Defending Jayson Werth

Posted by Mike Frohwirth

Weather permitting, the Phillies will open a series in Washington tonight. This series has been highly anticipated by Phillies fans, as it marks the Phils' first regular season game against former Phillies' outfielder/former fan favorite Jayson Werth. Phillies' supporters should be in the large majority tonight, and their reaction to Werth's appearance will likely be a vocal one. I hope that Phillies' fans consider a few points, when looking back on Werth's time in a Phils' uniform.

  • Werth was an elite offensive talent. In his three full seasons with the Phillies, his splits were .273/.363/.498, .268/.373/.506, and .296/.388/.532. His yearly WAR totals: 5.1, 4.9, and 5.0. Werth's 5.0 WAR in 2010 was 11th among all MLB outfielders.
  • Werth was an elite defensive player. Excellent range, strong arm, and the versatility to play any outfield position with a great degree of skill.
  • Werth was an elite baserunner. During his Phillies' career, Werth stole sixty bases…and was caught only eight times.
  • Much has been written about Werth's performance with runners in scoring position in 2010, and a .186/.353/.314 split is very, well, un-Werth-like. However, Werth's RISP splits in 2009 were .279/.407/.510. In 2008, his RISP splits .274/.385/.453. Players often see their RISP stats fluctuate quite a bit, from season to season, likely due to the small sample size. Almost all players, over an entire career, tend to post RISP numbers that are similar to their overall numbers. Werth wasn't necessarily "un-clutch" in 2010, or "clutch" in 2009. He just happened to perform poorly in a small sample of his plate appearances in 2010, while his overall performance was superb.

Most of the Werth-related anguish is due to his ginormous contract, and the fact that he didn't accept a smaller contract, to demonstrate his "loyalty" to the Phillies. That thinking is somewhat misguided. Put yourself in Werth's shoes, for a moment. Professional athletes have a limited shelf-life. Werth, like the rest of us, was seeking to maximize his income. This free agent opportunity marked his best, and possibly last, chance at a huge contract.

The Phillies made Werth an offer, but Werth believed he could make much more. Werth didn't immediately accept the Phils' initial offer, as he wanted to see if the Phillies (or another team) would make a better offer. Then the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, and the funds for a huge Werth contract were no longer available. If there had been a point in time where the Phillies and Nationals both presented similar contract offers, Werth may have chosen to return to the Phillies. But Werth never had that opportunity. The Phillies moved on after their first offer, and the Nationals came in later with an offer that dwarfed the Phils' offer, by $60-80 million. If Werth had been able to choose between offers that far apart in value, and he had chosen the lesser amount, he wouldn't have been "loyal." He would have been "stupid." Werth and his representation handled his contract situation well, and any of us would hope that our next contract negotiation was as successful.

Tonight, Werth should receive the reaction any former Phillies' great should receive: a loud, standing ovation in his first plate appearance…and boos in every subsequent plate appearance. (He is an opponent now, after all.) He deserves that ovation, for all of his contributions during his Phillies' career. I hope he gets it.

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