Considered the lesser half of the right-field platoon before the season, outfielder Jayson Werth is making a strong case to remain in the starting lineup once Shane Victorino returns. Will Charlie Manuel forgo his left/right system?
Werth is a little like “Pat Burrell Light.” He’s fleeter of foot, but shorter on power. Aside from that, the similarities run deep. They’re both patient hitters. Werth leads the team with 4.7 pitches per plate appearance, and his blend of .391 OBP and speed makes perfect sense at the top of the lineup, especially against left-handed pitching. Like Burrell, he’s a big, imposing threat from the right side. His four homers and nine RBIs put him well on pace for a career year.
Charlie Manuel faces a tough decision once Shane Victorino re-enters the mix. Vic figures to return to the top since Manuel values speed there, but which Victorino will we see? His defense has been brilliant, but he’s stumbled at the plate. Meanwhile, Geoff Jenkins, who figured to start most games in right, has knocked in just three runs, sinking the offense with his low 55 OPS+. The fact of the matter is, Jenkins has been nothing special offensively since midway through the 2007 season.
These are tough choices. On one hand, it’s early in the season and you’d like guys like Victorino and Jenkins to get into a rhythm with regular playing time. History says Jenkins will hit the righties and Werth will hit lefties. On the other hand, besides Chase Utley and Burrell, they’re getting little contribution from anyone else besides Werth, who’s been more than okay at the top of the lineup and in center.
It gets political, too. Vic wants to play, and Jenkins didn’t sign here to sit. The Phillies didn’t commit two-year, $13 million, plus vesting a option, for him to sit. On the other hand, Werth, who turns 29 in May, might actually have something of a small future here. He’s arbitration eligible in 2009, but a free agent in 2010.
Considering Burrell’s status, and lack of bats from the right side, the timing couldn’t be better to extend Werth if they wanted to go in that direction. With his history of injuries, and knowing he's probably reached the prime of his career, Werth may be seeking the security, and immediate reward, of a longer deal.
Dobbs/Feliz: The other developing situation is at third, where Manuel may be starting to weigh the offensive limitations of Pedro Feliz and his early 67 OPS+. Greg Dobbs, who appears to be more handicapped against left-handers than Werth against right-handers, is a fastball hitter and poor defender who benefits from the anonymity of irregular playing time. However, the book on Feliz, a high-fastball hitter himself, is a mile long, and he’s toting an early .608 OPS against righties. Meanwhile, Dobbs has made the most of his 34 plate appearances, reasserting himself as one of the league's top pinch hitters.