Jayson Werth: the Product of a Bygone Era

When Jayson Werth left Philadelphia after the 2010 season and signed a seven-year, $126 million dollar contract with the Washington Nationals, the right fielder has been booed lustily before every at-bat at Citizens Bank Park by the Phillies faithful. Fans remember a player often aloof, difficult to understand, and driven enough to seek the contract of a lifetime outside the City of Brotherly Love. It’s not uncommon for a former player to be booed, especially one that was divisive among fans and not the most likable guy upon first notice.

Werth, though, was the product and epitome of an era of Phillies baseball that has passed us by. Former GM Pat Gillick plucked Werth from the bargain bin after a perplexing wrist injury put his career on the line. Through a stroke of luck, Werth was referred to the Mayo Clinic and his wrist was quickly as good as new. With the Phillies, Werth initially shared playing time with Geoff Jenkins, but it became difficult to ignore his renewed five-tool approach. By 2008, Werth was the everyday right fielder.

Everything Werth was is everything that more recent Phillies have not been. Werth worked counts better than almost anyone else in baseball. He walked in 13 percent of his plate appearances as a Phillie between 2007-10. Only 25 players in baseball drew walks at a higher rate in that period of time, only 13 of them in the National League.

Werth ran the bases with amazing dexterity for someone listed at 6’5″, 225. He stole 60 bases in 68 attempts (88%) as a Phillie, the 22nd-highest total in the time period among National Leaguers, and the fifth-highest success rate among those players with at least 55 successful stolen bases. Baseball Prospectus had him among the top-30 base runners in all of baseball in 2008 (28) and 2009 (11), looking at all avenues of base running, including advancing on ground and fly ball outs, as well as hits.

In right field, Werth was among the best if you buy 4,263 defensive innings’ worth of Ultimate Zone Rating data. Among single seasons, his last (2010) was his only subpar defensive showing with the Phillies. Not only did he showcase a fair amount of range, he was consistently one of baseball’s most feared arms. Werth accrued 37 outfield assists as a Phillie, the seventh most among all outfielders from 2007-10.

Werth posted 15.8 Wins Above Replacement as a Phillie, according to Baseball Reference. (FanGraphs lists him at 17.7.) Because Werth was plucked from the bargain bin by Gillick, he did all this for a total of $12.55 million. The Phillies rightfully chose not to retain his services when he, rightfully, went in search of a multi-year contract in excess of $100 million.

In the time since, the Phillies have abandoned the practices that led them to players like Werth (and Shane Victorino). Rather than attempt to catch lightning in a bottle with toolsy players, the Phillies have gone after over-the-hill veterans like Michael Young and one-dimensional players like Delmon Young. They left barren an entire Minor League system in the expensive pursuit of Hunter Pence. Going down the list of players brought on board by the Phillies since 2011, not a single one of them brought to the table even two of the multitude of qualities Werth brought.

Though the Phillies can thank their lucky stars they are not on the hook to the tune of $126 million over seven years for Werth’s services, they should continue to search tirelessly for the next Werth. And though Phillies fans may feel disparaged by how quickly Werth chose to take the next flight out of Philly, he represents everything that was right about what was arguably the greatest era of Phillies baseball.

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63 comments

  1. Cutter

    June 21, 2013 08:38 AM

    @EricL-

    Let’s not act like Frandsen was some young wunderkind. There was a very good chance that he wasn’t going to hit as well as he did last year.

    His fWAR might currently be higher (surely aided by his positional versatility) but I have a feeling that he’s the type of guy who becomes less valuable the more he plays. He’s fine as a utility sub, but given regular playing time, his weaknesses become more evident.

    And while MY hasn’t looked like a Gold Glover, he also hasn’t been replaced defensively in games like Frandsen has been.

    I’d say considering that Texas is paying part of his salary and the Phillies didn’t hold the players they traded in any sort of esteem, the cost was actually minimal.

    It should also be considered that without MY, you’ve got third being handled by a combination of Frandsen/Galvis. This weakens the bench, and means that another roster spot gets filled by either Mini Mart or Betancourt.

    @697-

    You mention Eric Chavez as a potential alternative. What about Chavez’s recent history suggests that he could hold up playing a full season at 3B?

    If they wanted a guy who was sure to break down, they could have kept Polanco

  2. Phillie697

    June 21, 2013 09:54 AM

    @Cutter,

    Would you rather have Chase Utley as your 2B playing 100 games a year or Jose Altuve for 150+ games? Yeah, exactly, especially since we know we have Frandsen to spell Chavez. Plus like Juums said, it’s a stop-gap measure for a season we ain’t going to win jack. I rather save $3M and not give up any organizational depth while I’m at it.

  3. Juums

    June 21, 2013 10:54 AM

    @Phillie697:

    Eric Chavez’s .401 wOBA is also the result of SSS (126 PA for the season) and his being used as a platoon bat (115 PA against RHP v. 11 PA v. LHP). Not a knock on what he’s accomplished, but it’s rather easier to notch a .401 wOBA when you’re only playing part-time and in situations which are intended to optimize your success. (And a defensive metric quirk: Per UZR/150, Chavez has been a worse defender at 3B than Young this year. (-15.8 for Chavez, -14.4 for Young.))

