Jayson Werth's time with the Nats is amazing. It's not about this on-base streak thing. That's slightly interesting but far secondary to the fact that he's been good during that time. Maybe very good (.264 / .382 / .460 - borderline. I'd go "good") certainly not great, but good is great when you were expecting bad.
Is that right?
Yeah, I think that makes sense.
And it's not about the fuzzy leadership you get from a guy described anywhere from the ultimate gamer to a huge egotist who cares not for your laws.
No Jayson Werth's time is amazing because he's twice now brought his contract back from the brink to acceptable levels.
Understand a couple points. First, the Nats overbid themselves for Werth, and paid him way more than necessary. You may want to argue this. Don't. No one has looked into this more than me. That's usually hyperbole, but I honestly believe this. I can have long discussions about the market at the time, the public expectations from people in the know, the idea of bad teams having to pay more to get players, the level of contracts similar players got during the time period, etc. etc. Just trust me on this point and keep reading because it's becomes sort of a side note anyway.
Second, contracts for guys in their 30s are always some level of overpay. That's the way the system works. You get underpaid when you are young, partially because your performance is more variable, mostly because they can underpay you. You get overpaid when you are old, partially because your performance is less variable, mostly because you can work the scarcity angle to force them to overpay you.
In general then, a player will never be worth what he is going to be paid for a long contract that ends in his latter 30s. That's what you accept when you make a deal. Because the Nats overpaid, that near certainty stood out even more*. But it doesn't mean necessarily these are bad deals on the field. The goal of these deals is different. It is not to get value over the course of the contract (sorry fangraphs!) but to get value immediately and to turn that into wins. On a 7 year deal you probably expect something like this:
Current level, current level, lower, lower, lower, lower, whatever.
For Werth at the plate that would be an OPS+ of something like 140 140 125 115 105 95... I don't know 70. Consider those contract years 1 through 7 for continuing discussion.
When Werth started he immediately came in and at the plate gave Nats "contract year" number... six. That is a disastrous result. Now of course he wasn't well but that doesn't make it better. He's 32, injured, and just put up a mediocre year. This could have easily lead to the Nats getting absolutely nothing out of their highest paid player for 6 years. You can hardly have a worse outcome from signing a player long term, especially one that had just put up 3+ years of high level performance.
He would come back the next year and give something akin to year 4 or 5. He hit better than that yes, but only played half a season. It was better but the prospects for ever coming close to either getting back what you paid for, or getting what you expected seemed grim. What was he going to do? Have an OPS+ around 140 at 34 and 35? Ha!
Amazingly the answer was yes. In 2013 he hit even better than that, with only missed time costing him the chance at exceeding "contract year 1" expectations. In 2014 he more or less hit them. So the Nats got "contract year 1" and "contract year 2" only instead of in actual year 1 and 2 they came in year 3 and 4. Now things looked pretty good. If he regressed slightly each year, not a terrible assumption at least for the next couple years, he would provide them with that year 3 and a year 4 and they'd be on target for expectations. Maybe, just maybe, if he pulled out one more great year, they could have gotten more. I blogged about this at the time, but coming from where things stood the middle of 2012, that was a goddamn miracle.
But Werth didn't slightly regress. He got hurt and crashed again, basically giving the Nats "contract year 7" in year 5. At 36 it was quite possible he would be done and that would be that. The Nats managed to squeak out enough value that the contract wasn't a disaster but it would still end up a loss with three albatross years at the end dragging it down.
But again, like a beardy phoenix rising from the ashes of a flaming high-speed car wreck, Werth has come back. He's far more limited today than he was a couple years ago but he's giving the Nats a year that again will hit that 4/5 year level. That will pretty much mean that Werth will hit his expectations for the 7 years when the Nats signed him.
This is all very broad and macro-level but at the end of the day twice in the span of Werth's contract it looked like things were going to turn out badly. First it looked as if it would be a possible "worst contract ever" contestant, later, it looked to be more a typical bad contract where the player's viability went away too quickly. In both instances he performed above expectations to make sure things turned out ok. First performing at an All-Star level at age 34 and 35, later, giving the Nats above average play at the plate at age 37. That's not nothing. How many 34/35s or older are giving their teams All-Star play at the plate this year? Just three. Ortiz, Cruz, and Beltran. How many 37s or older and giving above average OPSs? Just a handful more with Ortiz and Beltran - Victor Martinez, Suzuki, Beltre.
You probably noticed I haven't mentioned defense and yes, Werth quickly became a bad defender which does go into this. But defensive stats are still being worked out, so I prefer to talk about them only in the broadest multi-year sense. In general you would have hoped Werth 2010 was a fluke. He had been a good fielder early in his career, bordering on very good. At the same time you probably would have expected him to age out at some point. Year 2 was probably quicker than you hoped but it was always going to happen. Only elite defenders can keep their worth that long. Also not in here is baserunning. Werth is a savvy baserunner and that has helped. He basically kept up his Phillies levels through 2014 before age caught up to him. This all matters but because hitting has the most reliable numbers I'm focusing on that.
Barring getting a complete zero from him next year, something worse than last year, Jayson Werth the player has been a good signing for the Nats. Not a good contract, but a good signing. He has nearly met expectations. Not in the typical way at all, but he's done it. That's all you can ask. And while it's doubtful he'll unleash a 125ish OPS+ year next season, I'm not going to doubt it at this point. He's twice defied being kicked into the abyss. What's one more miracle year?
*and it's the main reason I'll always say it was a bad deal off the field. If you can get something for $100 and you pay $120, even if you get $120 worth of value for it - you made a bad deal.