At the beginning of his career, outfielder Jayson Werth ascended to stardom as a rival of the Nationals. He won a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008, and broke out the next year, being named an All-Star in 2009 and finishing 8th in the MVP race in 2010. The following offseason, Werth was one of the most coveted free agents on the market and drew interest from titans of free agency such as the Red Sox, Angels, and Tigers, even though he seemed unlikely to get an extraordinarily long deal given that he was already 32. Thus, it came as a huge surprise when Werth joined the hapless Nationals, baseball’s worst team for two of the previous three seasons, on a titanic seven-year, $126M deal. The deal was viewed as a monstrous overpay that would see the Nationals paying $20+M to a one-time All-Star from ages 36-39, but held more significance than a simple free agent acquisition for the team. As general manager Mike Rizzo said at the time, “It kind of exemplifies phase two of the Washington Nationals’ process… Phase one was scouting and player development, building the farm system… Now it’s time to go to the second phase and really compete for division titles and championships.”
Rizzo’s words would prove prophetic, as the Nationals would improve by 11 wins from 2010 to 2011 and by 18 wins this past season as the team won 98 games and the NL East. Despite the coincidental timing, Werth has not been a major statistical contributor to this success. He hit .232/.330/.389 in 2011, a 203-point OPS drop from his final season in Philadelphia, and hit only 20 home runs in 150 games, a four-year low for him. His 2012 season was greatly improved overall, but far from what the Nationals hoped for when they signed him. He played only 81 games, missing an extended period of time with a broken right wrist, and had a precipitous power drop, hitting only five home runs. But in an unexpected turn, he excelled out of the leadoff spot, hitting there twice as much as any other slot and posting a .300/.387/.440 line overall, in addition to a career-low 16.6 strikeout percentage. With the addition of Denard Span, Werth will likely move down to the #2 spot in the lineup for the 2013 season, where his 2012 stats would fit perfectly: low strikeout rate, high OBP, but more power than a normal leadoff hitter. As much momentum as he built last season, our projectors cannot overlook his awful 2011 and his injury struggles, painting us a somewhat more pessimistic picture:
ZiPS: 443 AB, .253/.345/.422, 53 RBI, 61 RS, 11 SB, 15 HR
MLB.com: 530 AB, .272/.367/.438, 62 RBI, 70 RS, 14 SB, 19 HR
CBSSports: 550 AB, .250/.355/.415, 66 RBI, 73 RS, 13 SB, 19 HR
ESPN Fantasy: 449 AB, .267/.359/.432, 50 RBI, 64 RS, 13 SB, 14 HR
Averages: 493 AB, .261/.357/.427, 58 RBI, 67 RS, 13 SB, 17 HR
The ratios, apart from the 39-point batting average drop to below Werth’s career average, all make sense and would make Werth a good fit in the #2 spot. The most interesting of these stats is the at-bats number, which appears to expect Werth to miss approximately 20 games. Obviously there are concerns about Werth’s health after a season in which he missed as many games as he played, but he had played 150+ games for each of the three previous seasons, establishing himself as a generally healthy player. Serious wrist surgery may take a long time to heal and could make Werth more susceptible to injury early this year as he returns to 100%, but Werth is beyond the injury struggles of his early career and his broken wrist last year looks more like a freak isolated incident than any potential chronic problem. If he can play over 150 games, Werth will be a solid all-around fantasy contributor, with walks, power, low strikeouts, and even a few steals, but the health concerns are not to be ignored. He, like Span, will be a bench OF option with upside for more contribution. On the Nats, he should reach base consistently from the #2 spot but make his most valuable contribution as a clubhouse presence, where he is the only player with a World Series ring and will set a great example for all his young and inexperienced teammates.