Graduating to Better Things: Aaron Altherr

There is a point in evaluation where you just need to throw away a previous set of opinions and start fresh.  This was the case with Aaron Altherr at the plate this year.  It wasn’t that his swing was overhauled dramatically, it was that Altherr had taken his swing and other parts of his game to their end conclusion almost instantly.  Altherr has always been one of the best athletes on any baseball field he is on, but he never looked quite like he entirely knew what he was doing.  Everything in Altherr’s game looks smooth and is an integrated part of his athleticism now, and now we can finally evaluate the full player.

What Was Written Before the Season:

25. Aaron Altherr – CF

Role: Second Division Regular
Risk: Medium – Altherr is a major leaguer based on his skillset, but to be a regular of some sort he will need to make improvements to his approach and close some holes in his swing.
Summary: There is little doubt that Altherr has a major league role – the question has been how big that role is.  Altherr has proven over the past few years that he can handle center field, and the lanky center fielder seemingly glides with plus speed around the outfield.  The problems for him is his bat.  Some of his poor 2014 can be explained by a wrist injury he suffered in the fall of 2013 that needed offseason surgery, but the injury does not explain all of the negatives.  The swing itself is fine, but his long arms add length to the swing path, which consequently opens up holes in his swing.  This, coupled with a questionable approach and not great pitch recognition, leads to a lot of questions about how much contact Altherr will make.  The questionable hit tool hurts one of his biggest strengths – his plus raw power.  If Altherr can make enough contact to have the power show up in games, then he could be a major league regular in center field as long as his range holds up.  More likely though he can be somewhere between a platoon and solid 4th outfielder.  This past year saw a big drop in Altherr’s stock, and it has been an up and down minor league career for Altherr.  A good year in 2015 will put him close to a longer stint in the majors.  Given the recent minor league free agent signings by the Phillies, Altherr probably will at least start back in Reading, likely moving to right field because of Roman Quinn.  A good start in AA could get him to Lehigh Valley quickly, and given the Phillies major league outfield situation, he could see major league time.

What Happened in the Minors:

Stat Line (AA): 260 PAs 19 2B 3 3B 6 HR 28 BB (10.8%) 40 K (15.4 %) .293/.371/.480
Stat Line (AAA): 229 PAs 13 2B 2 3B 8 HR 21 BB (9.2%) 44 K (19.2%) .294/.362/.495

Altherr got a bit of a slow start as he missed the end of spring training, but then mashed from the point he put on a Reading uniform.  He played mostly right field with Roman Quinn manning center field and was good as always out there.  His underlying numbers were almost the same at home and on the road for Reading.  After hitting for the first two and a half months he got the bump to Lehigh Valley in June.  He struck out a bit more in AAA while walking a bit less, but overall just continued over his success in all aspects of the game.  He primarily played center field for the IronPigs and showed above average defense there in addition to games in both corner outfield positions.  You can read more in-depth thoughts on Altherr’s time in the minors here where I broke down the changes in his numbers and approach.

What Happened in the Majors:

Stat Line: 161 PAs 11 2B 4 3B 5 HR 16 BB (9.9%) 41 K (25.5%) .241/.338/.489
Major League Debut: June 16, 2014

If you believe in WAR than Aaron Altherr was the second most valuable hitter on the 2015 Phillies, putting up 1.7 fWAR in 39 games.  It is a number that will give you highly unrealistic dreams if you extrapolate it over a full season.  A lot of this is some unrealistic defensive numbers fueled by Altherr catching pretty much every ball hit his way in his short time in the majors.  He has shown to be a very good defender in all three outfield positions, but it is unrealistic for it to continue at its current pace as he faces a wider distribution of balls in play.  There is some concern at the plate (advanced composite metrics are much kinder than the triple slash line with a 123 OPS+ and 124 wRC+), based on the strikeout rate.  Altherr seemed especially susceptible to breaking balls down both early and late in counts, and both those things play together, because he is good at working deep counts and getting to his pitch, but putting himself in a deficit early can lead to problems late.  I thought he might have a problem with pitchers getting in on his long arms, and some have tried (to bad results for the pitcher) but no one has been truly successful at getting him inside with velocity, but it is something to watch.  Overall outside some early ill-advised swings Altherr has worked pitchers and counts well in the majors.

As for the Altherr’s swing itself, not much has changed in the majors from the minors.  It is fairly simple, it looks natural, there is some length, his bat speed is good but not premium.  He doesn’t hit towering fly balls and his home runs have a tendency to be screaming line drives (or soft ones that aren’t caught), this gives him a higher BABIP ceiling (though he was more in the “normal” .300 level in the majors).  Altherr does show pull tendencies, but they tend to be more on his outfield balls and he has shown the ability to go the other way in the past, most of his home run power comes from inside pitches though.  Altherr was supposed to have heavy platoon splits in the majors, but in his small sample size he hit the ball hard off of righties (including a home run off of Jake Arrieta), but showed much better plate discipline vs lefties (he had a much lower BABIP vs LHPs), however like all of Altherr’s season it was extremely small sample size.

