Jayson Werth's free agency and impending contract is one of the hot topics in Philadelphia these days. Recently, Werth's agent Scott Boras (maybe you've heard of him) was on talk radio and had the following to say about his client and his time in Philadelphia:
"I think, hitting in the fifth spot in Philadelphia is very difficult. To have the people behind you, certainly [Ryan] Howard and [Chase] Utley enjoyed having Jayson behind them. It’s hard to score a lot of runs. When you’re scoring 100 runs from the fifth spot, you’ve done something pretty unique.
"For a guy with great speed and stolen base efficiency—over the last five or six years, it’s one of the best in baseball—you’re talking about a situation for him where he’s performed very, very well offensively and frankly had very good production numbers even though he’s hitting in the fifth hole."
So, granted, Boras is just trying to create value for his client. And yes, it's clearly harder to score 100 runs from the five-hole than it is from the one-to-four holes, but in what universe is doing that in Philly harder than anywhere else in the National League?
Obviously, a lot of guys had off years, but isn't "American League-like" an adjective often used to describe the Phillies lineup?
What other NL team has a Carlos Ruiz type in the eight-hole? Are we missing something?
At the end of the day, is this a truth about Philly? Or is this just Boras being Boras?
On the one hand, it would be easy to say his point is that although hitting in Philly's fifth spot is better than most NL fifth spots, it is still not the third spot (where Boras thinks he would normally be hitting). So he's arguing that because Utley and Howard were in front of him, he was really unable to truly showcase his three-hole talent (speed). Yet he still scored 100 runs, which is impressive.
Basically, he's arguing that Utley and Howard have inflated runs numbers (particularly Utley) while Werth scores less runs than he should due to his slot in the order. So imagine what he'd score hitting third! He's trying to counter the impression that Werth has inflated numbers due to the Phillies' "AL lineup," etc.
It does work a bit with the runs argument, but the alternate argument is that he should be knocking in 100 RBI in his sleep with those guys ahead of him.
But let's go deeper.
In one sense, he actually does have a very good point (as much as I hate to admit that).
The natural trend in baseball is that hitters perform better with more men on base, and they perform better the further along the basepaths they are.
Thus, a hitter's batting average should be higher with a man on first than with the bases empty, and higher still with a man on second, etc.
Now Philadelphia has two guys in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard who have a tendency to clear the bases. Hitting fifth behind Ryan Howard—who regularly leads the league in RBI and hits tons of home runs, but also strikes out a ton—is going create a lot of bases-empty plate appearances. In the alternative, it will create a lot of two-out plate appearances for Jayson Werth.
Consider this: Jayson Werth batted in the first inning 67 times in 2010 (which strikes me as high for a five spot hitter), which in all likelihood were at-bats where there was at least one out and probably two outs. Mix in the fact that there are likely men on base AND outs if the five spot hitter is batting in the first, and we all know how well Werth does in those situations.
In those 67 at-bats, Werth hit .094 with a .413 OPS and one home run with 10 RBI.
That's just one example.
The irony, of course, is that this doesn't necessarily hold up, because...anyone?
Given what we know about Jayson Werth's hitting with runners in scoring position (appalling) compared to his hitting with the bases empty (wonderful), he goes against the trend in baseball, and really Werth wants to hit without guys getting on base ahead of him. He wants Utley and Howard to clear the bases. He wants Howard to strikeout or hit home runs.
So, really, when Scott Boras says that hitting fifth is difficult in Philadelphia, what he is really saying is "Jayson Werth has a hard time hitting in Philadelphia because the guys ahead of him get on base so damned much. If the hitters hitting ahead of him were less talented, and he had more bases empty plate appearances, his performance would go through the roof."
At the end of the day, Scott Boras is only interested in overstating Jayson Werth's value to get some team to pay way too much money for him.
The fact that he makes a relevant point on the way to that is, suffice to say, a coincidence.
Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com.