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Is Houston Astros Star Jose Altuve's Home Run Surge the Real Deal?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterApril 25, 2016

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve follows through on a double to left as Texas Rangers' Bryan Holaday watches during the first inning of a baseball game, Thursday, April 21, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

Jose Altuve: home run hitter.

Seriously, this is going to be a little tough to get used to, with the emphasis on "little." Seriously, we've all accepted the idea that the Houston Astros second baseman is a big-time hitter, an All-Star, one of the better players in baseball.

But a home run hitter?

"He's not a home run hitter," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said in a text message over the weekend.

That's a relief. But the fact is Altuve began play Sunday with five home runs, two more than Giancarlo Stanton, who is a foot taller and a ton more suited to hitting baseballs out of stadiums. The fact is he had more home runs than Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout or a whole bunch of other guys taller than he is—which could mean just about anyone in baseball.

Oh, and the fact is that when you say Altuve hit five home runs in his first 55 at-bats of 2016, you also have to say that it wasn't a fluke.

Just as we once had to say that Altuve was 5'6" but could still play, now we've got to say he's 5'6" but still strong.

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"He's a good hitter who is maturing into an even more complete hitter," Hinch said.

Part of that maturity is learning how to drive the ball for more power. Altuve had 47 doubles in 2014 and 40 last year. He went from never getting to double digits in home runs to hitting 15 in 2015.

As Eno Sarris pointed out on FanGraphs, Altuve's fly-ball ratio has steadily risen, and his exit velocity—the speed the ball comes off his bat—has jumped this year.

He may not be a home run hitter, but he's a good hitter who shouldn't surprise you if he hits 20 home runs in a season.

But it does surprise us because he's 5'6", or maybe not even that tall. It does surprise us because even though baseball history includes some little guys who hit home runs (Hack Wilson, also listed at 5'6", hit 56 of them in 1930), they played a long time ago.

The Astros had a guy called the "Toy Cannon." But Jimmy Wynn was listed at 5'10", not 5'6", and he averaged 23.4 home runs per season from 1965-1976.

It's OK that it surprises us because it surprises Altuve, too.

This past week, he told Angel Verdejo Jr. and Reid Laymance of the Houston Chronicle:

It feels weird. I'm not the player that's used to hitting a lot of homers. ... I have to be surprised, because this is the first time I've hit five homers in two weeks. I would like to keep hitting homers, but I'm not going to go out there and try to do it. Because I feel like the moment I start trying to hit the homers, I'm going to stop hitting.

That hasn't happened so far this season. Altuve is still a .300 hitter. He's still getting on base and scoring runs.

He's just a good hitter who is a lot stronger than he looks.

"He's very strong pound-for-pound," said one scout who follows the American League and knows Altuve well. "He can drive the ball to right-center field."

Sure enough, the right-handed-hitting Altuve has already homered to right-center and right field this season. He has turned around mid-90s fastballs and feasted on a hanging slider from Anibal Sanchez.

He's still the Astros' leadoff hitter because that's his job, and he's good at it. Besides, do you think Hinch is going to bat a 5'6" guy in the cleanup spot?

"He's the best 5'5" home run hitter in baseball!" the AL scout texted.

He's the only 5'5" or 5'6," or whatever, home run hitter in baseball, except that, remember, Jose Altuve is not a home run hitter.

He's a good hitter who hits home runs; a guy who has hit a few more this month and could well hit a few more this season.

But a home run hitter?

No, Jose Altuve is not a home run hitter. And that's just fine.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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