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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.