Former Phillies OF Jayson Werth: Baseball Is a ‘Beautiful Game,’ 'Getting Screwed Up’ With Analytics
Now that the Bluegrass World Series and Phillies Alumni Weekend are over, former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth can begin to enjoy retirement from professional baseball after a 15-season, 1,583-game career. The 2008 World Series champion joined SportsRadio 94 WIP's Howard Eskin on his latest podcast, and particularly discussed his final season, as well as the current state and trends of the game toward analytics.
"It was definitely good to be back in Philadelphia, get cheered, and be back at Citizens Bank with the guys," Werth said. "It was a pretty special day the other day and a pretty special team. It was good. I'm feeling good and enjoying retirement. It was good to be back."
In four seasons with the Phillies from 2007 to 2010, the Springfield, Illinois, native slashed .282/.380/.506 with 99 doubles, nine triples, 95 home runs, 300 RBI, 60 stolen bases, 274 walks and 495 strikeouts spanning 543 games and 2,114 plate appearances. Following the 2017 campaign with the Washington Nationals — in which they fell to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Division Series — the Phillies' all-time leader in postseason home runs (11) was tasked to enter free agency for the first time in seven years.
Landing a new contract was much more difficult for Werth, than what it took to sign a seven-year pact down in the nation's capital following the Phillies' National League Championship Series defeat in 2010.
"I didn't really get a look in spring training. I had offers in November and I was advised by my former agent [Scott Boras] to wait — ill-advised, I guess," Werth said. "Spring training came and went, and by about halfway through spring training, I felt like I trained all winter [and] I was ready to play regular spring training. So, I took matters into my own hands."
Werth said he personally called every team but one while looking for employment for the 2018 season — the Phillies and Nationals' National League East rival, the New York Mets.
"I tried to get a job. The only team I didn't call [was] the Mets. ... I wouldn't play for the Mets. It was great conversations. Pretty much every GM or manager I called took my call. ... It was interesting," Werth said. "Some guys were surprised to hear from me and didn't know I wanted to play, which was surprising because I let my agent to know I wanted to play. They said they hadn't heard from him, hadn't heard from me, and just didn't know that I was available. That's one of the reasons why I was no longer with that agent."
Werth's contact with the Phillies this spring training, seeking employment, went through two persons — Director of Communications Greg Casterioto and newly-signed manager, Gabe Kapler.
"I called up Greg Casterioto and said, 'who should I talk to?' ... I texted Gabe and he said he'll call me right back," Werth said. "He FaceTimed me and I'm not a FaceTime guy. ... We had a great conversation."
While Werth was considering to return to the Phillies for a fifth season in red pinstripes, the fit ultimately was not there. "In spring training, they didn't really know where they were at. I think they thought they could compete, but they were pretty full in the outfield and pretty full in Triple-A," he said. "They wanted to see what their guys could do. They really liked that [Aaron] Altherr guy. ... It just wasn't a fit at that time."
Werth soon realized a common theme among the 29 Major League Baseball teams he contacted this offseason looking for a contract. "That's where everybody was, they had these kids. The game's going young," he said.
Eventually, the Seattle Mariners would give Werth a final crack at the major leagues upon signing him to a minor league pact on April 3.
"I found a home with Seattle and they had a place for me to get going in Triple-A, which was really what I needed. I just needed a spring training. There were a couple teams that were available, but at the end of spring training, it's tough to find a job for anybody," Werth said. "I still wanted to play for a good team, a team that was contending, so that was important. I went ahead to Tacoma"
Ultimately, a series of hamstring tweaks is what prevented Werth from appearing in the majors with his fifth different team, joining the Toronto Blue Jays (2002-03), Los Angeles Dodgers (2004-05), Phillies (2007-10) and Nationals (2011-17).
"I got it going and was starting to play really good, and I tweaked my hamstring a little bit. The day I tweaked it, I was actually going to the big leagues, so that kind of set me back a little bit. ... I didn't want to play at Triple-A all year," Werth said. "The deal was at the end of the Nashville series, they would either call me up or I'd go home. The first day in Nashville I yanked my hamstring worse. I thought it was pretty bad but it ended up not being too bad."
Werth said he ended up going home and "didn't feel like going back." "I didn't feel like starting over in Triple-A. ... I felt like I had closure," he said. Overall, in 36 games with Triple-A Tacoma, Werth slashed .206/.297/.389 with 16 runs scored, 11 doubles, four home runs, 19 RBI, 15 walks and 33 strikeouts spanning 145 plate appearances.
Stepping away from baseball has allowed Werth to reflect on the game he loved and devoted so much time toward. He told Eskin that the game's trend toward analytics is ultimately "killing the game," however.
"They've got all these supernerds in the front office who don't know anything about baseball, but they like to project numbers and players. Old players are out and new players are in. Baseball is baseball, in my mind," Werth said. "If you can play, you can play. Just because you can put up numbers at Triple-A and in the minor leagues that doesn't necessary mean you can play."
Werth told Eskin that analytics is "to the point where just put computers out there."
"Just put them out there and let them play. We don't even need to go out there anymore. It's a joke," Werth said. "It's just not baseball to me. We're creating something that's not fun to watch. It's boring. We're turning players into robots and taking the human element out of the game."
Analytics aside, Werth also is not fond of the many other changes and implementations to the game recently enacted by commissioner Rob Manfred, such as instant replay.
"I'm not a big fan of instant replay. There's been more rule changes in the last five years than the previous 120 combined," Werth said. "I think we're going to a place where you start to worry as a baseball guy — and people that are true baseball fans — are you creating something that's now not what people enjoy watching?"
"It's worrisome. It's a beautiful game and I think it's getting screwed up."