Are Jayson Werth and Bobby Abreu Overrated?

January is a super-boring month for baseball fans as there’s not much going on. All the big names have found homes and all the trade rumors have died down. There is no excitement — that’s why Hall of Fame debates are so popular and so spirited: people are bored!

Even writers get bored and struggle to come up with fresh material, so they stretch and write cliche articles such as this by Tony Lee of NESN.com:

Jayson Werth, A.J. Burnett Among Baseball’s Most Overrated, Overpaid Players

Along with Werth, Lee also claims Abreu is among the most overrated. As he hacks at a couple former Phillies, I’m bored enough to meet his claims with a response. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below, whether you disagree with me or would like to tack on additional points.

Abreu left Philadelphia during the 2006 season. The Phillies have made the playoffs each year from 2007-2010.

This is by far the most-cited piece of “evidence” that Abreu isn’t “a winning player”. The problem is that it makes the mistake of implying causation with correlation. Wikipedia has a couple of humorous examples of absurd correlation/causation fallacies:

With a decrease in the number of pirates, there has been an increase in global warming over the same period.
Therefore, global warming is caused by a lack of pirates.

[…]

Since the 1950s, both the atmospheric CO2 level and crime levels have increased sharply.
Hence, atmospheric CO2 causes crime.

There are far too many variables that separate the Abreu-era Phillies from the post-Abreu Phillies, such as randomness, division strength, timing, injuries, and the fact that the ’07 team can be objectively judged as a better team than in ’06. Furthermore, the ’07 Phillies didn’t exactly sizzle in the post-season as they were swept out of the National League Division Series by the Colorado Rockies. That, after winning the division by the skin of their teeth on the last day of the regular season.

Had Abreu been on that team, rather than finishing his Phillies career on a team that missed the Wild Card by three games, would he have shed his “not a losing player” reputation?

Baseball is well-known for being a sport based upon individual match-ups, but post-season berths are won and lost by entire teams, not by individual players.

At this point in his career, Abreu is likely underrated. Plenty of people think he’s about to hit rock bottom, but a soon-to-be 37-year-old with above-average on-base skills and moderate power is actually quite valuable. Last year, Abreu was a 2.2 fWAR player, which was worth about $9 million — exactly what he earned and what he will earn in 2011. With just a slight mean-regression in BABIP, Abreu should be worth at least $9 million in the upcoming season.

He is not the sole reason for any of this, but Abreu seems to lack that certain something that can make an impact in the middle of a lineup, even given his steady production over the years.

Throughout his Phillies career, Abreu was an offensive force; an on-base machine with considerable power. Abreu was 32 years old when he was traded to the Yankees. Unsurprisingly, his production declined rather than improved. From 1998-2006, Abreu’s lowest on-base percentage was .393 in ’01. His OBP has since ranged from .352 last year to .390 in ’09. If teams have been relying on an aging, declining Abreu for incredible offense in the middle of their lineup, they were sorely mistaken — and that is their fault, not Abreu’s, just as it will be the Washington Nationals’ fault if and when Jayson Werth declines over the course of his seven-year contract.

He has also frustrated fans in each city with his less-than-daring approach to the outfield wall.

Despite his Gold Glove from his ’05 season, Abreu has never been impressive defensively. As with Manny Ramirez, Abreu was productive enough offensively that you accepted that flaw. It would have been nice if he was better with the glove, but his defense was only a point of contention when fans became frustrated with the Phillies’ post-season near-misses in the mid-2000’s. Fans were not outraged at Abreu’s defense with the 65-97 Phillies in 2000.

Werth’s time in the City of Brotherly Love resulted in some nice results and a legion of beard-sporting followers, but it was not the type of stint that deserved seven years and $126 million, the contract he received from Washington.

The contract awarded Werth recently is absolutely excessive. It was a calculated risk taken by the Nationals’ front office, one that will likely not pay off in the end. There are certainly several legitimate arguments to be made against the Werth deal.

Werth has never hit .300, has never driven in 100 runs and has shrunk in high-pressure situations throughout his career, at least those in the regular season

This is not one of them.

Werth never hit .300, but did you know that he hit .298 in ’07 and .296 last year? If Werth had one more hit and one less out in ’07, he is a .302 hitter; if he had two more hits and two less outs last year, he’s a .300 hitter. Seems like a couple hundredths of points in batting average fall well within the range of expected variance.

Additionally, Werth drove in 99 runs in ’09. Obsessing with nice round numbers like .300 and 100 — ignoring the fact that they’re relating to batting average and RBI, the Windows 95 and 98 of baseball metrics, respectively** — ignores the larger point.

** Nerd slam!

Finally, Lee gets caught up in the false belief that Werth is not a “clutch” player. Werth was notoriously awful with two outs and runners in scoring position last year, and he was — he had just a .680 OPS in those situations. But did you know that Werth had a .985 OPS in those situations in ’09?

Logically, one who believes Werth was not clutch last year must believe that Werth was clutch in ’09. So, what happened? Did Werth forget how to be clutch last year? Or… are clutch statistics based on a small sample size and thus subject to a ton of variance? I think the answer is quite obvious here.

In one of Lee’s previous articles, he argues that Carlos Ruiz is among baseball’s most underrated. His argument isn’t really worth fisking other than noting that he uses last year’s batting average and slugging percentage as evidence that Ruiz is improving, but misses that they are based heavily on BABIP luck and are likely to regress in 2011.

Generally speaking, articles like these aren’t even worth mentioning since everybody does them, but I’m bored and needed something to write about. I have no personal issues with Tony Lee or his writing; he is simply an unfortunate bystander in my boredom storm. Aside from commentary on this and Lee’s articles, consider this an open thread for anything Phillies-related. I eagerly await FanSince09‘s appearance. (Should of kept Matt Smith!)