Jayson Werth Deserves Philadelphia’s Respect

Apparently, Jayson Werth is still a lightning rod for controversy in the city of Philadelphia. Hearken back to the days of yore when former GM Pat Gillick signed him as a free agent before the 2007 season. Werth transformed from a garbage bin pick-up to a mega-millionaire, leading his team to one championship and one failed World Series bid, and secured the right field position at a very cost-efficient price. Werth clashed at times with members of the media for not being the best interview (Chase Utley is deeply despised by the Phillies’ beat writers for the same reason), but was everything the Phillies could have asked of him and much, much more.

Let’s go back to the beginning of the saga, which I will quote from the 38th installment (page 97) in my book “100 Things Phillies Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die“:

With the [Los Angeles Dodgers], Werth was expected to blossom, but his career was nearly ended when A.J. Burnett hit him with a fastball during a spring training game on March 2, 2005. Werth didn’t return until late May, but his power was gone. He hit just seven home runs in 395 plate appearances and slugged a paltry .374. The wrist problems persisted, causing him to miss the entire 2006 season.

Werth says he saw many doctors, but none could properly diagnose his wrist problem. “No matter who I saw for my wrist, it was always the same old thing: As long as you can tolerate it, you can play,” he said.

Fate very well may have intervened when Werth went home to Springfield, Illinois. He ran into a friend of the family, an orthopedist. Werth detailed his wrist injury and was quickly referred to the Mayo Clinic. There, his wrist injury was properly diagnosed as a split tear of the ulnotriquetral ligament. Werth had surgery, then made his way into free agency.

From there, the rest is history. Werth finished the ’07 season with a .385 wOBA, the fifth-highest among all right fielders. His offense was a big reason why the Phillies, as a team, led the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Werth was also crucial to the Phillies trampling the New York Mets in the waning days of the regular season, snapping a 14-year playoff drought.

In 2008, Werth shared right field with Jenkins again, but it became obvious that the right-hander’s bat needed to be in the lineup every day. At the end of the regular season, Werth had a .382 wOBA and stole 20 bases in 21 attempts while playing solid defense in right. As the Phillies cut through post-season competition like a hot knife through butter en route to their first World Series championship since 1980, Werth was always dependable, finishing the playoffs with a .969 OPS in 14 games.

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Werth and the Phillies avoided arbitration, agreeing to a two-year, $10 million extension. It turned out to be arguably the best contract the Phillies have ever signed as Werth’s 09-10 seasons were incredibly productive. Werth hit a career-high 36 home runs and drove in a career-best 99 runs while his wOBA stayed constant at .382. He continued to add value with aggressive-but-efficient base running and solid defense in right field. The Phillies returned to the World Series only to be pushed out by the New York Yankees in six games. It wasn’t Werth’s fault, though, as he posted a 1.129 OPS in 15 post-season games.

As 2010 approached, it became obvious that the Phillies were going to have to pay Werth like a superstar or face losing him to another team. Werth didn’t budge on his contract demands, and the Phillies remained steadfast in avoiding another big contract, having to that point awarded $125 million over five years to Ryan Howard and $60 million over three years to Roy Halladay. With top prospect Domonic Brown waiting in the wings, GM Ruben Amaro felt that losing Werth wasn’t the end of the world. Meanwhile, as the rumors swirled around Werth throughout the 2010 regular season, he put up the best numbers of his career including a .397 wOBA and a league-leading 46 doubles. The Phillies reached the post-season for the fourth year in a row — and the fourth year in a row with Werth on the roster — only to be booted out of the NLCS by the San Francisco Giants in six games.

The Phillies waved goodbye to Werth as he went out into the marketplace. On December 6, 2010, Werth and the Nationals agreed to a seven-year, $126 million contract. It was a statement by the Washington Nationals that they were very serious about becoming contenders in the NL East, with uber prospect Stephen Strasburg — taken #1 overall in the 2009 draft — on the horizon. The Nats would later draft another uber prospect in Bryce Harper, the #1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. During the 2011 regular season, the Phillies utilized a combination of Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown in right field before trading for Hunter Pence at the end of July. Meanwhile, Werth was having an awful first year in Washington. Everything that made him successful in Philadelphia disappeared when he went south on I-95: his batting average dropped to .232, his on-base percentage to .330, and his slugging percentage to .389. After posting an aggregate 130 OPS+ in four years with the Phillies, his first year with the Nats ended with a 97 OPS+.

