With the Phillies facing a 7-2 deficit in the first game of today’s double-header, Aaron Altherr came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. It was a critical spot. After working a 3-1 count against San Diego’s Matt Strahm, the left-handed reliever reached back and blew two center-cut fastballs by Altherr to record a key strikeout. It was just the latest disappointing moment in a season filled with them for Altherr. The Phillies, apparently, had finally seen enough:
#Phillies have optioned OF Aaron Altherr and RHP Mark Leiter Jr. to Lehigh Valley (AAA).
Corresponding roster moves will be made tomorrow.
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) July 23, 2018
Leiter has also struggled this season, but the headliner here is Altherr.
With razor-thin organizational outfield depth, there’s good reason to believe Altherr will return at some point before the end of this season. The Phillies will hope that with regular playing time he can recapture his 2017 form.
Entering the season, the Phillies had hoped that the 27-year-old could build on his promising campaign of a year ago in which he posted an .856 OPS with 24 doubles and 19 homers over 412 plate appearances, but that has just simply not happened to this point. Altherr’s average has plummeted to .171, a startling 101-point drop from from his .272 average last season. His OPS has dropped 265 points from .860 to .595, and his on-base percentage has plummeted from a solid .340 last season to a miserable .290 this year. While Altherr’s BABIP has also fallen this season, his inability to make contact has been worrisome. His K% has risen from 25.2% last year to 32.7% this season. There’s also this:
Hasn't been a fun season for Aaron Altherr. Pinch-hit and struck out just now in the biggest spot of the game for the Phillies. Hitting .171 on the year and has grounded into double plays at a higher rate than any player in the majors.
— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) July 22, 2018
As for the team’s corresponding moves, Zach Eflin, who will start tomorrow night against the Dodgers, will take Leiter’s spot. The identity of Altherr’s replacement is a bit less certain. The Phillies currently only have outfielders Dylan Cozens and Roman Quinn on the 40-man roster. Cozens has shown no ability to consistently make contact at any level over the past two seasons. He has struck out in 105 of his 228 plate appearances between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia this season, which means he has struck out in 46% of his plate appearances. To put that into perspective, his K% is far worse than that of Baltimore’s Chris Davis, whose 36.4 K% is worst among all qualified Major League batters. Quinn, meanwhile, just began a rehab assignment as he continues to work his way back from a torn ligament in his right middle finger. Neither situation is ideal. A trade could be in play, but a deal doesn’t appear imminent. As such, the Phillies are currently set to begin tomorrow night’s National League showdown against the Dodgers with a bench constructed of a backup catcher, Mitch Walding, Trevor Plouffe, and Jesmuel Valentin.
Also not great.