Phillies: Breaking down the Nick Williams vs Aaron Altherr dilemma

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Aaron Altherr #23, Nick Williams #5, and Odubel Herrera #37 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrate at the end of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park on September 18, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Dodgers 4-3. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 18: Aaron Altherr #23, Nick Williams #5, and Odubel Herrera #37 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrate at the end of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park on September 18, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Dodgers 4-3. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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When will the Phillies give Nick Williams an opportunity to prove himself?

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler entered his first spring training with a roster nearly set for opening day. With nearly every starting position set, he could turn his focus to a position he played over 2,600 innings at, right field.

It was a somewhat simple battle for the starting job, Aaron Altherr versus Nick Williams. One a quiet minor league prospect who flashed at times in the majors and the other a big name prospect brought over in the Cole Hamels trade.

Altherr and Williams both had career-seasons in 2017, combining for 31 home runs, 120 RBI’s, and a .280 batting average. Putting up numbers better than Bryce Harper the pair came out of camp in a platoon situation; Williams would face the righties, and Altherr the lefties.

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That plan hasn’t panned out for Altherr, Williams, or the Phillies as a whole with the duo combining to hit .211 in the first 39 games of the season.

Williams has faced righties 71 times this year and lefties just seven times, going three for seven in those situations. Altherr has faced righties 90 times to the 35 times against lefties, and hit equally as bad in those scenarios.

Altherr has emerged as the everyday starter despite having a lower batting average and numbers comparable with 33 more at-bats than Williams. With a limited sample size, both have failed to overly impress early this season.

Despite the limited opportunities, Williams has excelled as a pinch-hitter, highlighted by his three-run pinch-hit home run against the Mets on Mother’s Day. The 24-year-old has reached base safely in eight of his last nine games, while Altherr has walked in seven of his last eight, correlating with his 16% walk rate per at-bat.

Their strikeout numbers aren’t all that different, with Williams striking out 2.1% of the time more than Altherr, again in 33 fewer at-bats. Williams, however, puts 5% more of balls into play ((AB-SO-HR+SF)/PA) than Altherr, leading to more run opportunities.

Williams has the advantage on double plays grounded into with four fewer than Altherr, who is second in baseball in double plays grounded into.

What is impressive is that when either Williams or Altherr hits a home run, the Phillies win, and both have hit over .400 in games when they don’t start, not just as a pinch-hitter. Williams is 7-15 as a pinch-hitter this year with two home runs and Altherr is just 1-4.

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At times the Altherr/Williams argument comes down to splitting hairs, but it’s fair to say Altherr has been given more opportunities than he may be worth. With the pending free agency of Bryce Harper, among other notable stars, it’s imperative the Phillies get a clear look at the younger Williams before handing out stacks of cash and not knowing what they truly have in their young talent.

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