What To Do About the Outfield
The Phillies have a good problem on the horizon. Howie Kendrick was bashing baseballs before succumbing to an oblique injury. Kendrick is eligible to come off the DL today, but indications are he’ll be out about another week or two. He was signed to start in the outfield, and he’s making $10 million this year whether he starts or not. Aaron Altherr, since Kendrick’s injury, has been unleashing the full force of his 6’-5” frame on the National League. If he qualified, he’d rank third among NL outfielders in wRC+ at 170. He’s picked up exactly where he left off after the 2015 season (let’s just pretend like last year never happened).
If you’ve been reading this site, you’ll notice that we love Altherr, and for good reason. Besides his hitting, he’s perhaps the best defensive outfielder the Phillies have, and at 26 years old he’s significantly younger than the Phillies other corner outfielders (Kendrick, 33, Daniel Nava, 34, and Michael Saunders, 30). If given the chance to grow, he could be a valuable contributor to the next great Phillies team. So the answer seems obvious; put Kendrick in the other outfield slot, where Saunders is producing just a 76 wRC+. However, it’s not that simple.
The Phillies have an overwhelmingly right-handed lineup. Along with Altherr and Kendrick, the Phillies have right-handed starters in Cameron Rupp, Tommy Joseph, and Maikel Franco. Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez are both switch hitters, but Hernandez has been worse against righties in his career, and Galvis, while he has produced better against righties, “produced” is a relative term when discussing a player with a career wRC+ of 75. Odubel Herrera is the only Phillies regular with a history of above-average performance against righties with a career wRC+ of 117. Oh, and you may realize that the overwhelming majority of the populace is right-handed, which means that 73% of plate appearances last year were against right-handed pitchers.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Phillies have run a 94 wRC+ against righties and a 101 wRC+ against lefties this season. Saunders, meanwhile, is a left-handed hitter with a league average career wRC+ against righties, and he’s been better than that the past few years excepting an injury-shortened 2015. That might not seem like much, but having more than one average hitter against lefties in a lineup is important. Consider that 17 of the Phillies 25 games have come against right-handed starters.
Perhaps the best solution, then, is to get them all in the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. Tommy Joseph, with his 51 wRC+, looks ripe for a diminished role. Maybe the best solution is to keep Altherr and Kendrick in the outfield and move Saunders to first base.
I’m not sure if management is ready to reduce Joseph’s role, but one thing is certain. The Phillies cannot keep Aaron Altherr out of the lineup.