Altuve’s hard-hit average is up from 25.9 percent to 34.1, and his averaged exit velocity is up to 90.0 MPH, a sizable increase that puts him closer to the major-league average. Altuve isn’t just racking up a bunch of cheap extra-base hits, then.
Of course, that’s an answer for what Altuve is doing. The how is a lot tougher to pin down. Altuve has likely added strength in his age-26 season, which helps, but this is a pretty dramatic improvement for any player at any age. The answer might lie, then, with which pitches Altuve is connecting.
Always an aggressive hitter at the plate, Altuve swung at a career-high 52.7 percent of pitches last season. He went after pitches in the strike zone early and often, with an emphasis on just putting the ball in play and making things happen with his speed. This season, however, Altuve has grown much more deliberate at the plate, swinging at just 41.7 percent of pitches, by far a career-low rate. If Altuve is identifying pitches better, that could help explain why he is hitting the ball better, too.
Altuve isn’t being pitched particularly differently, either. Roughly the same proportion of pitches thrown his way have been in the strike zone, and he isn’t seeing a significantly different pitch mix, overall. However, while pitchers were able to throw Altuve fastballs without much concern about him punishing them for extra bases in the past, that simply isn’t the case these days; Altuve has seven of his nine home runs on fastballs, with 14 extra-base hits in 88 at-bats total, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
It turns out, in Altuve’s case, it might be as simple as, “he’s hitting the ball harder.” Or, at least, he has been; as with all things a month and a half into the season, what a player has done is not necessarily a guarantee of what they will do in the future. Altuve’s ISO this season is already twice his career high, at .288, and though he won’t be able to keep an elite rate like that up long term, we clearly need to start increasing our expectations and projections for him.
It has come in an unlikely frame, but Altuve really does seem to be a power hitter now. At this point, 20 homers seems like a pretty easy mark for Altuve, and the more important question might be whether he can become just the eighth player in MLB history to hit 25 homers and steal 50 bases. Add in the fact that Altuve might just keep hitting .340, and it’s hard to argue he doesn’t belong in the same air as the likes of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
Finally, we’re seeing some turnover at the top of this list.
Since I last checked in with my top 25 DL stashes, Jung Ho Kang and Lance McCullers have made their season debuts, clearing space in the top five for newer, fresher injuries.
Or maybe returning ones like Michael Brantley’s shoulder. Man, the Indians can’t catch a break.
Maybe you’re feeling like them, like cruel fate has you in a vice grip, ready to break another bone if you test it by, you know, actually get something out of the players you drafted.
If there’s a saving grace for Park, it’s that he’s shown a surprising aptitude for avoiding infield flies — or additional easy outs that would hamper his already-limited chances of hitting for average. You’d suspect someone with such loft and shaky bat-to-ball skills to make a habit of getting too far underneath the ball. Not so with Park. His infield-fly rate is one of the lowest in the majors — right down there with bat-control freaks like teammate Joe Mauer and Joey Votto, whose aversion to pop-ups is both absurd and historic.
Ultimately, adjustments to and by Park will be one subplot worth watching heading forward. The league hasn’t taken to spamming Park with breaking balls just yet. As nutty as it sounds, they’ve instead thrown him a higher percentage of fastballs in May than they did in April. Given Park’s impressive results, you can bet on that changing in the coming weeks. Here’s hoping, for the sake of Twins fans, that Park has it in him to make the necessary adjustments.