At five feet, five inches tall, it can be hard to ignore the stature of the Houston Astros star second baseman. However, Jose Altuve’s success is not a result of him overcoming a disadvantage. Instead, it is a direct product of what that supposed weakness affords him to do. Altuve isn’t producing in spite of his size, rather thriving because of it.
Altuve’s swing is so efficient that both sharp singles and deep home runs mirror the same technique. Such efficiency sees him hitting .337 in 2016, good for third best in the league. In tandem, Altuve has powered a career high 24 home runs this season. Not too bad for a man who’s routinely trolled over his height.
The total is an impressive increase from the 36 he hit in the previous five seasons combined. To understand what makes his swing so unique, let’s break down this efficiency, starting from the beginning of his at-bats.
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At pre-pitch, Altuve’s stance is slightly open, not uncommon in today’s game. What is uncommon is what happens when he strides into his swing. When Altuve finishes his high leg kick, he plants his lead foot considerably inside his back foot. This closes his stance almost completely. Altuve produces the stance change so quickly, it appears almost natural for a hitter with shorter legs.
Sep 12, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) bats during the game against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Now, Altuve is fully wound up, his trunk twisted to where the back of his jersey is clearly visible from the mound. As he uncoils, his twisted stance produces a rapid rotation that results in a startling amount of power. At Altuve’s size, the uncoiling is accelerated, his shorter arms and smaller radius giving him the ability to snap through the zone quickly. In short, Altuve’s power comes from his rotation, rather than from the extension of his arms.
As he finishes uncoiling through the ball, the focus moves to Altuve’s now rotated front foot. As far as it traveled from pre-pitch to landing, so too does it reverse its movement. The front foot now slides back across his body. This front heel pivot only adds to his efficiency, allowing Altuve’s lower body to rotate in unison with his upper body. This pairing removes any hindrance from a stiffly planted front leg.
Finally, his finish is tight across his body as his rotation completes. His hands tend to remain inside and close to his frame, giving him the ability to attack hard velocity or remain balanced on anything off speed. The balance has translated to a 10.2 strikeout percentage, good for fourth lowest in the league.
As unique as his swing is, Altuve couples the odd approach with almost perfect fundamentals. His head movement is nearly nonexistent, giving him a still upper body that locks onto incoming trajectory.
In addition, Altuve’s bat travels along a remarkably flat plane. His torquing rotation allows the bat to travel with his body, rather than seeing it propelled by his body. The flat plane directly contributes to Altuve’s line drive percentage, with over one quarter of his swings categorized as such, an extremely high number for a hitter with nearly 25 home runs.
Indeed, Jose Altuve is shorter than a typical major leaguer. In fact, he is among the shortest to ever play the professional game. Still, Altuve’s swing is so dynamic, it may be the taller hitters who now become envious of what Altuve can do at the plate.