I’ve actually never been a big fan of Jayson Werth, and when he left Philadelphia for a $126M, 7 year deal with Washington, I liked him even less. Not only was he leaving hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park and the safety of that power lineup, but he was also slated to bat cleanup for the Nationals which had the potential of creating major problems for him and crushing the fantasy expectations of his owners. However, now that Jim Riggleman has Werth batting second, the prospect of him retaining a quality fantasy value, in my opinion, has greatly increased.
For those that haven’t really examined the 2010 MLB Park Factors, let’s take a quick glance at the differences between Citizens Bank and Nationals Park:
|Citizens Bank Park||0.991||1.125||0.980||0.985||0.867||0.948|
Surprisingly close, aren’t they. As a matter of fact, in runs, HR and 3B, where Citizen’s Bank seems to have a distinct advantage, it only ranks 16th, 10th and 19th overall in MLB, respectively. For those categories, Nationals Park ranks 18th, 15th and 21st. The differences aren’t as glaring as one would assume. Citizens bank gets its “bandbox” reputation because the ball does fly out of there at a substantial rate, but the rest of it plays fairly neutral. So while Werth, who hit two-thirds of his HR at home last year, may not be launching the ball into the seats as much this season at home, he seems to have found a home that favors overall hit production and doubles.
At the time of the signing, I had examined the lineup differences, but had made comparisons based on the assumption that Werth was going to bat cleanup for the Nationals. Moving from batting 5th or 6th in a lineup that boasted the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and even Raul Ibanez and took all the pressure off of him to be the team’s leading run producer, Werth was now suddenly expected to be the big masher in Washington. I had my doubts.
Once in Philly, Werth’s LD% dropped significantly from a 27.3% in 2007 to a career low 17.5% in 2010. His FB% steadily increased and his HR production took off. If the ballpark dictates and promotes it, then why not? Now expected to be the big HR guy and chief run producer in Washington, the likelihood of Werth changing his approach was almost nil. He was going to need to live up to that ridiculous contract and was going to swing for the fences just as he learned to do in Philly. No question, the results were going to be dismal.
However, batting second affords Werth a golden opportunity to make the necessary adjustments to return to those days in ’07 when his line drive rate was at it’s best and his FB% hovered at a much more favorable 32.8. He’s now a table setter, not a table clearer. He can concentrate more on getting on base and advancing the leadoff runner and leave the table clearing for Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. Both his OBP and wOBA should stay roughly the same (possibly with a slight increase), the walk rate should start to climb a little, and the K%, which has declined ever so slightly over the years, will probably stay on that trend. I hardly think that would have been the case had the pressures of being a cleanup hitter rested on his shoulders. Mark my words…that K% was heading north, guaranteed. Now, hopefully, not so much.
Another aspect of Werth’s game I saw diminishing as a cleanup hitter was his stolen base production. Sure, those 46 doubles he hit last year tend to decrease the number of opportunities to steal as no manager is just handing out the green light to swipe third unless you’re a real burner, but Werth’s favorable .358 BABIP also afforded him almost the same number of singles last year. Was there no green light, or was he just waiting to be slugged home by Ibanez? Either way, as the number two hitter, and in a park that caters to more hits, I see Werth’s opportunities to swipe some bags taking a nice increase. He is now going to be relied upon to help manufacture runs and get himself into scoring position for Zim and LaRoche. I see a pretty strong chance to return to that 20 SB plateau his owners used to enjoy.
It’s certainly going to take some adjustments for Werth to put together a new game and approach and it wouldn’t surprise me if he started off a little slow this year. But if he handles it all properly, he could actually live up to that favorable pre-season ranking that all the fantasy pundits were giving him. He may not mash like he did in Philly, but it’s not like he suddenly doesn’t have any power. I still see 20+ HR for him, but more like 22 than 28. And maybe he doesn’t rack up 100+ RBI. Maybe it’s more like 75. But we should see him maintain that strong batting average and OBP as well as those 100+ runs scored. And we should also see him return to, and possibly surpass, that 20 SB mark as well. No, you’re never going to get that guy from 2009 that made fantasy owners drool, but if he can come close to maintaining something near last year’s totals, then you’ve still maintained a solid investment.