What Do the Phillies Have in Aaron Altherr?

Last night, Aaron Altherr finally got going after his trip to the disabled list. Altherr smashed an upper-deck go-ahead grand slam off Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher in baseball. As it stands now, Altherr has been worth 1.3 fWAR in about a half a season of plate appearances, bashing 17 home runs and producing a 125 wRC+. It’s been a good bounce-back season for the Phillies’ outfielder, but he again missed time with injury.

In Spring Training last season, Altherr tore a ligament in his wrist; he didn’t make his season debut until late July, and once he returned he was clearly not the same player who put up 1.8 fWAR in just 161 PAs in his rookie year. In July of this season, he injured his hamstring and was sent to the disabled list. He returned from that injury too soon and reinjured it, leaving him out of the lineup until September 9.

Despite negative defensive numbers bringing down his value this year (possibly tied to the hamstring injury), Altherr has proven himself worth a starting outfield job for the Phillies next season. The question is, then, can the Phillies count on him to stay healthy going forward? They say the best indicator of future injury is past injury, and Altherr has quite a few of those in his young career.

I decided to look at some comparable players to gain some sort of perspective on what we can expect of Altherr going forward. Obviously, all players are different, and Altherr could play the next ten seasons with perfect health, but it’s important to ground your projections with precedent. With that in mind, I looked at seasons since 2000 where a player in Altherr’s age range (25-27) posted a comparable wRC+ (120-130) in a comparable number of plate appearances (300-400). This search gave me 20 names, including Altherr and four other players this season:The average player in this sample played 15 more games in the following seasons, but at only 422 PAs, they were far from iron men. It should be noted, however, that the players who continued to produce above-average wRC+ managed to stay on the field for an average of 126 games and 517 PAs per season. This indicates that some of the limited playing time may be performance-related, rather than injury-related. You could argue though, that the decreased production could be attributed to injuries as well, and Altherr has already suffered the results of injury-related struggles last season.

These results are concerning, especially when sorted into buckets:Almost half of the sample was worth less than a win per season over the next three seasons. That’s not good. And looking at the highest-achieving bucket, there’s not a lot of similarities to Altherr. Josh Hamilton, as you may have heard, struggled with drug addiction until his Major League debut in 2007. He entered the season as a Rule-5 draft pick and immediately succeeded. His career was later marred with injuries including a rib injury that sidelined him for much of the 2009 season, but he managed to put up an 8.4-win season and an MVP in 2010. However, the circumstances surrounding his early career are entirely different from Altherr’s.

Angel Pagan may be the success story most similar to Altherr. He missed time with injury in every season between 2007 and 2009, but came back to produce a 5-win season in 2010 and a 4.7-win season in 2012 sandwiching an entirely mediocre 2011. Dustin Pedroia is unlike Altherr in that his 2010 season is the only season he played less than 135 between 2007 and 2014.

Matt Carpenter, likewise, only missed time in his rookie season. He still played in 114 games that season, more than Altherr has in a single season, and hasn’t played in fewer than 129 games in the 5 seasons since. Carpenter and Pedroia are the two players who played the most in the following seasons, and their careers aren’t especially similar to Altherr’s so far.

This is far from a definitive analysis, but the returns on players with early career injuries, even if they produce in their limited opportunity, are not great. The Phillies should still start Altherr on Opening Day, but history shows that they should be prepared with a good fourth outfielder.

 

 

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28 comments

  1. Mike Fassano

    September 19, 2017 11:16 AM

    I don’t think that Aaron has hit his prime years yet, but I believe that he can be a .280 – .290 hitter, with 25 home runs, and 90 – 100 RBI’s. I see him as a streak hitter, where he can carry the team for a couple of weeks, but also look lost for a couple of weeks. Giving credit where it’s due: Kudos to Matt Stairs. Altherr and Williams are his prize pupils.

    • Mike Fassano

      September 19, 2017 12:19 PM

      I wish that people would give their reasons for down voting. I do!

      • Michael Schickling

        September 19, 2017 01:36 PM

        For what it’s worth, Altherr’s 2017 season extrapolated to 162 games gives him a .276 avg, 29 HR, and 94 RBI.

      • Eddie

        September 20, 2017 06:51 AM

        I didn’t downvote you but my guess is
        1) People disagree with your prediction but didn’t want to take the time to explain why.
        2) On an analytics-oriented site, people don’t respond well to sheer opinion, “I believe …” type posts without any supporting argument. It makes it look like you’re pulling things out of your behind or just wishcasting.

        better to show the logic behind your opinion, such as: I am less bullish on Altherr’s ability to sustain a high BA, and my reasoning is that he has (and has always had) a fairly high K%, as do most players as tall as him. Just too big a strike zone to cover all the holes. So I see more of a .260 kind of hitter (with the plus power, and plus defense in either corner.)