Werth rebounded this season in a big way. Although he missed time between May and August due to another wrist injury — coincidentally suffered in a game against the Phillies — his production is back up to pre-2011 levels, and just for good measure, his strikeout rate is significantly down as well. Best of all for the Nationals, he is looking as if he will return at least some value for his monstrous seven-year contract and the Nats are going to the post-season for the first time in team history, and for the first time since 1981 in franchise history.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because for some reason, despite his significance to the team between 2007-10, Phillies fans are mad at Werth. It isn’t exactly new, either. When Werth suffered his wrist injury, he was jeered — in Washington — by Phillies fans as he walked off:

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/199613674225287169

A particular Philadelphia sports blog encouraged the mistreatment of Werth.

twitter.com/CrashburnAlley/status/199313240310808576

(Nats fans on Twitter that night confirmed that my conjecture was correct.)

UPDATE: Adding this in here:

twitter.com/timcusumano/status/251328945281196032

Talking about the incident later, Werth remarked, “I am motivated to get back quickly and see to it personally those people never walk down Broad Street in celebration again.” Once again, this rankled Phillies fans for some reason. Gee, I wonder why Werth would say such a thing.

Fast forward to last night. The Nats have already clinched at least a playoff appearance and likely the NL East crown while the Phillies are on the brink of mathematical elimination, but the two teams are finishing the second game of a three-game series in Philadelphia before three more in Washington to close out the season. During the game, Werth was involved in another incident that drew the ire of Phillies fans.

[...] it appeared as if the Nats’ rightfielder faked tossing a foul ball into the crowd to a group of kids before tossing it aside into the dugout.

[...] “Earlier in the game I flipped a ball into the seats to a fan and it flipped off her hand and landed on someone else’s lap. Then a guy reached over — a Phillies fan — and grabbed the ball off her lap and threw it back onto the field,” Werth explained.

“In the ninth I was going to flip the ball to a group of kids and behind them was all these unruly, middle-aged men who to me appeared to be snarling. It’s the ninth, so who knows. I got the sense that maybe they were intoxicated. I was going to flip it to the kids and then thought maybe not because of the group behind the little innocent children there, remembering what happened earlier in right field.”

The Phillies had battled back late to close the Nats’ lead to one run at 5-4 entering the ninth. Werth came up with runners on first and third with two outs. As Werth worked the count to 2-2 against Justin De Fratus, catcher Kurt Suzuki stole second base, putting both runners in scoring position. On the fifth pitch, Werth drove a single up the middle, plating both runs. The former Phillies right fielder clapped his hands in excitement rounding the first base bag.

This morning, I was perusing Twitter, as I usually do, only to see friend of the blog and WIP’s Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) trying to talk sense into hordes of angry Phillies fans. The anger ranged from the purely emotional to emotional rationalizations.

twitter.com/SpikeEskin/status/251295810816446464

I write all of this because I don’t get it. The Werth hate makes absolutely no sense. At least with the Rollins hate that went on earlier this season, there was some small sliver of rationality. Why does a city hate a player who came from nothing and blossomed into an incredibly productive player at a cost under $13 million? To put that in perspective, Werth put up 15 WAR as a Phillie according to Baseball Reference. Roughly $5 million will net you one win above replacement, so Werth’s 15 WAR was worth about $75 million. In other words, the Phillies got about six times the return on their investment in Werth. He led the Phillies to four consecutive playoff appearances, including one championship and another World Series appearance. He became the third-most-efficient base stealer of all time under the tutelage of Davey Lopes.

He left Philadelphia because he could make more money somewhere else, and who can blame him? The Phillies had overspent in other areas, leaving themselves unable to justify matching the market price for Werth. Did Phillies fans expect him to take a significant pay cut, as if playing in Philadelphia is the only city in baseball where the sky is blue and grass is green? When he lashed out at the Phillies fans who cheered his injury, did they expect him to laugh and say, “ha, those grown men wishing physical harm on me? That’s hilarious”?

Werth has handled all of the mistreatment and adversity with aplomb. He never lashed out at the selfish writers who besmirched his name for being an introvert. He did not address the Phillies fans who labeled him a selfish money-chaser. It was only after suffering a frightening and potentially career-ending injury to the glee of a pocket of Phillies fans at Nationals Park did he show the slightest hint of frustration — completely justified frustration, I might add.

Phillies fans get a bad rap around the country for uncouth behavior. Most of it is unwarranted as a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch, and the intermittent bad behavior that does occur is not unique to Philadelphia. Even the batteries thrown at J.D. Drew isn’t a behavior that only Philadelphians exhibit — a fan in Oakland threw a cell phone from the second deck that hit Carl Everett back in 2003, for instance. On this issue, though, Phillies fans are simply wrong and grossly humiliating themselves on the national stage. I get that “fan” is derived from “fanatic” — “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal” — but that doesn’t justify treating an integral part of the greatest era of Phillies baseball in 130 years as less than human. Any fans that continue to harbor ill will towards Werth are an embarrassment to those of us who call ourselves Phillies fans and to the city of Philadelphia.