    But all of that is hindsight speaking. What was known about Chavez this winter was that he was a guy whose bat had real upside at the cost of a pronounced platoon, and someone who had real injury concerns. If you take on Chavez, it means you’re going to have to run a 3B platoon, presumably with Frandsen as the right-handed platoon partner. Cutter already makes the point about the dangers of a platoon in the Frandsen/Galvis context, and I would only add that when (Michael) Young was acquired, the outfield situation was still in flux and there was still a good deal of talk of a double platoon in the corners and the bench couldn’t take another platoon on top of those two.

    But I’ll certainly concede that a Chavez/Frandsen platoon could, if properly used, have produced better results and/or greater value. That said, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good attack on the Young acquisition, due to the aforementioned platoon-riven context in which Young was acquired and the downsides of Chavez’s injury risk that need factoring in.

    @EricL:

    You know, I snickered at the suggestion that Kevin Frandsen’s bat’s upside was equal to Michael Young’s, but I’ll be darned if they aren’t:
    Frandsen 2012: .338/.383/.451 (.362 wOBA; 210 PA)
    Young 2011: .338/.380/.474 (.369 wOBA; 689 PA)

    But, he’s the big question about the upside of Frandsen’s bat: Do you think his 2012 run was the instance of a guy finally putting all together and that we can project that kind of performance forward in an everyday role, or was it the result of an improbable alignment of the stars to produce an impressive hot streak that’s not indicative of an underlying change? What if Frandsen turns back into a pumpkin who posts his career line if given a full season of PAs? Well, Frandsen’s career line is .268/.328/.370 (.309 wOBA). Michael Young’s lost season, the one for which he was so roundly derided and which contributed so mightily to that -1.7 fWAR, posted a line of .277/.312/.370 (.297 wOBA). Given all of that, which would you be more comfortable betting on: That Michael Young bounces back from a horrific year and performs close to his career norms or that Kevin Frandsen continues to defy his career numbers by being a force at the plate?

    Thankfully, though, Frandsen’s not turned into a pumpkin and has continued to post impressive numbers, as demonstrated by his 0.5 fWAR in just 87 PA. (His 2013 numbers are essentially the same as his 2012 ones, save that they’re fueled by a sustainable BABIP.) But how much of that +0.1 fWAR that Frandsen’s got on Young is the result of SSS noise or his just continuing to be on a hot streak? Sadly, it’s impossible to tell.

  4. Phillie697

    June 21, 2013 11:29 AM

    @Juums,

    Hence why I’m on the side that MY deal wasn’t a bad one. Still, my preference would have been to sign Chavez. Cheaper option that costs us no prospects, yes please.

  5. George Smith

    June 21, 2013 11:34 AM

    hi

  6. Martha St.George

    June 21, 2013 12:27 PM

    Always liked Werth and he was an incredibly skilled player until he failed us miserably at the end of ’09 and looked like he was tripping and had somewhere much better to be…too bad.

  7. Mike E

    June 21, 2013 03:24 PM

    @phillie697

    I ain’t ever on your side. Which is sitting on a fence with a “post” up your ass. But, hey, good luck with that, sport!

  8. joecatz

    June 22, 2013 08:24 AM

    697,

    If the Phillies traded the same prospects for Young for Justin Upton you ould have figured out a way to say “should have saved the bullets for Stanton”. Your preference is whatever the team doesnt do. simple.

  9. hk

    June 22, 2013 09:11 AM

    Juums,

    Since Chavez has a .365 wOBA vs. RHP’s for his career and Frandsen’s career wOBA vs. LHP’s is .338, Young costs ~$4M more than Chavez this year and they had to trade Lindblom and Bonilla to get him, why wouldn’t you prefer a Chavez /Frandsen platoon to Michael Young?

  10. hk

    June 22, 2013 09:13 AM

    Juums,

    My bad, I didn’t read your whole post and I now see that you concede that Chavez / Frandsen > Young.

  11. hk

    June 22, 2013 09:22 AM

    “But how much of that +0.1 fWAR that Frandsen’s got on Young is the result of SSS noise or his just continuing to be on a hot streak? Sadly, it’s impossible to tell.”

    Juums,

    You have part of the SSS noise question backwards. WAR is a statistic that grows with playing time. Therefore, Kevin Frandsen’s 0.5 fWAR is even more impressive than Michael Young’s 0.2 fWAR when you consider that Frandsen has accumulated his in 88 PA’s while Young has accumulated his in 271 PA’s. Take away the extra ~0.45 fWAR that Young gets from those extra 183 PA’s and he’d be at -0.25 fWAR. By the way, baseball-reference.com‘s version of WAR shows an even wider gulf with Frandsen at +0.6 WAR and Young at -0.4 WAR despite the benefit that Young gets from additional playing time.

  12. Ed Mac

    June 23, 2013 07:48 AM

    Fire the incompetence:
    Manuel (do not renew)
    Rollins (hotdog}
    Amara (DEFINETLY_ his father was good, he is not)

  13. Phillie697

    June 25, 2013 02:06 PM

    Love how the people who can’t defend RAJ on the merits instead just hate on people who thinks he’s lousy. This is why American politics have turned into poison.

    “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense.

    You don’t have to compromise convictions to be understanding.”

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