      • yolacrary

        September 20, 2017 09:53 AM

        Also, the comment reads as non-responsive to the original post

  2. Sat G.

    September 19, 2017 11:40 AM

    It seems like this analysis is sorely missing some data about the types of injuries these players suffered. If I recall correctly, Altherr’s wrist injury last year was a fluke thing when he dove for a ball in the outfield. I would be much more concerned if last year was also a hamstring injury or something similar like a lower back injury or strained muscle.

    • rlh1004

      September 19, 2017 02:15 PM

      I agree with you to some extent, but some players just seem to be more injury prone. Take Roman Quinn for example, most, if not all, of his injuries have been “fluke” type of injuries. But when a player misses major portions of 4 consecutive seasons with different “fluke” injuries, I begin to question just how flukey these injuries are.

      I don’t know why certain players seem to be bit by the injury bug, maybe an over-agressive and somewhat out of control style of play? I’ve never heard any reports like this about Altherr or Quinn, but it’s hard for me to write things like this off as just bad luck…

    • Mike Fassano

      September 19, 2017 02:15 PM

      I can’t say for sure (maybe someone can help me out), but I think that Quinn’s injuries have mostly been flukes.

      • rlh1004

        September 19, 2017 02:32 PM

        This is from an article on thegoodphight from June.

        “One of the reasons the Phillies signed Michael Saunders in the off-season was because they were concerned about Quinn’s ability to stay healthy. He has never played more than 88 games in a season, failing to make it through a full year in any season since joining the organization in 2011.

        He has missed time with strained obliques, a strained quadriceps, an Achilles injury and a fractured wrist. Some of these injuries have been fluky, but it’s clear a pattern has emerged”

      • Romus

        September 19, 2017 04:11 PM

        MF…….most all of Quinn’s injuries are soft tissue tears….tendons, obliques, ligaments.
        Not sure they are flukes. He broke a wrist one year. Some guys are more susceptible to those injuries. He has incorporated plenty of training, and stretching programs from what he has said a few years back. Now this elbow tendon issue is his latest.
        He may go the route of Kelly Dugan..

  3. Jim Shorts

    September 19, 2017 01:28 PM

    do any comparisons/projections to werth make sense?

    i realize this is projecting a bit as werth only hit his stride when he turned 27-28ish and altherr is 26.

    werth had about a 125 wrc+ in the big leagues w/ phillies in 07 and 08 (when he was 28-29) which is about the same wrc+ as Altherr’s this year (age 26).

    * both are 6’5″
    * both had torn ligaments in their wrist at around 25/26
    * both are right/right
    * both can play any outfield spot

    is this a slippery slope or fair projection? clearly werth’s base stealing numbers were better, but it didn’t start that way. starting at age 29 and for a 4 year period he averaged around 17. also werth’s defense would be considered better (i assume). thoughts?

    • Jim Shorts

      September 19, 2017 01:46 PM

      also i see now why werth’s 2007 season didn’t come up in your search. it meets all the criteria (> year 2000, wrc+ 120-130, 300+ plate appearances)……

      except one….
      werth was 28 for that season.

      • Michael Schickling

        September 19, 2017 02:06 PM

        It’s interesting that he just missed the cut due to age. I had thought about Werth when writing this article. They do have similar stories, physiques, and positions, though Werth always had higher walk rates than Altherr has shown.

        Werth was a huge success story for the Phillies, and I think it would be optimistic to project Altherr to get there, but here’s hoping!

        PS, I don’t really know what to make of Altherr’s defense. Scouting reports and the eye test (at least my non-scout eyes) like him, but DRS and UZR don’t. I think he’s better than the stats would indicate.

      • Jim Shorts

        September 19, 2017 02:19 PM

        thanks Michael for responding.

        agreed that Altherr doesn’t quite have the eye of Werth as Werth’s OBP has been better. but he has a knack for doubles in the same way Werth did which is encouraging.

        Werth had a lot of injury free years after his early troubles. here’s hoping the same for altherr. will certainly be interesting to see how his numbers stack up in comparison next year – if he can stay healthy.

      • Bary Onyx

        September 20, 2017 09:25 AM

        Actually, when you look at his entire career, Werth has been quite injury prone. We benefited from the 3 years from ’08 to ’10 in which he appeared to be mostly healthy. His first year in DC in ’11, he played 150 games but batted .232. Since then he’s played in > 140 games only twice.

        Obviously Altherr is not Werth or any of these other guys. But so far his profile fits that of a injury prone career. Hopefully not. I enjoy wanting AA play.

    • Mike Fassano

      September 19, 2017 02:18 PM

      I think the BB – K ratio is a difference. It just seemed that Werth had the ability (like Rhys and J.P.) to work a walk.

    • Andreas

      September 19, 2017 04:08 PM

      When it comes to stolen bases we probably should take into accout the fact that the 1st base coach was Davey Lopes whom many thought to be one of the best at this position.

