Part of the allure of baseball lies in the elements of chance related to performance. Guessing correctly on a fastball could result in a home run for a batter but messing with the nuances of the game falls under scrutiny. Perhaps the tide turned too far for Houston Astros hitters tainted by the sign stealing and trash can bashing resulting in a World Championship. Rest in peace, but Al Davis coined the mantra of the Raiders franchise, "Whatever It Takes", which gets universally accepted. There's Junior Johnson from NASCAR attributing the quote, “If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin”. This credo still exists today in the racing circuit.

In no uncertain terms should the Astros get admonished for their behavior, but any athlete searches for an edge. Trying to assess how to value players after the fallout of these findings becomes difficult. For example, Jose Altuve . He cratered last year during the truncated season hitting a paltry .219/.286/.344 with 32 runs, five home runs, 18 RBI and two stolen bases over 210 plate appearances spanning 48 contests. That’s less than optimal.

Beneath his numbers, Altuve owned an 8.1 walk percentage, 18.6 percent strikeout rate, a .125 isolated power (ISO) and .278 weighted on-base average (wOBA). His batting average on balls in play plummeted to .250 in 2020 bringing his career number down to .334 as a result. Under scrutiny, Altuve recorded a 9.8 swinging strike percentage, 80.2 percent contact rate, 89.3 Z-Swing (in the strike zone) percent and career-worst 38.2 O-Swing (outside the strike zone) percentage.

According to Statcast, Altuve generated 153 batted ball events with seven barrels (4.6 percent), an 86.7 MPH average exit velocity and 33.3 percent hard hit rate. Acknowledging his stature, Altuve's never been a Statcast driven performer, he's an aggregator benefiting from a short porch in left field at Minute Maid Park. A bit of hope lies in Altuve's expected statistics of a .230 expected batting average (xBA), .352 expected slugging (xSLG) and .280 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA).

His plate discipline yielded little change compared to 2019 with Altuve's zone contact percent rising by almost three full percentage points. Despite being a bit more aggressive with a 2.8 percent increase in swing percent, Altuve kept his whiff rate stable. Plus, Altuve's speed percentile rebounded to the 89th percentile although his stolen base success rate also dipped last season.

There are a few things in play for Altuve heading into 2021. First, the departure of George Springer to Toronto probably means Altuve moves to lead-off in the Astros batting order. More plate appearances yield more runs, potentially better power numbers than last season seeing more fastballs and he may steal more bases noting the speed metrics cited above. He also hit as many home runs in the postseason launching five in 13 playoff games with a robust .375/.500/.729 slash line with 11 runs and 11 RBI in them.

If one applied his postseason numbers to his regular season, Altuve's numbers receive an obvious boost:

- Altuve 2020 plus playoffs: 61 games, 270 plate appearances, 43 runs, ten home runs, 29 RBI, two stolen bases; .250/.333/.421, 10.4 BB%, 17.4 K%, .171 ISO

Recency bias added to his tainted past may cloud assessing Altuve for 2021. For instance, Altuve's second half surge in power in 2019 may be overlooked but here are his results with last year's results combined with them:

- Altuve 2H 2019-through-2020: 116 games, 516 plate appearances, 91 runs, 26 home runs, 67 RBI, six stolen bases; .285/.340/.515, 7.4 BB%, 16.7 K%, .230 ISO, .358 wOBA, .300 BABIP

During this sample, Altuve's recorded more runs, home runs, RBI, and stolen bases than D.J. LeMahieu. There's a disparity in their batting averages, but LeMahieu's going off the board around seven-to-eight rounds sooner than Altuve. Here's Altuve's spray chart from this time frame displaying all of his line drives and fly balls:

His ability to hit to all fields remains a key to his batting average bouncing back as illustrated in his heatmap:

Despite his terrible 2020 campaign, Altuve still ranks tied for 14th among all qualified hitters in batting average over the last three seasons:

- Altuve Last Three Years: 313 games, 1,371 plate appearances, 208 runs, 49 home runs, 153 RBI, 25 stolen bases; .294/.356/.473, 8.2 BB%, 14.8 K%, .180 ISO, .354 wOBA

Altuve's missed 75 days within these seasons with two knee issues and lost 39 days in 2019 with a hamstring issue. Entering his Age-31 season, Altuve could still record double digits in steals. Taking these numbers then applying them to a 155-game season would extrapolate to 679 plate appearances, 103 runs, 24 home runs, 75 RBI and 12 steals. Migration to the mean across his slash line would insulate his counting statistics for 2021 as well supported by his projection sets:

It may be difficult rooting for Altuve due to his past transgressions, but writing him off for fantasy because of last year may be a blindspot. Heed the opportunity cost getting Altuve at a discount, there's room for profit if one lets second drift a bit then pounces on his numbers above in the ninth or tenth round in 12-team formats. One size does not fit all when making a roster in fantasy baseball, so taking on risk with Altuve makes sense for 2021.

Statistical Credits:

THE BAT X and THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty

ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski