There were a lot of doubts about Aaron Altherr at the start of the 2017 season.
He missed almost all of 2016 with a severe wrist injury and struggled mightily when he did come back (.202/.304/.293 in 227 PAs). That convinced the Phillies to hit the trade and free agent market this winter, as they brought in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders to man the corner outfield positions.
Altherr entered the spring as the team’s fourth outfielder, and it didn’t seem as if a breakout was coming. But then Kendrick hurt his oblique just half a month into the season and Altherr was plugged into the starting lineup on April 16.
Cue the breakout.
After a 4-RBI game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night, Altherr was batting .281/.351/.539 in 370 plate appearances. He’s hit 19 home runs and driven in 60 in 97 games, with a wOBA of .373 and a wRC+ of 130.
The numbers are gaudy, and they are history-making, too. In a way.
Clayton Kershaw has made 288 career starts, and that was the first time anyone had taken him deep with the bases loaded. Altherr was the 104th batter Kershaw had faced with the sacks juiced, and the Phillies’ tall right-hander made him pay.
Last night, he did this.
Aaron Altherr ties it with a bomb pic.twitter.com/K2ISMTp73N— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) September 21, 2017
He followed that up with a bases loaded, one-out, two-run double to right field that put the Phillies on top for good, 7-5, and he’s hit a bomb in each of the three games of the Dodgers series so far, with 9 RBIs.
Altherr’s outstanding season isn’t coming out of nowhere. In 39 games with the Phils in 2015, he hit .241/.338/.439 with 5 homers and an fWAR of 1.8. He showed enough promise in a little more than a month for the Phils to guarantee him a spot in their 2016 starting outfield, but that dadgum wrist the following spring effectively tossed last year in the trash.
Now, he’s one of the best offensive outfielders in the National League. Among players with at least 350 PAs this season, Altherr’s .539 slugging percentage is 7th-best, his wOBA of .373 is 8th, and his wRC+ of 130 is tied for 8th.
Altherr is interesting because, for this year at least, he’s hit both right-handers and left-handers. His slash line against righties is .299/.364/.551, good for a wRC+ of 136, while his slash line against left-handers is .240/.321/.510, and a wRC+ of 115. He also has a 1.007 OPS at home.
Weirdly, his WAR totals are down a bit this year, thanks to negative defensive metrics. Fangraphs has him at -5 defensive runs saved (DRS), but that’s a mystifying number when you consider they also have Michael Saunders at -2. Anyone with half a brain knows Altherr is a better defender than Saunders. Baseball Reference is also down on his defense, giving Altherr a dWAR of -1.0. Those negative assessments of his defense puts his fWAR at 1.6 and his bWAR at 1.8.
Baseball Prospectus, however, disagrees, and has him at 2.9 WARP.
The odd defensive numbers aside, Altherr has the looks of an All-Star. His main problem is staying on the field. He’s played in 98 of the team’s 153 games through Thursday’s series finale against the Dodgers, with multiple hamstring eating up about a month of the season. That comes on the heels of the wrist injury that cost him virtually all of 2016.
But Altherr has speed, plays good outfield defense (he could be a regular center fielder if need be), and has shown terrific power to all fields. If he can just stay on the field, he has the potential to be a major building block for this franchise moving forward.
So, get to know Aaron Altherr, America. He’s good.
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