How Does Jayson Werth Compare To Baseball’s Other $100 Million Men?

Last winter Jayson Werth was considered to be one of the biggest offensive prizes on the free agent market. For three straight seasons he had been a rock in the Phillies lineup and outfield, consistently producing All-Star caliber numbers. But when Ted Lerner busted out the checkbook and signed the bearded slugger to a seven-year $126 million contract, even the biggest Werth supporters were a bit shocked.

Nevertheless, the Nationals made a commitment to give Jayson Werth the title of their first $100 million man, and with the truckloads of money also came a great deal of stigma and pressure. In year one of his contract, so far the right fielder has done little but disappoint, posting a .230/.333/.394 batting line with 19 home runs and 55 RBI. Even Scott Boras would have to admit, those are not the type of numbers the Washington front office anticipated.

To put his production in context, you only have to compare them to what he produced last year. The differential between his batting line this year form last year is -.066/-.055/-.138, -8 HR, – 45 R, – 30 RBI. The differential between his batting line this year and his career averages is -0.35/-.028/-.063, -6 HR, -27 R, -27 RBI. 

Compared to baseball’s other 19 active players who have a contract worth $100 million or more, Werth ranked 12th this season in WAR.

CC Sabathia: 6.8,

Troy Tulowitzki: 6.7,

Adrian Gonzalez: 6.2

Cliff Lee: 6.2

Miguel Cabrera: 5.4,

Matt Holliday: 5.4

Albert Pujols: 5.0

Alex Rodriguez: 4.2*

Carlos Beltran: 4.2

Mark Teixeira: 4.0

Todd Helton: 2.7

Jayson Werth: 2.5

Ryan Howard: 1.7

Joe Mauer: 1.6*

Alfonso Soriano: 1.1

Carl Crawford: 0.5

Johan Santana: –*

Vernon Wells: 0.0

Barry Zito: -0.2*

* = Missed Significant Time In 2011

Werth did record a higher WAR than seven players. Perhaps most interestingly, Werth outplayed Carl Crawford, a fellow outfielder who signed a similar deal last winter with the Boston Red Sox. Both were considered to be the top bats in last year’s free-agency pool. Werth also recorded a higher WAR than former teammate Ryan Howard, however that is largely due to Howard’s horrendous defense. The Phillies slugger had another great year at the plate, hitting .252/.347/.495 with 32 HR and 111 RBI.

Among players with $100 million contracts who played a full season this year, Werth finished above just four players; Wells, Crawford, Soriano, and Howard. Given that, it’s unclear to me whether its worse to pay a player an unreal amount of money and have them fail to complete the season (or even not play at all), or to have them play a full season and watch your investment flop. To Werth’s credit, outside of his poor performance at the plate he has played well in the field and on the base paths and few would argue the overall positive impact to the club he has provided.

The good news for Washington is that a bad performance in the first year of a contract does not mean that a specific signing is a bust. Teams sign players for the duration of the contract, and often fans and analysts get too caught up in the here and now, and do not look at the production over the course of a contract as a whole. It is likely that the Nationals expected that at some point in Werth’s massive contract he would have a season where he produced a WAR of 2.5 or below, they just likely hoped it was at the tail end when he was in his late 30’s.

The good news is that if this was Werth’s down season in what may turn into an otherwise fine signing, 2011 is the season where he makes the least amount of money. This season he made only $10 million. He will receive a raise each year from now until 2015 where he will make $21 million for three straight years. While right no it doesn’t look likely that he will pick it up in the remaining years of his contract, it’s the only hope the Nats have to salvage this investment.