Change in swing has Astros’ Altuve chasing career year

By Jose de Jesus Ortiz –

Jose Altuve leads the major leagues in hits (102) and is second and third in batting average (.336) and stolen bases (26), respectively.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Some Astros teammates haven’t arrived at Tropicana Field yet, but the player leading the majors in hits already has grabbed his blue Nike batting gloves from his locker and his 33-inch, 31-ounce maple Tucci lumber out of his bat bag.

First pitch is still four hours away, and Jose Altuve is headed to the indoor batting cage to start his work day with hitting coach John Mallee.
As he does before every game, Altuve is off to refine a craft he began honing when his father, Carlos, first took him hitting as a 3-year-old to Julio Bracho Park in El Paseo, Maracay, Venezuela.

“My dad said I always was really good at hitting but not very good at fielding since I was a little kid,” said Altuve, who remains grateful his father took him to the park to hit almost daily until he turned 15.

Altuve, 24, has developed into a good defender, but the former free swinger is renowned for his batting. He had the 500th hit of his career Wednesday against the Nationals in Washington, hitting the 500-hit mark at a quicker pace than Craig Biggio, the former Astros star and member of the 3,000-hit club.

“You look at the success rate he’s had and you look at his age, and I’ve jokingly said to him, ‘You’re chasing dead people,’ ” Astros manager Bo Porter said. “If he continues to play at the level in which he’s capable of playing, this guy is going to end up with a lot of hits.

“You’re chasing the people that have monuments in Cooperstown. … This dude can hit, man. And it’s real.”

Career year in the offing

A career .294 hitter, Altuve is hitting a career-high .336 after 73 games. The .336 mark is .046 higher than the average he had during his 2012 All-Star season.

The Astros’ Jose Altuve is on pace to set career highs in nearly every major offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Karen Warren, Staff

The Astros’ Jose Altuve is on pace to set career highs in nearly every major offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

After hitting .283 with a .316 on-base percentage and a .363 slugging percentage in 2013, Altuve followed the Astros’ instructions and sat out the Venezuelan winter league. He returned earlier than usual to Houston in January to work out at Minute Maid Park and arrived at spring training in March in the best shape of his career. Once at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Fla., he sat down for an honest critique from his hitting coach.

The duo discussed Altuve’s approach at the plate. They considered whether he would benefit from some mechanical adjustments to make his swing more efficient. Mallee told Altuve why he should alter the way his swing stayed in motion. Then Mallee gave Altuve a plan for getting better pitches to hit, being more selective and attacking pitches in his strength early in the count.


“So even if it’s a pitch that’s a strike, if it’s not something he can drive, being able to take it,” Mallee said. “We identified where his strengths were within the strike zone, and then we did a lot of drills on working on just attacking that and taking (and not swinging at) everything else that’s in the strike zone. Truly, that’s what selective aggressive hitting is.”

To that end, Altuve altered his stride toward the plate by adding somewhat of a leg kick this season. He no longer had a hitch in which he started, stopped and then swung, as he did in 2013.

Last year, Altuve would stride early with his left foot and then swing. That stride left him vulnerable because after he would stride early to his left toe he had to regain momentum and restart his swing again when he was getting ready to attack the ball.


“His left foot would stride to his toe early, and he would be down real early. And when the pitch came, he had to restart,” Mallee said. “Now he just stays in motion, and he lets his eyes tell him when to put his foot down. His timing has been better, and when he’s off time, he’s in more of a powerful position.

“Instead of just getting little chink hits, he’s hitting the ball harder when he’s off time. Now, he does a nice little knee tuck and he stays in motion, so his swing is constantly in rhythm.”

The changes have been a hit, literally and figuratively.

Altuve is on pace to have a career year. His .377 on-base percentage, .444 slugging percentage and .821 OPS are all way above his career averages of .332 on-base, .389 slugging and .721 OPS.

He also has benefited from studying opposing pitchers. Altuve doesn’t spend much time watching video, but he definitely uses it to scout the opposing pitchers.

“I watch the pitcher who is going that night, what pitches are working for him lately and how he’s pitched me,” Altuve said. “I also check my swing because the season is so long there are times when you lose your swing, and you have to get back on track.”

Altuve goes to the plate looking to attack a specific pitch or pitches in a specific hitting zone. He remains true to that plan until he reaches two strikes in the count.

“I try to find a (specific) pitch for the whole turn,” he said. “I’ll wait until they throw it, but after I have two strikes on me, I have to have a good swing at whatever is in the strike zone and try to hit it up the middle.”

Sticking to routine

He favors blue Nike batting gloves that he uses only for batting practice. He can’t use them in games because they don’t match the Astros’ orange uniform color scheme, so he plays with regular batting gloves.

Whatever the case, Altuve’s work day begins nearly four hours before the first pitch when he grabs his batting gloves and Tucci bat and heads toward the indoor batting cages to take early swings at soft tosses from Mallee.

Altuve returns to the clubhouse and relaxes before heading to the field for batting practice with his hitting group. After batting practice, he returns to the indoor batting cages for some more swings. He gets another round of a dozen swings at soft tosses 15 minutes before the game starts.

That routine, new stride to the plate and approach to pitches in his preferred zone have combined to help Altuve lead the majors in hits.

“There was a moment early in my career when I would swing at all the pitches,” he said. “I had to be a lot more selective. Perhaps I’m still a free swinger, but year by year I’ve improved my strike zone discipline.”