2016 Phillies Report Card: Aaron Altherr

Aaron Altherr was called up from Triple-A Lehigh Valley in August 2015 to replace Maikel Franco, who had his wrist broken by a Jeremy Hellickson fastball a week prior. This was not his MLB debut, as he’d taken 6 trips to the plate in 2014, but for all intents and purposes, this was the first glimpse of Altherr Phillies fans got. And he did not disappoint.

Despite a 25.5% K-rate, Altherr powered himself to a 125 wRC+ over 161 plate appearances on the strength of a .248 ISO. That, along with above-average outfield defense and baserunning, earned him 1.8 WAR, or about what you could expect an average major leaguer to produce in a full season. Altherr did that in a quarter of a season. He also did this.

To say expectations were high is an understatement, but Altherr’s 2016 season was derailed before it really began, when he tore a ligament in his wrist. By the time he returned, it was nearly August, and it was clear Altherr was not the same player as 2015. He hit just .202 with only 10 extra-base hits and a 30.4% K-rate in about 200 PAs.

I could cut off this report card on his season now and give him an arbitrarily bad grade, like a D- or something. The only thing saving him from F-hood is the wrist injury. Was he fully healthy when he returned from injury? If so, how much of his improvement with the bat can we expect to stick if he’s fully healthy next year? These are the questions that are more concerning to the Phillies’ future.

And really, I don’t have any way to answer those questions. I don’t really think the Phillies or Altherr do either. So that’s why I’d advocate for a starting job for a player coming of a season where he had a 64 wRC+. I’m admittedly a prospect optimist, even after watching dozens of prospects with bright futures fail to stick in the Majors for any number of reasons, not the least of which injury. I guess that’s why I don’t work in the Phillies front office and why I’m a card-carrying Process-Truster.

The Phillies outfield is looking a little crowded with Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, Altherr, Howie Kendrick, Tyler Goeddel, and sometime soon Nick Williams. But I think the Phillies would be foolish to ignore his stellar 2014 and focus on his injury-shortened 2015. Give the kid a chance.

Grade: Something arbitrarily bad, like a D- or whatever.

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  1. Dave

    December 08, 2016 10:47 AM

    The injury timing was very unfortunate, as he’s rather old for a prospect. He remains one of the players I’m most interested to watch in 2017. Its make or break time for him. He’s entering his age 26 season, and still very unproven.

    Its easy to remain smitten with the athleticism and the potentially dynamic bat… but he needs to put in a full season and show us what he’s truly got.

    He’ll never get a better opportunity. He needs to take full advantage of it.

    • boomerbubba

      December 09, 2016 12:05 AM

      If you think he still has potential, put him in the minors for half a year to see what he’s truly got. Phillies cannot afford a full year of stiff effort.

  2. Keystone

    December 08, 2016 12:27 PM

    Domonic Brown 6’5″ OF
    Aaron Altherr 6’5″ OF
    Domonic Brown 2013 7.2 BB% 18.0 K% 0.40 BB/K 123 wRC+ .351 wOBA
    Aaron Altherr 2015 9.9 BB% 25.5 K% 0.39 BB/K 125 wRC+ .353 wOBA
    Domonic Brown 2014 6.6 BB% 17.8 K% 0.37 BB/K 76 wRC+ .280 wOBA
    Aaron Altherr 2016 10.1 BB% 30.4 K% 0.33 BB/K 64 wRC+ .270 wOBA

    Altherr walks more and stikes out wayyy more. Brown walks less and stikes out wayyy less.
    It all evens out in there BB/K rate.
    Brown had his break out season in 2013 at age 25
    Altherr had his break out season in 2015 at age 24

    Altherr had a slightly better break out year than Brown but fell off much more in his following season.

    • Keystone

      December 08, 2016 12:29 PM

      *their BB/K rate

    • Jerry Spradlin

      December 08, 2016 12:35 PM

      Stats don’t lie, for sure, but I keep coming back to what Mark Texiera and others who suffered the same wrist injury keep saying- it took them 12 to 18 months before they were fully healed. He may end up being a AAAA player and he does have to produce, but I’d like to see him play every day in 2017 before we’ve written him off, knowing full well that if Williams impresses in his first month in LHV, Altherr may be on a short leash. Who knows, his chance to play every day could be at LHV.

