Washington Nationals Opinions: Michael Taylor Deserves to Keep His Starting Job


On Tuesday night in Miami, outfielder Jayson Werth made his return to the Nationals lineup. It was his first action since May 15, when he suffered a pair of fractures in his wrist that landed him on the disabled list. For Nats fans, this means hearing F.P. Santangelo change his talking point from “just wait until Werth gets back” to “just wait until Werth gets hot.”

The addition of Werth also puts the Nationals just one Denard Span back recovery away from having four outfielders to play three positions: Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth, and Michael Taylor. Of course, Harper isn’t going anywhere, which leaves Span, Werth, and Taylor to fill those final two spots.

Span’s return hardly seems imminent. Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post just yesterday tweeted out that Span is still strengthening his core and has yet to start swinging.

But the question remains worth asking: once everyone is healthy, who should get the bulk of the playing time in the outfield? Denard Span seems like a lock. Prior to his injury, he was hitting .302 with an OPS of .797 and five home runs.

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This leaves us to choose from two players at opposite ends of the spectrum: Michael Taylor, the young up-and-coming talent; and Jayson Werth, the grizzled veteran on his last legs.

Taylor is one of the best in the business at playing defense, roaming the expanses of Major League center fields with all of the light-footed grace of a gazelle. He has so much range that, when watching him, you’d think he’d be able to track down fly balls hit to the White House lawn if the outfield wall didn’t get in his way.

Jayson Werth, on the other hand, is not a great defender. During his peak years in Philadelphia, he was passable. Above average, even. Now? After a shoulder surgery in the offseason and a fairly severe wrist injury, he’s a disaster waiting to happen. The Nationals had to move him to left field just to keep his arm from falling off. Werth was never blessed with the tools that Taylor was, and now, on top of everything else, he’s old.

The knock on Michael Taylor coming into this season was his bat. That’s no longer the case, though. The playing time he’s gotten this season has gone a long way. He’s hitting .242/.286/.381 with nine homers. To top it off, with runners in scoring position, his OPS is a whopping 1.051! There’s no way you can say that Taylor hasn’t been clutch this season.

Jayson Werth? Not so much. In 27 games before the wrist injury, Werth managed an OPS of .581. In the two plus games since his return, he’s gone 2-for-9 to get his average up to a whopping .209. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but that wrist injury isn’t going to do Werth any favors. If anything, it’s going to make his return to being a dominant hitter even less likely.

With all that being said, what advantages does Werth have over Taylor? There are a couple of things:

  1. Jayson Werth is owed $21 million per year for each of the next three years, which is a lot of money to just leave sitting on the bench.
  2. Jayson Werth’s beard has its own Twitter account.

That’s it. That’s the list.

The only real argument for Werth to receive regular starting time is his experience, a case that loses a fair bit of standing when last year’s playoffs are brought in as evidence. At this point, Werth’s contributions would be more valuable off the bench rather than in a starting lineup.

And while Denard Span’s lingering back issues may make this a moot point, the fact is that once he returns, the Nationals will be faced with a difficult decision in the outfield. Do they go with a player who has had his talents taken from him by age and injury, or the player on the rise, who appears to be finally coming into his own?

The answer, when you really think about it, isn’t that hard. All you have to do is consider which player is more likely to take you where you want to go this season. Which player has shown you, again and again, the ability to step up in key situations and deliver?

That player is Michael A. Taylor.

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