Last night may have been a little different for the Philadelphia Phillies, and for a certain slugger playing right field for the Washington Nationals. After all, it was the first time in four years that said slugger was sitting in the dugout opposite of the Phils', and for last night's Phils' starter, Joe Blanton, it was the first time that he was facing his former right fielder after donning a Phillies uniform.
Of course, that slugger was none other than Jayson Werth.
The former Phillies' right fielder laughed first in this series, going 2-for-3 against his former club, slugging a home run and a double, scoring a couple of runs and drawing a walk against former mate Blanton and the Phils' relievers that followed. The staggering question remaing, however, is who has the last laugh?
Werth was the center of a bit of controversy in the city of Philadelphia this winter, when he turned down an offer to remain with the Phillies and instead took the seven year, $126 million offer to play right field for the Washington Nationals. That is, until top prospect Bryce Harper forces him to left field. But hey, who can blame him? If I were in his shoes, and boy do I wish I was, I would have looked at the deal the Phillies offered, which guaranteed him $48 million over three years with an option for a fourth year, bringing the total value of the deal to $60 million, and laughed at it in comparison to the deal the Nationals were offering.
As Phillies' beat writer Todd Zolecki pointed out on his blog the other day, it is crazy for fans to think that he was being greedy for taking the better deal. A lot of people around the city of Philadelphia who are hard working, blue collar fans of the Phillies questioned Werth's loyalty by taking the bigger deal over playing for the Phillies, and it's an understandable viewpoint. However at the same time, the difference between the two deals was $78 million—an amount of money that I find it hard to believe any of Werth's critics would pass up, given the opportunity.
That said, Werth signed with the division rival Nationals, and the Phils' decided to spend their money elsewhere, nabbing free agent lefty Cliff Lee. In doing so, they made an interesting choice. Though many wouldn't admit to it at the time, the Phils' were ready to hand over their starting right field job to one of (or both of) Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown. Brown's spring injury made the decision easy, but was Francisco ready?
In the beginning of the offseason, I took a look at some of the reasons that Francisco could share the same success that Werth did early in his Phillies career. A lot of readers who commented on that article expressed the same concern—Francisco simply doesn't have the same level of talent that Werth does.
While that may be the case, I wasn't ready to rule the possibility of Francsico having a breakout season out then, and after a hot start to the 2011 season, I'm certainly not ready to rule that possibility out now. In fact, Francisco's been swinging such a hot bat that Charlie Manuel hasn't found a place to take him out of the lineup. He's played in all 10 of the team's games to this point in the season.
That forced me, out of curiosity, to take a look at Werth's numbers at this early stage of the season. Through 10 games, I was curious as to whether or not Francisco has shown a glimpse of his potential with the Phillies, and whether or not he truly could "replace" Werth in right field. The results were interesting, to say the least.
The table above shows an interesting trend—Francisco is out-hitting Werth in just about every facet of the game. Of course, a lot of that has to do Nationals' manager Jim Riggleman's decision to hit Werth second in his order, which is now an obsolete fact, as Werth moves down to replace the injured Ryan Zimmerman.
Even still, the question has to be asked—are the Phillies better off with Ben Francisco in right field? Looking at last season's numbers, the answer would be a resounding no. However, if the Phils' would have taken a chance on Werth in free agency, he would have been paid around $16 million this season. While the fans may (or may not) miss him now, they'd certainly be very outspoken about his lack of production for a hypothetical $16 million a season.
The Nationals, who decided to back-load most of Werth's deal into the final years of his contract (a questionable decision in and of itself, but a topic for another debate), will be paying their star right fielder $10 million this season. The Phillies, through ten games this season, have gotten better production out of their own right fielder—a former everyday outfielder-turned bench player-turned every day outfielder—just over one-tenth of the salary that Werth is being paid this year.
Even further, according to FanGraphs statistical analysis, Francisco has already been worth the Phils' money. Through just ten games, he has accumulated 0.4 Wins Above Replacement, the same amount Werth has accumulated for the Nationals. In terms of dollars, FanGraphs estimates that Francisco's 0.4 WAR is the equivalent of $1.6 million in salary—$425,000 more than what the Phils' will pay Francisco for the entire 2011 season.
In the long run, 10 games is a very, very small sample size, and over the course of even the first month, both players' season could change drastically. However, if these first few weeks are a preview of things to come, letting Werth walk was more than the right decision.
Ben Francisco is playing better than Jayson Werth, at just a fraction of the cost.
*All statistical data compiled was received courtesy of FanGraphs.com.