Philly’s New Pariah: Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth has eight hits in 44 at-bats in the month of July. Two of those hits went for extra-bases and both were mere doubles. He had another prolonged slump earlier in the season, between May 25 and June 22 in which he accrued a paltry 13 hits in 75 at-bats. Slumps are not fun experiences, not for the player in question nor for the fans watching in the stands, in bars, and at home.

Maybe that’s why Werth has become the new whipping boy in Philadelphia.

It seems like the perfect storm: he is a soon-to-be free agent, he is slumping, and the Phillies are underachieving. He also takes more called strike threes than we would like. Oh, and the team has an exciting young player by the name of Domonic Brown ready to take his spot. With the Nationals having called up Stephen Strasburg and the Braves, Mets, and Marlins receiving significant contributions from Jason Heyward, Ike Davis, and Gaby Sanchez respectively, it must be like, as a kid, watching all your friends get the popular new toy as a Christmas present while you get a pack of tube socks from grandma.

Overall, though, Werth has been about as good offensively as he has been over the previous two and a half years. His .371 wOBA is just a few points behind his .385, .382, and .382 numbers from 2007-09 respectively. It is true, however, that his home runs aren’t at the same level. Werth has 13 round-trippers in 355 plate appearances compared to 36 in 676 PA last year. If you prorate this year’s homers to 676 PA, he comes up short at 25.

Werth has also found himself in a salacious rumor involving the Phillies’ best player Chase Utley and his wife Jennifer. That rumor, though, was subsequently debunked in fine fashion by Max of Fire Eric Bruntlett.

Even some of the Philly scribes have turned against Werth. Beerleaguer quotes Ryan Lawrence using biting sarcasm (hey, that’s my gig!) to insult the Phillies’ right fielder:

[Ryan Madson] stood his ground as a couple of questions were lobbed his way. A few feet away in the close-quarters clubhouse, when Madson’s brief Q&A session ended, Jayson Werth decided to chime in. ‘Nice interview, guys,’ said the starting right fielder, who went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, all looking, Friday.

“Nice game, Jayson,” Lawrence quips.
Elsewhere, John Finger tweeted (in a conversation about Werth’s struggles):
[Werth] doesn’t want to be here & it shows
When I asked this question to my Twitter followers
has Jayson Werth helped or hurt his value as a free agent with his production thus far in 2010?

…these were some of the responses I received:

It’s not the production that’s hurting him. By all accounts, he’s a bad apple. It’s why the Phils are shopping him. (@Beerleaguer)

his production has been poor. I think the pressure of a contract year has gotten to him. Some team will still pay him $15M (@FlyersFanShawn)

Werth has been disgraceful. No it’s not the numbers. His attitude and his overall lack of trying. Not worth what he’ll get. (@GregVince)

Werth’s attitude reminds me of David Bell. He seemed he could have cared less what happened on that field. (@KieranCarobine)

I think you just have to watch how he acts on the field to know Werth is a jackass. (@ballsticksstuff)

I’d say hurt, especially if you were one who considered him a 4/5 yr $60/75 mil player. He’s be overvalued from the jump. And if he stays at or around this level, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Phils offered arb and he took it. (@philsvilleblog)

Is it me or were these complaints never made in the three prior years that Werth has donned Phillies’ red? Wasn’t it just several months ago that Werth was a fan favorite simply because of his facial hair? A Twitter account was even made in its honor!

Werth a “bad apple”? Color me surprised.

If you ask me — and thanks for asking! — I think this is simply stage two of Phillies fans’ grieving with Werth’s imminent departure from Philadelphia for the greener pastures of free agency. The first stage was, of course, denial. We saw that in fine fashion from fans and bloggers who thought the Phillies grew money on trees and would easily budget in a multi-year contract extension for Werth along with extensions for Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Oh, and pick up Jimmy Rollins‘ option, too. And a free agent third baseman. Some relievers. Don’t forget the bench bats.

Stage two is anger, what you are seeing now. Fans accept that Werth is leaving after the season (or even by the end of July) and are simply lashing out at him for perceived shortcomings. He’s not hitting enough. He’s not happy-go-lucky. He needs a shave, damn it! We don’t need him anyway! What’s Dom Brown doing?

You will see stage three — bargaining — soon. It will likely coincide with a hot streak. That is, if he gets on one in time before the trade deadline (or after, if he stays). Fans will put up with his perceived shortcomings as long as he helps the team win games. Those called strike threes and odd routes to fly balls (and an Abreu-esque fear of the fence) are fine as long as they are in proportion with doubles and home runs and Phillies wins.

For now, though, we’re in stage two. Werth will bear the brunt of a mostly irrational backlash that seems commonplace in Philadelphia. Exhibits A and B are Pat Burrell and Donovan McNabb. Each received similar criticisms as Werth. Burrell took too many called strike threes and he was complacent. Donovan McNabb wasn’t clutch and he had a weak stomach and oh my god those darts right into the grass are annoying, never-ending NFC Champsionship Game appearances be damned!

Using Sabermetrics, FanGraphs values Werth’s production this year at about $8 million. That puts him on pace for roughly $14.5 million for the year and he still has plenty of time to boost his value. He was worth $22.6 million and $21.5 million in 2008 and ’09, respectively. He appears to be on track to receive market value in the off-season from some organization. For now, though, appreciate that the Phillies are getting at least $14 million in value out of him while only paying him $7 million. A two-to-one return on investment is damn fine — especially compared to the loss on investment the Phillies are already dealing with in the form of Ryan Howard.