Let me tell you a little story about Jayson Werth:
Jayson, then just a bald faced debutant as opposed to the werewolf we grew to love later, debuted in 2002 with Toronto. From then until 2010, while playing for Toronto, the Dodgers and the Phillies he averaged 15 HR, 51 RBI and a .272 batting average per season. Kind of underwhelming.
He did hit his stride in ’08 however: from ’08 through ’10 he was a .279 hitter and averaged 29 HR and 84 RBI over that span.
After the 2010 season, the Washington Nationals gave him a contract with a guaranteed value of $126 million.
Wow. $126 million for a career .270 hitter who even at his peak showed “good” production, but not “great” production…? Why would they do that?
Put a pin it that, we’ll come back to it:
Recently, while talking over the airwaves to Howard Eskin of WIP in Philadelphia about the current state of the game, the now unemployed and angry wolf man went on a rant:
“They’ve got all these super nerds in the front office that know nothing about baseball but they like to project numbers and project players. I think it’s killing the game. It’s to the point where just put computers out there. Just put laptops and what have you, just put them out there and let them play. We don’t even need to go out there anymore. It’s a joke. When they come down, these kids from MIT, Stanford, Harvard, wherever they’re from, they’ve never played baseball in their life. It’s just not baseball to me. You’ve taken the human element out of the game.”
Now back to Jayson’s current enormous wealth:
Here’s why the Nationals gave Jayson Werth $126 million dollars to be a part of their team for seven seasons:
From ’08 through ’10 among 42 National League* outfielders, Werth was 1st in fWAR, 3rd in bWAR, 3rd in OBP, 4th in wRC+, 4th in wOBA, 4th in BsR, 4th in SLG, and 5th in OPS+.
Translation: Very smart people who also happen to be big baseball fans figured out statistics that measure players’ value far more accurately than the archaic BA/HR/RBI lines that we still see under names today.
And what those stats told anyone who was paying attention, was that Jayson Werth was a FAR more valuable player than what traditional stats would indicate. He was a guy who could play three positions competently, he got on base at a very high rate, he advanced runners with doubles, triples and home runs and he was a plus base runner who played every day. And when compared to the league average of the era and his peers he was an elite player – easily in the top 3 or 4 of outfielders over that three season stretch.
Frankly, he was more of a contributor to the Phillies great success over those three seasons than anyone but Chase Utley. Yes, even more than Ryan Howard who had a HR title, two RBI titles and two top three MVP finishes over that stretch. Again, those numbers tell us next to nothing – total value (WAR) says Werth 12.8, Howard 6.8 over that span. Even the reigning NL MVP entering ’08 who played a premium position fell short of Werth’s value over that stretch, by 12.8 to 9.2 – not an insignificant margin.
So, how did it work out?
Well, over the next seven seasons with Werth as a National, Washington averaged over 15 wins more per season than Philadelphia. All because of Werth? Of course not. But the mindset to use statistics that actually tell us something about a player’s contributions as opposed to “We old school, we use BA/HR/RBI, grrrrr…” was a huge factor in both team’s performances over that stretch.
Jayson Werth is a very rich man precisely and directly because of nerds. Did not being offered a contract this past off season really make him this angry? Sorry Jayson, being a below league average player for 3 seasons at the end of your deal will do that…
So go ahead and add Werth to Paul O’Neill, Keith Hernandez and others who modern analytics show were much better players than their traditional numbers suggested, yet still pull the cranky old man routine at statistics. They’re all examples of how far being tall and very athletic can get you in life.
If Werth is looking for a job in broadcasting, he’s off to a great start.
*I left out AL outfielders, many of whom DHd often, a benefit Werth could not utilize. See, Ramirez, Manny. See also; Cruz, Nelson. See; many others.
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