The Washington Nationals beat the Phillies Wednesday night behind Jayson Werth’s 20th home run of the season. The 37-year old left fielder has probably been better than you think this season.
Entering the 2016 season, one of the most widely debated topics regarding the Nationals’ roster was who deserved to be starting in left field. Reigning MVP Bryce Harper already had a stranglehold on his spot over in right, but from there nothing appeared to be set in stone.
The team had acquired speedy center fielder Ben Revere over the offseason to fill the void left by Denard Span in the leadoff spot. Aging Jayson Werth was still owed $42 million over the next two season, but the promising 25-year old Michael Taylor was coming off a strong rookie campaign. Should the Nats play Werth because of his contract, or did Taylor deserve the starting job?
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Five months later, Taylor has spent a large chunk of the season in AAA while Werth has cemented himself at the top of the lineup. Putting his .251 batting average aside (a metric that doesn’t accurately tell the full story of a player’s performance anyway), Werth has been a very effective hitter at the plate.
His 20 home runs are tied for the third most on the team. The left fielder has walked 61 times this seasons, which is second to only Harper (who happens to rank third in the Majors in that category). Werth also works deep into counts a lot more often than not, grinding out at-bats in a way that Danny Espinosa could only dream of.
In the six years Werth has spent in Washington, he has posted an OPS+ of 108 or higher four times. When he signed the seven-year, $126 million contract with the Nationals prior to the 2011 season, many criticized Rizzo for inking the already 31-year old veteran to such a high-priced contract. The move, however, signaled that the Nats’ front office was ready to start contending. A season later, Washington led the National League with 98 wins.
Now, the Nats are once again right in the thick of the playoff race. While All-Stars Daniel Murphy and Stephen Strasburg have been making all the headlines, Werth has been playing a huge role in making that happen. With the power bats that hit behind him, the grizzled 14-year veteran has been helping to set the table alongside rookie Trea Turner. His contract may have come at top dollar, but the Nats’ left fielder has been worth it.