Phillies shortstop J.P. Crawford has missed more than a month with an injured forearm, but today, the team announced he was returning from the disabled list and will be activated for the Phils’ second game of the series against the Cubs in Chicago.
Crawford hasn’t played since April 28, and up to that point had been going through a rough rookie season. In 71 plate appearances, he was hitting .188/.246/.328, with two home runs, six RBI and nine runs scored. He had just three doubles, and had committed five errors at shortstop in just 21 games.
He didn’t hit the cover off the ball during his minor league rehab assignment, going 5-for-20 (.200/.238/.350) with a homer for high-A Clearwater, and 1-for-4 with a double and a walk in one game at Lehigh Valley. Nevertheless, Crawford is likely to start virtually every day at shortstop (he was not in the lineup on Wednesday night, however) now that he’s back on the 25-man roster. Scott Kingery has done an admirable job filling in, but Crawford is a far superior defensive player and needs to play regularly.
Of course, this means some of the lineup juggling we saw in the first month of the season is due to return, and it would appear playing time for Kingery, Nick Williams and/or Aaron Altherr will be reduced to some degree.
Since Crawford’s injury, here is how the three players’ numbers stack up (figures since April 29).
Kingery: .210/.248/.270, 1 RBI, 10 runs, 4 doubles, 3 triples, .230 wOBA (105 PAs)
Altherr: .198/.330/.284, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 10 runs, 1 double, .285 wOBA (100 PAs)
Williams: .263/.325/.526, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 10 runs, 2 doubles, .364 wOBA (83 PAs)
There is no question Williams, who hit a key two-run home run in Tuesday night’s 6-1 win over the Cubs, deserves to remain in the lineup.
The decision for playing seems to come down to Altherr vs. Kingery for now, and it’s not an easy call.
To put it bluntly, neither player has been impressive this year. Kingery has an fWAR of -0.2, Altherr’s is -0.3. Altherr is walking in 15.3% of his plate appearances compared to 5.2% for Kingery, but Altherr is also striking out 31.1% of the time, compared to Kingery’s 24.2%. Altherr has the better on-base percentage (.311 to .263) but Kingery has a better average (.215 to .184).
However, comparing numbers this underwhelming is really just comparing different shades of brown. Perhaps this decision should be based on the potential for future production.
Kingery has just 54 Major League games under his belt. He’s a true rookie, and it’s clear many of his issues this year stem from inexperience. It may not get much better for him this year, but one could argue letting him play every day will be good for his long-term development.
Altherr, meanwhile, has been a member of the big league club in some capacity every year since 2015. Now 27 years old, Altherr has played 258 games, accumulated 982 plate appearances and has a career slash line of .234/.324/.425, with a wOBA of .323 and a wRC+ of 99.
This is not to say the Phillies should give up on Altherr, but it’s fair to note that even though he’s increased his walk rate from a career mark of 10.0% to 15.3% this year it’s resulted in a big increase in his strikeout rate, from last year’s 25.2% to 31.1% and a serious drop in isolated power, from .245 last year to .143 this year.
Altherr’s 2017 season, when he was healthy, was very encouraging. He hit .272/.340/.516 in 107 games with 19 homers and 67 RBIs. He would have been close to a three-win player over a full season, but his first two-plus months of 2018 have been incredibly disappointing. Kingery hasn’t been any better, but the decision comes down to playing a 24-year-old recently signed to a six-year contract with 54 games under his belt vs. a 27-year-old player with 258 games of service.
No one has been higher on Altherr than I have, and a part of me believes there is a 3-4 win player in there somewhere. He’s got a lot of talent, as he showed last year, and at various points this season, too.
Down by one? Not anymore!— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) May 8, 2018
Altherr homers in the 2nd to tie this game up! pic.twitter.com/uO2Wp8nGOJ
For right now, Kapler will likely rotate Kingery and Altherr, with Kingery getting a few starts at third base and second base along the way, too. Altherr may start for Williams against the tougher left-handers, too.
But this situation will get even more complicated once Rhys Hoskins returns. Playing time will begin to get even more scarce, and Gabe Kapler will have some tough and interesting decisions to make.