From my Nationals season preview earlier today…
Is Jayson Werth going to live up to his massive contract this season, or continue to struggle?
As soon as the ink was dry on Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract in December of 2010, fans from all across the country were crucifying the Nationals for overpaying Werth. The logic was that Werth would turn 32 during the second month of the 2011 season, and the contract would last for six seasons beyond that, well into his decline phase. Werth also had an injury history before arriving in Philadelphia prior to the 2007 season. Despite three straight 5.0+ fWAR seasons, many didn’t think Werth would be able to do that with his new team.
Sure enough, they were right. Well, for the first season of the contract at least. Last season for the Nationals, Werth amassed just 2.5 fWAR over 649 plate appearances. He only hit 20 homers, his lowest total since his debut season of 2007 in Philadelphia. His OPS was a pathetic .719, which is fine for a middle infielder, but not a corner outfielder making $10 million (which will increase as the contract goes on). Nothing went right with his debut as a National.
Werth’s decrease in power was his major slight with the Nationals. His ISO fell from .236 in 2010 to .157 in 2011. While his BABIP fell, as you’d expect it to, considering it was .352 in 2010, the .286 mark he posted in 2011 wasn’t horrendously low. His walk and strikeout rates each went in the wrong direction, but not by an extreme amount.
Looking at all of the relevant stats, I can’t really pinpoint why Werth struggled last season. He didn’t swing at more pitches in 2011, but did make more contact. The contact was different, as more balls were on the ground than in the air or on a line. Sometimes, a simple swing adjustment can switch that. But at the same time, it could be a more telling issue that deals with age. And if Werth’s age is really becoming that much of a factor, he’s not going to be the player the Nationals envisioned back when they opened the vault for him.