We’ve covered, lovingly and in great detail, how good the Houston Astros are this year. They’re the best team in the American League, if not the majors — young, fresh and peaking at exactly the right time, so far. In one area, though, it could be argued that they’re not just the best team of the season, but one of the best teams in recent memory: their dynamic middle-infield pair of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.
If both Altuve and Correa manage to hold their triple slash lines where they are right now, they could end 2017 as above .300/.400/.500 players — a line commonly accepted to mean “very good.” For a team to have a single player hitting 3/4/5 is a boon, to have two is riches. And for those two to not be corner outfielders, but excellent defenders at positions of great value, is almost unheard of.
Offensively, their feat is potentially unmatchable. While these positions are known, at times, for their hitting ability, neither second nor short is particularly famous for showing the kind of power that both Altuve and Correa do, especially shortstop. It’s commonly accepted that in order to have a solid defensive presence, a general manager must balance the offensive roster elsewhere, and this bias is built into the way we evaluate the position. But Correa, in particular, is breaking that calculus this season.
Here might be where a skeptic of the longer-term viability of these two might point a finger at one of baseball’s largest stories — the offensive-friendliness of the current crop of baseballs. Altuve’s been one of the game’s most consistent improvers on the slugging front, raising his game every year as he’s matured, and at the peak of his performance now, he’s one of the type of players that wouldn’t get as much of a bonus from a longer-flying ball.
Correa entered professional ball with the expectations of hitting dingers, as a tall, broad-shouldered and quick-wristed hitter. He’s nowhere near what could be considered his physical peak, and same as Altuve, isn’t the type of hitter who needs a boost to get the ball over the fence.
How do they stack up against recent notable up-the-middle pairings? Up I-45 a few years ago, the Texas Rangers had Ian Kinsler (one of the most underrated second basemen of the current era) and an up-and-coming Elvis Andrus patrolling the area around the keystone. But while Kinsler is solid offensively, he’s solid offensively for a second baseman. And Andrus hadn’t yet discovered his power when Kinsler was still on the team.
Offensively, the current pairing of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor in Cleveland is good, but nothing to the level of Altuve and Correa. And while Lindor’s glove is a grade or two above Correa’s, Altuve is a magnitude better than Kipnis.
Defensively, the San Francisco Giants’ Joe Panik and and Brandon Crawford is probably the best active pairing in the majors, but neither Panik or Crawford can hold a candle to the offensive value brought by the Astros’ pair. It would be hard to come up with a pair, even among the top prospects, that can bring both the defensive and offensive value that Altuve and Correa can.
Are they likely to keep this production up year after year? No. Variance is real, and it is incredibly difficult to continue a high level of anything over a longer period of time, especially when that time comes with the difficulties associated with the players aging. Will they still be an incredibly exciting and valuable pair for Astros fans to cheer on over what looks to be an extended window? Of course.
It’s hard to say, with the differences between eras and the way the game is played, if Altuve and Correa are the most valuable second baseman and shortstop pairing ever, but they’re certainly the best right now.
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