The Future:

As was said at the top, it is time to reassess Altherr with his new swing in tow as a complete player.  Let’s view this as an exercise in WAR too to get a feel for how the sum of the parts can be a pretty decent player.  Fangraphs says Altherr was worth about 6 defensive runs post positional adjustment, which would put him among the best defensive outfielder in the majors over 162 games, but it is likely no unreasonable to say his glove is probably worth more in the 8-10 run a year.  On the base paths he is probably 3-4 run player based on his speed and instincts.  Put those together plus adjustments from average to replacement and you have a player somewhere in the 27ish runs per 600 PA range before swinging a bat.  That is putting a lot of faith his defense (and defensive metrics), which may not be a long term skill if he can’t keep his speed up (though his instincts are great).  But that is 2.5-3 win player there.  Now you need to hit to stick in a major league lineup all year so let’s look at the bat.  The strikeout rate, is probably going to creep  a bit down, as will the walk rate, but he works deep counts so neither should crater too much.  That brings us to the big outlier in his profile, his power.   Altherr put up a .248 ISO in the majors after putting up a .188 in AA and a .201 in AAA this year.  If he has an ISO more in the .180-.200 range you are looking at a player hitting more .245/.330/.425 which is more along the lines of what Chris Coghlan did for the Cubs this year on his way to a 3 win season for them.

All of this pseudo-analysis put Altherr as a 3-4 win player with upside for a bit more.  Now this still very optimistic because there is an adjustment period ahead for Altherr.  Pitchers are going to give him a steady diet of offspeed pitches down and away and he is going to need to lay off of them.  If he can he will be able to tap into his power, if not he could quickly regress into the 4th outfielder/platoon hitter we always thought he might be.  Either way, there is a lot more to Aaron Altherr than there was to start this season, and he is firmly moved into the conversation of players that could solidify themselves as cornerstones of the Phillies’ rebuild.

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

9 comments

  1. Kurdt Kobeyn

    I think Altherr will be just a stop gap in RF (and will be the 4th OF) unless he can consistenly produce around 15-20ish HR while batting @ .265/.340/.480 line. Phillies might be looking at Cozens (or a FA or even Alfaro) as the regular RF in 2018 onwards. Cord Sandberg and Jose Pujols are intriguing options but it’s too early to say.

    Phils have enought depth in CF (Herrera, Quinn and Tocci) while LF will be in good hands with Williams, Randolph,

    • Romus

      KuKo…….agree, he will need to elevate his hit tool, specifically lower his Krate, to maintain sustainability as a regular vs a 4th/5th. When I see him I look at something more then JMJr and maybe top out at a Lorenzo Cain, Royals OFer.. I did a little MiLB comp and hope to dream that he can be a Cain clone at some point.
      A raw MiLB metric comp, FWIW:

      ————————————————————————
      Aaron Altherr:
      PAs-2787…..K-21%…..BB-7%…HR-56…..SB-132
      BA/OBP/OPS…..261/.322/.734
      ———————————————————————–
      ———————————————————————
      Lorenzo Cain: (excluding rehab assignments)
      PAs-3114……K-18%……BB-9%…..HR-47…..SB-140
      BA/OBP/OPS…….295/.368/.798
      ————————————————————————-

      John Mayberry Jr (excluding rehab assignments):
      PAs-2975….K-22%…..BB-8%…HR-114…..SB-70
      BA/OBP/OPS……258/.328/.780

      • Kurdt Kobeyn

        Romus – I view Altherr and Morgan the same — meaning that I will look beyond their minor stats and hold my opinion about them after observing how they perform in 2016 season.

        Altherr does remind me of JMJ but Altherr have the opportunity in the next couple of years to continue his current trend and be better than JMJ. And if he holds (even close) to the Lorenzo Cain potential, that’s good value but I will not be excited for now.

    • Eddie

      You’re counting way too many chickens, Kurdt. Tocci still hasn’t hit anywhere, and Randolph is an 18 year old. Those guys are years away.

      In the current era, the .245/.330/.425 Matt suggests would be very adequate (though certainly not ideal) for a good defensive RF, especially if you have real thumpers in the other corners. Think of him as Bake McBride, with Franco and Williams filling in for Schmidt and Luzinski. Of course, now I’m counting chickens, too….

      • Kurdt Kobeyn

        I understand the Tocci and Randolph are years away. I might me counting early, but if it plays out that’s a good problem to have (i’m not really high on Tocci ever since but I am with Randolph).

        I’m not really looking deep yet and I think Herrera @ CF and Williams @ LF will be serviceable with potential to be part of the next Phillies run. I can’t say that yet in the RF option. I’m not discounting Altherr yet, but I’m skeptic. Altherr is a good defensive RF, but if Phils can get a RF with arm and power bat – that’s the situation they want to have.

  2. Frank

    Romus stop hating on the kid. I see your little list all over, its tiresome. You are posting stats from low minors that have no meaning at this point in his career.
    Its like grating a college student on his grad school tests. Why don’t you look at his AAA numbers and you will see JMJ never had stats like that in AAA.
    I agree with Matt forget about all the stats in the minors. Btw I think He will be a 6-8 fWar player eventually.

    • Romus

      Frank,
      Not hating…keeping it real.
      You do realize his age was advanced in the AAA level……remember the doubt sayers with Darin Ruf and
      hat he did….and his age was continually brought up.
      Perhaps you should think about somethin like that.
      And who is doubting and hating on his fielding….not I….it is superb…it is his hit tool that I question going forward.
      Guys like you will be the first to condemn him if he starts leveling to a JMJr status.
      Everyone wants to see him develop into something akin to a Stanton, and if he doesn’t what do people say……similar to what they said about Dom Brown and his plate faults.

      • Dave

        Darin Ruf was in A+ for his age 24 season. Aaron Altherr exhausted his rookie eligibility in his age 24 season. But other than that, the similarities are uncanny.

  3. Frank

    Okay so I thought about the age aspect age 24 season for Altherr in LHV 51games, .294/.362/.495/.858
    age 26 season for JMJ in LHV 128 games, .267/.328/.442/.729