Werth’s Injury Will Keep Harper Around

The 18-10 Nationals remain in first place after taking two of three from the Phillies over the weekend, but their seasonal outlook significantly worsened when Jayson Werth left Sunday night’s game with a wrist injury.

Werth slid to make a catch on Placido Polanco‘s blooper in the sixth inning. While it appeared that he made the catch, the ball fell out of his glove as his wrist awkwardly bent backward. A few minutes later, Werth was replaced by Xavier Nady, and after the game it was reported that he broke his left wrist.

At a minimum, Werth will miss six weeks. He joins Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche as valuable Nationals out of action. The injury also ensures that Bryce Harper won’t get sent back down to the minors once some of the injured players return. Regardless, losing Werth clearly hurts the Nationals outfield, and opens up another hole in the lineup they may not be able to fill internally.

Werth is no stranger to wrist injuries, as he broke the same left wrist while playing for the 2005 Dodgers. He missed the entire 2006 season and didn’t begin to play effectively again until signing with the Phillies for the 2007 campaign. He may technically return in six weeks, but it seems unlikely that he will immediately return to being the Jayson Werth that helped the Nationals get out to a hot start.

And while six weeks might not seem like that long of a recovery time, given the circumstances, the more important time frame is when Werth’s effectiveness will return after he comes off of the disabled list. Because that time frame is uncertain, especially after considering what happened the last time he broke his left wrist, the Nationals should seriously consider external options.

Replacing Morse — assuming that he would have played left field with LaRoche at first base — was one thing with Harper knocking on the door. Replacing both Morse and Werth isn’t easy, and the Nationals don’t have another phenom prospect waiting in the wings to take over. If they stick with rostered players, the likeliest scenario involves shifting Harper to right field, going with Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina in center field, and using Bernadina, Nady and Chad Tracy in left field.

While having a number of outfielders gives the Nationals some flexibility, the non-Harper players mentioned above aren’t particularly effective. Since 2010, Bernadina has a .305 wOBA and just 1.2 WAR. Tracy has a .290 wOBA and has basically been a replacement player over his 202 plate appearances. Nady has an even worse .277 wOBA, and with his poor fielding, has been 1.6 wins below replacement.

These players don’t exactly boast significant platoon advantages either. Bernadina has a career .300 wOBA against righties and a .305 wOBA since 2010. Tracy, a fellow lefty, has just a .280 wOBA against righties over the same span, and 190 of his 202 PAs have come against opposite-handed pitchers. Nady, a righty, has a .286 wOBA over 273 PAs against lefties throughout the same span.

Going with Nady, Bernadina and Tracy might make some sense if there was one problem area in the lineup, but with Zimmerman, Morse and LaRoche also out, replacing Werth with some form of that trio seems suboptimal.

Granted, the Nationals will start to see their injured players return soon, which might render the pursuit of external help moot. However, if any of Zimmerman, Morse or LaRoche experience setbacks, the Nationals would do themselves well to pick up the phone and inquire on the availability of corner outfielders outside the organization.

The Nationals could also try Tyler Moore out in lieu of Tracy, Nady and Bernadina, but whether it was an oversight on his part or not, Davey Johnson didn’t mention Moore along with the other outfielders as left field solutions after Sunday’s game. Moore projects about as well as those players — .285 wOBA per ZiPS — but has shown impressive power in the minors. At this juncture, it can’t hurt to test him out, especially if the flip side involves less playing time for Nady. However, given the Nationals usage of Nady and Tracy, it seems more likely that Moore will get demoted when those on the disabled list return to action.

A week ago it seemed like the Nationals might have a tough decision to make with regards to Harper and his presence on the major league roster once Zimmerman and Morse came off of the disabled list. Now it seems that his spot is not only safe, but that he’ll be counted on as a key contributor the rest of the way.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.