      • Keystone

        December 08, 2016 03:23 PM

        I agree it takes a while, also remember that Domonic Brown had a wrist injury and wrist surgery (uncanny). The problem I see isn’t the injury, it is the poor plate discipline. Altherr has had horrendous strikeout rates throughout his entire minor and major league career.
        I make the Brown comparison to show that we have been down this road before. Brown was fools gold in 2013 that towards the end of the season many people saw through. Altherr in 2015 may also have been fools gold with a high ISO covering up a bad approach at the plate.

      • boomerbubba

        December 09, 2016 12:07 AM

        Stats don’t lie, and neither does video footage. Try watching some, if you’ve got the stomach.

    • Michael Schickling

      December 08, 2016 02:55 PM

      Man that is weirdly similar, I hadn’t noticed that before. I don’t know that we can draw any conclusions from it, but certainly not a great omen..

      The only asterisk I can put on it is that Altherr is an above-average defender in the outfield, while Dom Brown is a 40-year-old Raul Ibanez-level trainwreck in the outfield. I think that raises Altherr’s comparative floor significantly.

    • denzen

      December 08, 2016 04:45 PM

      I have concerns about 6’5″ athletic guys who are labeled as “toolsy players”. I like what John Kruk once said, “We are not athletes, we are baseball players.” Seems like as players rise through the minors up to the majors, the better pitchers know to pitch to the tall athletes. Makes me wonder about Dylan Cozen, I guess time will tell.

    • Gil

      December 08, 2016 09:12 PM

      There’s one huge difference between the two players. Brown was not an intelligent baseball player whose only success apparently came through osmosis of some sort from having an angel named Wally Joyner whispering in his ear about how to have a clue. He never adjusted to the first time the league adjusted to him. Altherr seems far more intelligent and deserves a chance to sink or swim.

      Drawing a comparison between the two seems to end with the fact that Altherr might fail as Brown failed. His wrist injury has just made it that much more challenging.

      AA is also a far superior defensive player and certainly appeared to have an idea at the plate before the injury. I don’t recall anybody pumping him full of helium as Brown was hyped.

      Hopefully Altherr’s recovery will be similar to others who have experienced similar injuries, and he will surprise us all with a breakout 2017. That would be awesome.

  3. Andrew R.

    December 08, 2016 05:35 PM

    I was excited for Altherr when he first made it to the majors. It was a Cinderella Story of sorts. I think we all wanted one of these, “toolsy players” to make it big and prove the front office right! Anthony Hewitt was a painful bust, as was Jiwan James, Anthony Gose, and of course, Dom Brown.

    Altherr though, was a little different. He was always old for the level he was at and he never really dominated his level. But he kept chugging along and making some small improvements along the way.

    As a major leaguer, he had a small sample of success. Not Gary Sanchez-type success, but Aaron Altherr-type success. I still wasn’t all that impressed. I wouldn’t care if we move on from Aaron this winter, but I know that’s not happening. I say he gets to play, but his leash will be short. His ceiling is as a #5 outfielder, realistically.

    If you don’t show much for a crappy Phillies team, there’s a good chance you’re not going to make it in mlb.

  4. Romus

    December 08, 2016 05:38 PM

    Aaron Altherr….John Mayberry 2.0, but with superior defense.

    • Erich

      December 08, 2016 11:20 PM

      Good comp.

  5. boomerbubba

    December 09, 2016 12:02 AM

    Altherr is the latest in a long line of stiffs. He proved it with plenty of pitiful ABs after returning from injury, with no excuses. Lousy with no one on base, and worse with runners in scoring position.
    Hard to believe the team is considering trading Herrera and sticking Altherr in his spot. Then again, it’s the Phillies, where “You gotta believe in the hard to believe.”

  6. Major Malfunction

    December 09, 2016 06:53 PM

    Wrist injuries for a fielder is equal to a pitcher’s shoulder injury. You either revert to form 12-18 months later or you can basically write them off as never going to be the same.

    But let’s give AA this season to see if he’s for real. If not, there’s plenty of prospects and free agent signings waiting in 2018.

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