The 2017 Philadelphia Phillies were not a great team. You can tell because they finished last in their division and had the third worst record in baseball. There were some bright spots, however, for a team in the middle of a long rebuild. Some of their young talent emerged and made the next few years look brighter.
One of those emerging young stars is Aaron Altherr. He plays left, right, and sometimes center field for the Phils. Let’s take a look at his results from 2017, his age 26 season.
For someone with only 805 career MLB PA, that’s a great line. Those numbers show a guy with power, a little speed, decent patience, solid contact, and a balanced batted ball profile. He doesn’t hit too many grounders anymore (he hit 51% in 2016, which is way too high), and his BABIP wasn’t unreasonably high.
He was a late bloomer, making his debut at 23 (just 5 PA in 2014), but not getting regular playing time until 25. Injuries have been a constant problem, limiting his at bats each season. Even in 2017, he hit the DL twice for a right hamstring strain, limiting him to just 412 PA. In 2016, he missed most of the season with a torn tendon in his left wrist. A history of soft tissue injuries isn’t the most promising, but he is still young and at least it hasn’t all been the same injury.
His Hard% puts him at #61 among hitters with 400+PA in 2017. Here are some of the names near him on that list: Joey Votto, Kyle Schwarber, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Jonathan Schoop. Moving into Statcast data, courtesy of Baseball Savant, Altherr’s barrelled balls per PA was 69th best. That measure seems to be the most useful for determining power, and is the default sorting option on Baseball Savant’s site. He’s 66th in terms of average exit velocity and 50th in % of batted balls hit more than 95 mph. For barrels per batted ball, he sits at #70.
I do have to balance that with his 250th ranking in average hit distance and 100th ranking in fly ball and line drive average exit velocity. However, I wanted to give you a large number of Statcast power stats to show that he is in the top 100 in baseball in most of the categories. The evidence suggests that he has above average power.
Looking more at his profile, I think there are just two reasons to doubt him: injuries and discipline
We’ve covered the nagging soft tissue injuries to his left wrist and right hamstring. These can re-occur at any time and are more difficult to predict than recovery from broken bones, for example. Plate discipline is the one we need to cover next.
Just looking at his 25% K% and his average-ish 7.8% BB%, you might think he’s got few discipline issues. I mean, his 12.4% swinging strike rate isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s only the 59th worst in baseball, tied with Bryce Harper. When you look further, however, some major issues become apparent.
In terms of in-zone contact, he is 157th out of 216 batters with 400+ PA in 2017. His out-of-zone contact rate is even worse, putting him 198th, near the very bottom of the league. Put that together, and his overall contact rate of just 72.2% puts him at #181. The hitters near him on the contact list are a mixed bag: Tim Anderson (ouch), Danny Valencia (oof), Justin Upton (nice), Brad Miller (eek), Byron Buxton (ok?), Carlos Gomez (yikes), Willson Contreras (good), J.D. Martinez (sweet). Eric Thames and Nelson Cruz are also in the neighborhood.
This profile can work if you hit the ball really hard (see Martinez, Cruz, Upton) the few times you do make contact. That’s a lot of pressure, however. Looking at pitch values on Fangraphs, the only pitch in 2017 that Altherr was below average against was the changeup. Offspeed pitches are a problem for him.
Hey look! Some graphs to demonstrate my point that he sucks against offspeed pitches!
As you can see, he swing and misses more against changeups than any other pitch type.
I found some more graphs that might help. First, this is where pitchers threw him the ball on changeups in 2017:
This was his contact rate against all pitches in 2017:
Notice that his contact rate is worst on low pitches and that change-ups are always thrown low. I’m sure that is just a coincidence, though /s.
So, what have we learned today? Altherr is a talented young hitter with legit power, a little speed, and a decent walk rate. He has some health issues to be concerned about, but there is no indication that he will be injured going into 2018. He should be fully healthy, but a recurrence of his leg or wrist injuries is always possible.
Finally, he cannot make contact on pitches outside the zone, especially low. Changeups are his kryptonite. Until he learns how to lay off changeups he can’t hit, his contact rate will stay low, putting a cap on his batting average. Based on his contact % in 2017, he was very lucky to carry a 0.272 average. A 0.240 average is probably more likely. Steamer projects a 0.250 average for 2018, along with 20 HR and 9 steals in 539 PA. I think those numbers are reasonable, but I might give him 24-27 HR. Power is not his problem.
I hope this profile gives you the info you need to determine when to draft this talented youngster. He still has some upside and, if he can stay healthy, could put up some solid counting stats across the board. You just need to decide if the batting average and health risks are too much to scare you away from his potential. Tschus!