simply write off this season as simply a “sophomore slump” mulligan. Still, he’s just 23 and has a lot of time – and presumably rope from Astro management – to figure things out. He still profiles as a hitter capable of becoming a three category asset in standard mixed leagues in his prime, but the numbers suggest it may take a while for him to reach that ceiling. In deeper and longer-term dynasty formats he is most definitely worthy of a hold into next season, particularly for rebuilding owners. In shallower formats or for owners in “win now” mode, however, it’s probably worth exploring other options.