      • Eddie

        September 20, 2017 06:53 AM

        That theory runs up against the fact that the other team Lopes has coached for have not been especially good at base stealing.

      • Michael Schickling

        September 21, 2017 09:54 AM

        Regarding Lopes-

        Lopes was the first base coach for the Phillies from 2007-2010. The Phillies 2007 (1), 2008 (3), 2010 (4) and 2012 (5) teams occupy four of the top five SB% (CS/(CS+SB)) since 2000 (540 team-seasons). All of those besides 2012 were coached by Lopes. 2005, 2009, and 2015 Phillies also appear in the top 20.

        Lopes moved to the Dodgers from 2011 to 2015. They went from 28th in the MLB in 2010 to 8th in 2011, then 23rd, then 11th, then 12th, then 26th. Whatever effect Lopes had on the Dodgers, if any, was short-lived.

        It appears the Phillies’ success was based more on Utley, Werth, and Victorino than Lopes.

    • PAMcDaddy

      September 20, 2017 06:06 AM

      I also thought of Werth, mainly based on similarity of physique and am curious if statistical comparisons are more/less valid than physical ones when it comes to health. I keep coming back to the “baseball body” Bill James talked about in the historical abstract and the degree to which Altherr’s size and shape may be part of his past and future injury story.

      • Bill G

        September 21, 2017 09:09 AM

        I think that as players have become more and more muscular over the years, it has made them more prone to muscle strains. I’ve been watching baseball for 30+ years and never heard anyone talk about an “oblique” until three years ago.

  4. Ed

    September 20, 2017 11:49 PM

    The Phils have a budding star.

  5. Bill G

    September 21, 2017 09:08 AM

    Durability is an ability that is required for success in any sport. Altherr hasn’t proven that he has this ability, whether by sheer force of bad luck or poor training methods on his part.

    He could be a vital piece for this team, but it’s hard to do that when he’s spending a third of the season on the DL with various maladies. If he can settle into a range between what Lucas Duda and Angel Pagan did in their post-breakout year, I’d be satisfied with that.

    • Romus

      September 21, 2017 07:51 PM

      Bill G…he has had over 450 PAs in 5/6 seasons in the minors….and they only go 142 games….so he has proven to stay on the field.
      As opposed to Roman Quinn’s history, where he has missed total half -seasons on 2/3 occasions..

  6. Steve

    September 21, 2017 12:44 PM

    Before i put this out there, please understand. I like Altherr, i would like to see him healthy and hitting in the 5 or 6 hole for the next 3-5 years. That being said:

    What kind of trade value does he have this offseason?

    Could he be part of a package for an ace?

    Are Hasley, Cozens, or anyone else even remotely close?

    Are we better with Hoskins at LF, Joseph/Franco/Alfaro at 1b and a TOR SP or Altherr in LF, Hoskins at 1b and the current rotation?

    A full healthy productive season in 18 would certainly boost his value, but is he capable of that?

    • Mike Fassano

      September 21, 2017 05:38 PM

      All three of the outfielders should be available in the right deal. Granted, for Herrera the return has to be mind blowing. I think Altherr has the second highest value because he can carry the team on his back at times. Williams has still got a lot to learn, but he’s performing at a high level while he’s learning it. I don’t think that the front office is targeting a free agent starter, but I do think they’ve targeted a few younger pitchers on the rise.
      Altherr (if he can stay healthy) is just now entering his prime years, 28 – 32, and could improve on this years numbers.
      Cozens – We have to realize that he’s always going to K a lot, but he has to make pitchers get him out, instead of getting himself out.
      Hasley is over a year away.
      Roman Quinn and Carlos Tocci are almost ready, and there’s always Cam Perkins.

    • Romus

      September 21, 2017 07:48 PM

      Steve…Cozens will be up sometime after mid -season next year i would think…they will want to audition him at the minimum to see what he can do vs MLB pitching.
      Haseley….IMO, will be up in mid-to-end of 2019. Starts in CLA in 2018….if he rakes , then June promo to Reading for the year end. Then perhaps starts in LHV in 2019…..again if he rakes…maybe September in Philly.
      But who knows, if he follows the Benentendi/Conforto model….then he is in Philly next August. He will not be pitching anymore as he did at VU….so he solely concentrates on hitting.
      But different organizations promote differently….and he still has to produce like Benentendi when he is in CLW and Reading.

      • E

        September 22, 2017 01:47 AM

        Cozens is not going anywhere until he learns to differentiate between balls and strikes. Klentak has been clear about this with the prospects. Even though he has monster power if he can’t get on base his value is limited – I hope he takes a page from the Rhys Hoskins book of pitch recognition. That said, Trout actually has a high strikeout rate, but he also walks more than he strikes out.

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