Phillies show they’re serious about contention with Aaron Altherr demotion

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ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 17: Aaron Altherr #23 of the the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on May 17, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 17: Aaron Altherr #23 of the the Philadelphia Phillies hits a two-RBI single against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on May 17, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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The Phillies demoted Aaron Altherr to Triple-A Sunday night, showing they are truly serious about contending this season.

After Sunday’s doubleheader against the Padres, the Phillies optioned Aaron Altherr and Mark Leiter, Jr. to Triple-A. Altherr’s demotion came as a bit of a surprise considering he was an Opening Day starter and viewed as a part of the future.

Altherr’s performance this season, especially in recent weeks, certainly warranted this demotion. In 89 games this year, Altherr has a .171/.290/.305 line with six home runs, 33 runs batted in, a 61 OPS+, 33 walks and 81 strikeouts in 248 plate appearances. He has been worth a whole win below replacement-level per Baseball Reference. The walk and RBI totals are both nice, but they certainly don’t outweigh the other negatives in his game.

Altherr has especially struggled in the last two months. Since May 23, he has just 13 hits, one home run, a .451 OPS, and 45 strikeouts. While he delivered in clutch situations earlier this year, he has not done that nearly as often recently. A perfect example of this happened in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader when he pinch-hit struck out with the bases loaded to end the seventh inning.

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Altherr’s 2018 looks even worse when you compare it to how he fared last season. He took over as a starter early on, posting a .272/.340/.516 line with 19 home runs, 65 runs batted in, and a 120 wRC+ in 89 games. The consensus was that if he could stay healthy all year, he could be an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. While Altherr has been healthy, the performance has been lacking.

While Altherr’s year has been a disappointment, his demotion does indicate one thing: the Phillies are truly serious about contending this season. The team has a one-game lead in the NL East heading into Monday night’s game. They will have to fight tooth and nail to hold the lead with the Braves right on their heels and the Nationals not too far behind.

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If this was 2017 or 2016, Altherr likely would have been allowed to work out the kinks at the major-league level as the team wouldn’t have much to play for. They were more interested in developing their young players like Altherr, even if it meant watching them struggle in the majors.

Now, Altherr will have to figure things out in Lehigh Valley, even if it means burning his last option year. The hope is he can figure things out in Triple-A and return to the team in August or September and help them make a real playoff push. This demotion has shown that if Altherr isn’t helping the team win games, the Phils will try to find someone who will.

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With Altherr struggling and Philadelphia needing all their players to succeed if they want to contend for the division, his demotion should not be a surprise.

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