Analysis

Aaron Altherr out of the Phillies starting lineup, again

The Phillies’ starting lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the rival Mets has been released, and Aaron Altherr’s name is nowhere to be seen.

Why is Altherr sitting the bench for a third-straight game? The 24-year-old is batting just .222 in a severely small sample size (18 at-bats), but he has shown good power with two home runs and all four of his hits have gone for extra-bases (two HRs, two doubles). The only logical conclusion is that interim manager Pete Mackanin has elected to start Altherr exclusively against left-handed starters.

In last weekend’s series in Miami, Altherr started three of four games for the Phillies, finishing 2-for-11 with two RBIs. One trend in his starts were the starting pitchers for the Marlins. In all three of his starts, the Marlins started left-handed pitchers. Last Thursday’s game featured left-hander Brad Hand with left-hander Justin Nicolino starting Saturday’s game, and lefty Adam Conley starting Sunday’s game. The one game he didn’t start was Friday’s game, when the Marlins started right-hander Kendry Flores.i

Through the first two games of this week’s four-game series, the Mets have thrown two flame-throwing right-handed starters at the Phillies in Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Altherr sat the bench for each game, with Mackanin electing to go with left-handed bats Domonic Brown and Cody Asche in the corner outfield positions for each game.

Altherr saw action in Tuesday night’s game in a double-switch, where he took over in center field for Odubel Herrera. Altherr recorded zero hits in two at-bats with two strikeouts—both against Mets right-handed relievers.

But why is Altherr being designated to this role after only a week since being promoted? One would think that the Phillies, who have lacked serious power in the outfield all season long, would give a young outfielder who has shown some pop more starting time, whether the opposing starter is left or right-handed. The fact that the club is rebuilding is another reason why the 24-year-old Altherr should be in the starting lineup more frequently.

Tonight, the Phillies will face 42-year-old Bartolo Colon. Even as a right-handed pitcher, right-handed batters are hitting .274 off Colon this season with 31 extra-base hits—including 11 home runs. On top of that, Colon has had a down year with a 10-11 record and a 4.90 ERA. Colon does not possess an over-powering arm that can dominate right-handed batters like deGrom and Syndergaard do. According to Fangraphs, Colon’s average fastball velocity this season has sat at 90.3 MPH.

Brown has four hits in nine at-bats through the first two games of this series, so keeping him in the lineup is logical. However, Asche has only one hit in seven at-bats and struck out twice in Tuesday’s game. Why can’t Altherr see a start  in place of him against a vulnerable right-hander like Colon? Just because he’s a right-handed pitcher shouldn’t justify a decision to keep a promising young talent out of the lineup. If the worry is taking at-bats from Asche, then put him back at third base here and e to there to give Andres Blanco, who is an above-average utility player at best, a breather.

It’s not like Altherr is notoriously weak against right-handed pitching. In 338 at-bats this season against right-handers between Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors, Altherr has posted a slash line of .284/.345/.467 with 11 home runs and 23 doubles. He has shown the ability to hit right-handed pitching, so why keep him out of the lineup every time the Phillies face one?

For a team that is in dire need of power-hitting corner outfielders, the fact that Altherr will not start for a third-straight game is puzzling. At just 24, he is arguably more the future in the outfield than Brown or Asche—who have likely shown their ceiling as major league hitters. The ceiling for Altherr is impossible to gauge in just 18 at-bats this season, but his numbers in the minors have shown that he deserves an opportunity to prove that he can be an every day outfielder for the Phillies as they continue to put the pieces in place for their rebuild.

End of rant.

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