Former Philadelphia Phillie Jayson Werth signed with his former division rival Washington Nationals for $126 MM over seven years, which allowed Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. to offer a contract to the much-coveted Cliff Lee.
In a deal that shocked baseball where Lee left millions of dollars on the table, he decided to return to a team where he enjoyed the city, the team and the fans.
Lee decided that his comfort and the chance for history and a championship was more important than the money the Yankees offered him.
As a Phillies fan, I am extremely excited to have Lee back on the team, especially since I spent 12 months criticizing Amaro for getting rid of Lee to begin with. Werth, unlike Lee, decided that he would rather have the money than an immediate chance to become a world champion yet again.
With Werth missing from the roster, there has been a great deal of discussion as to who will replace him. Werth was the second best hitter on the Phillies who ranked towards the top in home runs and RBI. He was also a smart baserunner and a great defensive player.
Werth was certainly a productive player and helped the Phillies earn their four consecutive NL East championships and the 2008 World Series victory. Werth was a key asset to these accomplishments, but he did not solely earn these accomplishments, as baseball is, after all, a team sport.
Werth will be 39 years old at the end of his contract. He may still be a productive player, but it is unlikely that he will be as productive in the latter years of the contract as he has been in the past few years, especially if he is injured again or as he becomes slower with age.
With Werth gone, however, who will be his replacement in right field and as a right-handed hitter? Discussions have surfaced about a platoon in right field consisting of Ben Francisco and Ross Gload or Domonic Brown. However, I think that splitting right field with either Gload or Brown leaves much to be desired since they both are left-handed hitters, and Brown also had very disappointing numbers at the plate in the winter league.
Why not just use Ben Francisco as the starter? He may not have as much power as Jayson Werth, but he can produce offensive numbers that are very comparable to what Werth did in 2010. Francisco was largely used as a pinch hitter and not a starter. If he had chances to start every day, he could find a rhythm and become more productive than an off-the-bench player.
Comparing Francisco’s stats to Werth’s stats for 2010, we can see there is not a big difference in the ratio of their stats between these two players.
In 554 at-bats for 2010, Werth batted for an average of .296 with 27 home runs and 85 RBI. Werth’s on-base percentage was .388 with a slugging average of .532. Werth did lead the league in doubles with 46 and had 13 stolen bases, but he had 147 strikeouts. Doing the math, that means that almost 27 percent of the time that Werth was batting, he struck out.
Francisco had 179 at-bats in 2010, which is just shy of a third of the at-bats that Werth had. During those 179 at-bats, Francisco batted .268 with six home runs and 28 RBI. Francisco had an on-base percentage of .327 with a slugging average of .441, which is not much less than Werth’s relative numbers. He also had 13 doubles and eight stolen bases.
If we were to adjust Francisco’s numbers to make it comparative to having played a full season, his numbers would be equivalent to 18 home runs, 84 RBI, 39 doubles and 24 stolen bases, assuming that Francisco’s numbers were directly proportionate through the season.
Francisco (Adjusted to assume full-season stats)
If Francisco’s adjusted numbers proved to be his true production over the whole season, he would be a perfect replacement for Werth.
Francisco is a better player than he often gets credit for. He has not played full-time since before he came to the Phillies with Cliff Lee the first time Lee became a Phillie. Francisco batted one-third of the number of times that Werth did and produced exactly one-third of the RBI. That means that over the course of a full season, both of these players will have the same run-producing ability.
The one thing to mention about Francisco is that his home-run-producing ability is less than Werth’s, but as already mentioned, his RBI-producing ability is exactly the same. How can there be this paradox in numbers? The answer to that question is that Werth struck out about 27 percent of the time he batted, whereas Francisco only struck out 19 percent of the time he batted. Therefore, it is clear that Francisco strikes out eight percent less frequently than Werth.
Another answer to this question is that Werth bats for a much lower average when runners are in scoring position than Francisco does. Werth’s batting average with runners in scoring position was only .186, whereas Francisco’s average with runners in scoring position was .306. It can be seen here that Francisco is much better at producing runs when runners are on base than Werth is.
Francisco is a favorite to win Werth’s spot this spring because he will have a chance to shine and prove that he is better than many people expect him to be. Many people beyond myself claim that he is underestimated, including Werth himself and Brad Lidge.
Werth in an interview spoke of Francisco, saying, "I think Ben Francisco is a better player than people realize." Werth does believe that the Phillies should have Francisco be the man that fills the hole he left. Charlie Manuel also claimed that Francisco is a primary candidate and said, "I think it's time we give Ben a chance."
Lidge also spoke of Francisco, claiming that he thinks Francisco is the Phillies' best option to fill in for the loss of Werth. He said, "In my opinion, if Ben Francisco plays the way I think he can, if he delivers like a lot of guys on our team think he can, the blow of losing Jayson won’t be as big as it appears on paper.
"We’ll need Domonic Brown at some point and Ross Gload could be an everyday player. But to me, Ben is the key. He’s a right-handed hitter with 20-plus home run potential and he can play good D. You look at last year and guys like Ryan [Howard] and Chase [Utley] and Jimmy [Rollins] were hurt. I think we’ll be healthier and that will make up a lot for the loss of Jayson."
Francisco should be the favorite to earn the starting right field spot this year. He can replace the defense that Werth once added to right field, and Francisco can also make up for Werth’s run-producing ability in the fifth spot in the lineup. Francisco is the answer to how the Phillies can replace Werth in all ways.
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