Jose Altuve’s apparent case of yips has Astros on brink of elimination

The yips are one of the few things in sports that remain without a perfect explanation. They can’t be explained away with sabermetrics or analytics. One of the only things clear about the yips is when someone has them.

Right now, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve appears to have the yips.

Altuve has made four throwing errors in the postseason, including three during the American League Championship Series against the Rays. His latest helped spark a five-run sixth inning for the Rays on Tuesday that put them up 3-0 in the ALCS. A throwing motion that was once short, simple and fluid for Altuve now includes a hitch in the back swing that those who’ve had the hips recognize too well.

“We’re giving him all the support that we can,” Houston manager Dusty Baker said after Game 3. “Nobody feels worse than Jose. He takes it very seriously, and he takes it to heart. He’s one of ours, and we’ve all been through this before. Maybe not in the spotlight like this. It hurts us all to see him hurting.”

Altuve has always been a solid enough fielder at second base for the Astros. He won a 2015 Gold Glove. Even during the 2020 regular season, Altuve played 48 games and made four errors, the same number he’s made in nine postseason games. 

It’s never entirely clear where the yips come from. They’ve plagued MLB second basemen in the past, including Steve Sax and Chuck Knoblauch. They’ve appeared in the postseason before, too. In the 2000 NLDS, Cardinals pitching phenom Rick Ankiel threw five wild pitches in one game and was never the same. He eventually was forced to make a big league comeback as a position player — as is the inexplicable nature of the yips, Ankiel had no issues throwing from the outfield.

Two players made comebacks from the yips during the 2020 season, both relievers. Daniel Bard returned to a big league mound for the first time since 2013 with the Rockies, and Tyler Matzek made it back to the show with the Braves.

The yips aren’t limited to baseball, either. Charles Barkley used to be a decent enough golfer. Then he tried to tinker with his swing, got stuck at the top and has been the focus of joking on the links ever since. 

Baker was asked specifically Tuesday whether he believes Altuve has the yips. There’s no flashing light that turns on to indicate when a player has them, and Baker responded in kind, “I don’t know.” But Altuve’s throws have been consistently worse than they’ve ever been in his career. Call that the yips or not — it’s got the Astros on the brink of elimination.

“It is tough to see this happening to such a great player and such a great guy,” Baker said. “I don’t know what it is called. But you can go in a defensive slump the same way you go in an offensive slump, and then the physical turns mental. We certainly have to get past this.”

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