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Phillies now have chance to figure out how good Aaron Altherr is

By: Jason Ferrie, Sports Talk Philly Columnist 

The season is young, but the Philadelphia Phillies have been bitten by the injury bug. Howie Kendrick is currently on the disabled list with an abdominal strain. With the absence of Kendrick in the outfield, an opportunity should be granted to Aaron Altherr. The 26-year-old outfielder has witnessed a few highs and lows in his brief 105 games spanning from 2015-2017, but this could be his opportunity to prove he is a part of the Phillies future.

It seems to be a common trend on social media for fans to side with players due to their recent performance—much of which can have little to no backing. However, the recent cries for Altherr to get more playing time seem to be correct.

For starters, Altherr is coming off a season in which he struggled, but only had 227 plate appearances after missing much of the season due to a wrist injury. In those plate appearances he did struggle, producing a .202/.304/.293 triple-slash. Those numbers are well below major league average, but it is a small sample size and perhaps one that came when he was less than 100 percent. If we go back a year to 2015, we see that Altherr posted a .241/.338/.489 triple-slash in 161 plate appearances. We have two samples sizes, both small and spanning two different seasons. It would be nice for the Phillies to know which slash line is more indicative of the type of major leaguer that Altherr will be. 

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Sticking with the theme of small sample sizes, Altherr has posted a .313/.389/.625 triple-slash with a wRC+ of 176 in his 18 plate appearances this season. It is a beautiful slash that could be absolutely crushed with one 0-4 performance. But while Altherr is this hot and Kendrick is out, it would make sense for manager Pete Mackanin to get Altherr as many at-bats as possible. 

One of the things that jumps out about Altherr is his size, standing a 6’5, 215 pounds. That is a frame that could be a power bat and hitting coach Matt Stairs could work to help him to develop into that. A major key for Altherr at the plate is going to be keeping the ball off the ground, which he did over half the time last season. Ground balls happen, there is no denying that—but with his frame, the Phillies should focus on getting him to elevate the ball. To this point in his career, Altherr has a 13.9-percent home run to fly ball rate, which shows that when he puts the ball in the air, good things happen.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Altherr is that he hasn't produced against offspeed pitching so far in his career, as highlighted by this chart from Brooks Baseball: 

Results and Averages - from 03/30/2007 to 04/19/2017

                         

Pitch Type

Count

AB

K

BB

HBP

1B

2B

3B

HR

BAA

SLG

ISO

BABIP

Fourseam

677

145

37

19

3

21

9

0

6

0.248

0.435

0.186

0.294

Sinker

300

68

12

4

6

10

2

3

0

0.221

0.338

0.118

0.268

Change

116

25

8

2

0

1

1

0

0

0.080

0.120

0.040

0.118

Slider

343

73

33

9

3

10

2

0

3

0.206

0.356

0.151

0.324

Curve

181

30

15

4

1

2

2

0

0

0.133

0.200

0.067

0.267

Cutter

82

31

8

1

0

7

3

1

1

0.387

0.645

0.258

0.500

Split

9

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0.000

0.000

0.000

0.000

As we can see from the chart, Altherr has produced low averages and slugging percentages against just about every pitch thrown his way. He has done well against the four-seam and cutters—but there is a lot to be desired. It all circles back to the fact that this data falls during mostly two years with just 105 games and 407 plate appearances. In that span, Altherr has managed a .218/.315/.377 triple-slash at 1.5 wins above replacement.

When looking at the data for Altherr, the 1.5-WAR did jump out because he posted below average offensive statistics during the period. That drew me to look at his defensive numbers, which are good in their limited sample. As I’ve stated before, we should take defensive metrics with a grain of salt, but in 840.1 defensive innings, Altherr has nine defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs. Impressively, Altherr has positive defensive runs saved total at each of the outfield positions.

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Another aspect of his game where Altherr could bring value is on the base paths. In his time in the majors, Altherr has stolen 13 bases in 17 attempts. Sure, that is not a high volume of attempts, but the success is encouraging. In his time in the minors, Altherr stole 134 bases in 168 attempts (79.7-percent). He has shown the ability to run, so if he can steal a few bases, it could add some value.

Now is the time for the Phillies to give Altherr regular at-bats. In his career, he is hitting right-handed pitching for a higher average, so the Phillies should let him play full-time during the absence of Kendrick to see where he falls in their organization. On the offensive end, he is going to hit fastballs, but needs to show growth against the off-speed pitches and work to elevate the ball more consistently. Defensively, he's got tremendous flexibility that should make getting him in the lineup relatively easy, even after Kendrick comes back. Ultimately, I think Altherr ends up as a fourth outfielder for the Phillies, but that should not stop them from giving him a chance to prove that he can be an everyday player. 

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