Washington Nationals Heading to the Playoffs: Is Jayson Werth the Answer?
Saturday August 11th, 2012
Jake Dal Porto: The 2012 season has been full of surprising teams. From the Orioles to the Pirates, new teams that have always had the potential to be contenders appear to be taking the next step foward. However, no team has taken that vast step quite like the Washington Nationals. Led by a starting rotation that leads the National League in ERA (3.23), and opponents’ batting averages (.232), the Nationals have put together a magical season. Even though Washington’s offense hasn’t be as stellar as their pitching staff, a healthy lineup might change that. More importantly, a healthy Jayson Werth.
Jayson Werth, who was signed as a free agent by the Nationals prior to the 2011 campaign, has been a disappointed thus far. In his first year as a National he posted a 2.5 WAR. In three straight years with the Phillies before becoming a free agent, he posted WAR averages of plus five. Per FanGraphs, his 2011 season was worth about $11.5 million, compared to his actual salary $13 million. That $13 million will be the lowest mark of his contract, as his annual salary will steadily be on the rise over the next few years, eventually making the leap to the big $20 million plateau. However, the pressure will continue to amount if his production continues to slip. If he wants to prove his worth, there’s no better time for him to do so than now, when the Nats boast the best record in the National League and crave a veteran presence such as Werth.
So far so good for the longtime former Phillie. Werth is hitting .400/.500/.500 since his return on August 2nd, but on the downside, he’s yet to display his 25+ home run power. Werth, who maintained a 24 home run per 162 game average, has only totaled three homers this season and none in eight games upon rejoining the Nats. When Washington’s front office dished out one of those rare $100+ contracts to him a couple of years ago, they expected him to fill a power void. Of course his .400/.500/.500 slash is a positive sign, but along with no home runs, he also has just three RBIs mainly batting in the sixth spot. Obviously he’s a bit rusty after not playing in a real game since mid-May, but a lot is expected of him. At the trade deadline GM Mike Rizzo stood pat despite being in talks for a power-hitting outfielder. In fact, they didn’t make a single move, which means one thing— they’re putting all their faith in Werth to return to his prior Phillies form. While he has never been labeled as a “true” power hitter, he’s a safe bet to smack at least 25 long balls per year. And with that heavy contract that he signed precisely two years ago slowly being rumored as a bust, he must start producing. Soon.
Yet, even if he doesn’t exactly hit for tons of power, he will be a massive upgrade over what the Nationals were penciling in during his prolonged absence. With Michael Morse in left field, and Bryce Harper presumably in center, Werth slides back into his usual position, right field. Ideally, everyone would like to see Werth take off and carry his team into the postseason on a high note, but thus far, National right fielders have combined to total a .252/.311/.400 slash. To take even more pressure off Werth, National right fielders have only hit 15 home runs this season. So practically anything the former Phillie produces will be seen as an upgrade.
Better yet, the return of Werth will have a positive ripple effect. Michael Morse, who was out for a lengthy period too, has hit 11 home runs since returning at the beginning of June. He will bring that power to left field, where the Nationals have only seen 13 home runs. So Werth essentially upgrades two outfield spots with one swing. It just happened to be that those two positions were the weakest of the bunch. Now, the Nats pose a very respectable outfield. Morse can provide power in left, Harper will keep creating havoc, and if Werth ever lives up to his contract, the Nationals will have a good core for years to come.
Obviously, Werth is no Albert Pujols or Jose Bautista, but he’s going to make an impact. Call it first year nerves or jitters, Werth just didn’t look like himself in 2011 and his dry spell was reflected on his mediocre numbers. However, the one thing that Werth will always possess is playoff experience. For a Nationals squad that has yet to play postseason ball since 1981 back when they were called the Expos, experience is just what they need. Sure, Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche, and Kurt Suzuki are all veterans, but neither of them have much playoff experience, if any. Werth, though, has garnered five years and 153 at-bats of postseason glory since 2004. His veteran presence will not only benefit the team on the field, but in the clubhouse as well.
These surprising Washington Nationals will clearly be playing into October this season. And Jayson Werth might just hold the keys to how deep they will go.
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
Jake Dal Porto is a high school student from the Bay Area. He is a big time Giants fan and his favorite players are Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, and Sergio Romo. Jake’s favorite sports moment was when the Giants won the World Series back in 2010. He loves to use sabermetrics in his work. He thinks they are the best way to show a player’s real success compared to the basic stats such as ERA, RBIs, and Wins. Jake also enjoys interacting and debating with his readers. Follow him on Twitter:@TheJakeMan24
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Posted on August 11, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged adam laroche, albert pujols, baseball, bryce harper, davey johnson, jayson werth, jose bautista, Michael Morse, Mike Rizzo, mlb, mvp, playoffs, ryan zimmerman, washington nationals, world series. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.