Jayson Werth grabbed some national attention over the weekend in becoming only the 14th player to ever reach the fifth deck at Rogers Centre (formerly Skydome.) While the 458-foot homer gave a glimpse of Werth’s power to the casual baseball fan who has never heard of him, it is safe to say that the Phillies five-tool outfielder will continue to fly under the radar.
We’re talking about an integral part of a defending World Series champion who often bats third for a team that plays a lot of nationally televised games. Maybe it’s Werth’s streakiness, maybe it’s the perception that he’s still little more than a platoon player, or maybe it’s merely the fact that the Phillies have too many other media-friendly names to focus on.
The platoon label that has followed Werth throughout his career is gone now. Yes, he struggles considerably more against right-handers than he does with southpaws, but seven of Werth’s fifteen home-runs this year have come against righties. And his slugging percentage against righties has increased every season since he joined the Phillies.
As with most players on the brink of stardom, Werth spends long stretches at both ends of the spectrum. He’ll strikeout at an alarming rate for two weeks, then scorch through the next two.
For an example of a Jayson Werth “cold spell,” look no further than mid-May of this year. After a decent start to the month, Werth struck out four times against the Dodgers on May 14 and proceeded to enter a 12-for-71 tailspin, seeing his batting average drop from .299 to .243 in under three weeks. During that span, Werth had five walks, 23 strikeouts, and only four extra-base hits. Luckily for the Phils, the rest of the lineup (minus Jimmy Rollins) was hitting well during this time, and the team went 13-5.
But when the Phillies were welcomed by interleague play, a rash of injuries, and poor hitting, Werth was one of the few bright spots. In those 15 games against the AL (eight of which were started by lefties), he hit .333/.412/.754, with seven homers and 15 RBI. He saw the ball much better, working nine walks while striking out only eleven times. Werth’s current hot streak was capped off by a weekend against the Blue Jays (the team he reached the majors with), in which he hit two homers and reached base in his final eleven plate appearances.
In Sunday’s win, he singled and walked four times. The Jays obviously wanted no part of Werth, and the patient righty was more than happy to work a quartet of free passes. After all, his disciplined eye is his best trait.
In 2009, Werth leads the NL in pitches per plate appearance (4.50) and is second in the majors in total number of pitches seen. But the man in front of him, Marco Scutaro, has seen only 17 more pitches in six more games played than Werth.
This isn’t some sort of fluke, either, as Werth led all major leaguers not named Nick Swisher in 2008 with 4.51 P/PA.
Werth’s value doesn’t end there, however. Over the last few seasons, he has been one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, according to Fangraphs.com’s all-encompassing defensive stat, UZR.
UZR is short for Ultimate Zone Rating, and it includes a fielder’s arm, range, and amount of errors committed. Last season, Werth was second among ALL major league outfielders with a UZR of 21.5. This means that he saved 21.5 more runs than the average outfielder. The Phillies just saw 2008’s leader in Alex Rios. This season, Werth’s UZR is fifth among NL right-fielders.
Since joining the Phils, Jayson Werth has shown us that in any given game he can belt three homers, steal four bases (including home), throw two runners out at third, work four walks, or don a “golden sombrero.” The streakiness will likely always be there. But the excitement will be too. It’s amazing that this guy is making $2 million.