Is Aaron Altherr's Fast Start With the Phillies for Real?
Last year was supposed to be Aaron Altherr's year.
After playing 39 games in a cup of coffee with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015, Altherr raised eyebrows by slashing .241/.338/.489 with 5 homers, 11 doubles, 6 steals and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 125. His 1.8 fWAR was second among all Phils position players that year, which is impressive, even if that probably says about as much for the state of the Phillies at that time as it does Altherr.
After that terrific cameo as a 24-year-old, Altherr was essentially handed the starting right field job heading into 2016 spring training. Unfortunately, a wrist injury suffered in the spring as Altherr made a diving catch in the outfield caused him to miss half of that season. And when he did come back, it was clear the lingering effects impacted him at the plate.
In 57 games (227 plate appearances) he batted .202/.304/.293 with just 4 dingers, 7 steals, 6 doubles and a wRC+ of 64. He struck out in 30.4% of the time and had an fWAR of -0.3. As a result of that subpar campaign, the Phils signed free agent Michael Saunders in the offseason and traded for Howie Kendrick to play the corner outfield spots.
That relegated Altherr to being the team's fourth outfielder heading into 2017, with his future murky at best. But now, due to an oblique injury suffered by Kendrick in mid-April, a door has opened for him.
He has kicked through it with authority.
Yo homes, smell ya later!
The Fresh Prince of Altherr stays ðŸ”¥. pic.twitter.com/aXd1L5FqnS
â€” Phillies (@Phillies) May 3, 2017
Through 19 games this season (57 plate appearances), Altherr is hitting .333/.404/.627 with 3 dingers, 13 runs scored and 10 RBI. He has a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .435 and a wRC+ of 170, along with an fWAR of 0.5. He plays outstanding defense, takes extra bases, and looks every bit the part of the Phillies' long-term core.
This spring, new hitting coach Matt Stairs worked with Altherr to lower his hands in an effort to make his swing quicker, allowing him to get to balls on the inner-half of the plate. It seems to have worked.
Altherr's new swing paying off. Not sure he would've been able to get around low, inside pitch & drive it so well (100 mph off bat) last yr: pic.twitter.com/PJFy9NZFpc
â€” Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) May 2, 2017
Since Kendrick left the lineup, Altherr has hit .341 with a .400 on-base percentage, and 8 of his 14 hits have gone for extra bases. While his strikeout rate is still a bit high (26.3%), he is walking in 8.8% of plate appearances and has an isolated power (ISO) of .294.
Among the 109 outfielders with at least 50 plate appearances this season, here is where Altherr ranks.
Now 26, it's imperative the Phils find out if Altherr is going to be a part of the team's future, and if so, to what degree. It will be interesting to see what manager Pete Mackanin does with Altherr's playing time once Kendrick is ready to return, but it seems highly unlikely he's going to return to the bench.
As of this writing, Altherr was still available in 91.3% of ESPN season-long fantasy leagues while costing just $3,100 on FanDuel for Wednesday's DFS action, tied for 51st-most expensive among all outfielders.
He's still a well-kept secret in fantasy circles, but that may not be the case for much longer, so snatch him up while you still can.