I asked Astros manager A.J. Hinch a question about Jose Altuve last week in St. Louis, and his answer reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from "Jurassic Park." It makes sense, I swear. Take a look at Altuve’s Baseball-Reference page , and the observant eye will notice two 2016 stats that really stand out for the rather unlikely emerging American League MVP candidate. The first one is home runs. Altuve already has 10 this year, through 70 games. He set his career high with 15 last year; before that, he hadn’t popped more than seven over the fence. Altuve, as you know, is one of baseball’s smallest players, in terms of physical stature (he’s 5-6, 165 pounds.) (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/6e/f8/hankookinfographicweek81920x1080png_txhfirmvolkq1fwok6kq96toa.png?t=1941953405&w=500&quality=80 MORE: Top 10 Astros players of all time “It’s kind of fun,” Altuve said with a smile. “I’m not a power hitter. I believe I’m more of a base-hit hitter, once in a while hit a double. But I’ll take it.” We’ll come back to the homers in a minute. The other outlier is Altuve’s walks. He already has 36, through 320 plate appearances. His career high is 40, set in 630 PAs in his rookie year, 2012. Last year, Altuv
夜网论坛 e walked 33 times in 689 PAs. From a percentage standpoint, Altuve is walking in 11.3 percent of his PAs in 2016. His previous four years, working backward: 4.8 percent, 5.1, 4.8 and 6.3. Yeah. It’s quite the divergence from his norm. So I asked Hinch about Altuve’s newfound plate discipline. “He’s a good bad-ball hitter, which is a Catch-22 for him. He can put those balls in play, he can get those balls to fall a little bit, he can hit the chopper to shortstop and be safe,” Hinch said. “But if he wants to be an elite hitter who continues to pile on and be more of a run-production player, the walks come into play. And so does the damage.”COOPERSTOWN CHANCES: Altuve looking like a future Hall of FamerYou probably know where I’m going with this. Not like it’s an overlooked moment in the movie. It’s the scene, relatively early before the chaos ensues, where Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by the wonderful Jeff Goldblum, is talking with John Hammond, the owner of the park, about the decision to bring dinosaurs back to life (and the science behind it). He says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”Basically, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because Altuve has such amazing bat control — seriously, look at this single , or this one, where he somehow made contact on a hit-and-run by jumping at the pitch , which was well above his head — and can hit pretty much anything that doesn’t bounce 3 feet before the plate doesn’t mean he should be swinging at those pitches. He’s taking that lesson to heart. MORE: Five AL teams that will be deadline buyers“I didn’t want to change my plan at plate, (which was to) be aggressive and see the baseball, but something I wanted to do was be more selective,” Altuve said. “Go out there and swing, but at the pitch that I want. That’s pretty much what I’m doing now, trying to be aggressive but at the good pitches.”Let’s look at the numbers on his FanGraphs page . From 2013 to 2015, Altuve swung at 36.4 percent of the pitches he saw that were outside of the strike zone. That number’s high, but far from the highest in baseball (it ranks 32nd of 233 qualifying hitters ). And with that approach, Altuve was pretty damn good — he earned two All-Star nods in those three years and produced a .313/.349/.426 slash line. MORE: SN ranks all 30 front officesIn 2016, with his new, more selective approach, Altuve is swinging at just 28.0 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. That’s below the average of 29.0 percent, which is something that might have seemed impossible just last year.So suddenly this rising star — he just turned 26 in May — with impeccable bat control has become a more focused hitter. His 2016 slash line this year is a thing of beauty: .342/.423/.537.Instead of swinging at, say, a borderline 1-0 pitch because he feels he can get a chopper to bounce through the right side of the infield, he’s taking the pitch. Whether it’s called a strike or a ball doesn’t really matter, because it’s more of a pitcher’s pitch. By working the count deeper and seeing more pitches, the theory goes, he’ll have a better chance of getting a pitch with which he can do real damage. SPECTOR: Fans ruining All-Star vote by getting choices rightAnd that’s where we come back to the other eye-catcher on his B-R page, the 10 home runs. The home runs are connected to the walks. “It absolutely has to do with it,” Hinch said, jumping in with enthusiasm before the question was even finished. “The better pitches you get to hit, the more damage you can do. And by taking some of those borderline pitches — for balls or strikes, it doesn’t matter — you give the pitcher a chance to make more of a mistake that you can control. And Jose has done that, and done it a lot.”Again, numbers: In 2015, Altuve put the first or second pitch of an at-bat into play 40.2 percent of the time (277 of 689 plate appearances) and saw an average of 3.23 pitches per plate appearance. In 2016, he’s putting the first or second pitch into play just 33.1 percent of the time (106 of 320 PAs) and seeing an average of 3.68 pitches per PA.“This is my fifth year in the league,” Altuve said. “You start to know a little better what the pitchers are throwing to you, what you’re going to swing at and what not to, what you’ve got to take, and I just want to keep growing as a player and keep getting better.”And if a mistake pitch doesn’t come later in the count, with his bat control he can still slap a borderline two-strike pitch through the infield. His strikeout percentage this year (8.8 percent) is the lowest in baseball, and lower than his rate last year (9.7 percent). For the season, he has those 36 walks and only 28 strikeouts. MORE: Get results, stats with SN's scoreboard“If you’ve got more walks than strikeouts, that means you’ve done something good,” Altuve said. “You’re putting the ball in play, you’re getting on base, and with a team like this, when you’re getting on base, they’re going to make the other team pay.”Let’s get back to Altuve’s budding MVP candidacy. Yes, he has received a handful of MVP votes each of the past two years (he finished 13th in 2014 and 10th in 2015), but there’s a difference between being a player who is factored in on the second half of the ballot (he didn’t receive a vote higher than sixth place either year) and a legit candidate for the top spot on a ballot. Altuve is making that jump in 2016.Plenty of guys are having great seasons in the AL — studs like Xander Bogaerts in Boston, Manny Machado in Baltimore, Mike Trout in Anaheim and reigning MVP Josh Donaldson in Toronto. By FanGraphs’ WAR formula, Altuve and those four other stars have WARs ranging from 3.5 to 4.1. Altuve is second in the AL in average (.342), first in on-base percentage (.423), second in stolen bases (18), third in doubles (21) and fifth in OPS (.960). His 10 homers, 39 RBIs, 48 runs scored, five intentional walks and five sacrifice flies are among the league leaders, too. “He’s got pop. He’s extremely short to the ball, which is what helps him,” teammate George Springer said. “The dude can just hit. He can flat-out hit.”And now he’s that he's flat-out swinging at better pitches, he just might jump from All-Star to MVP.