Sunday, November 23, 2014

Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth and JaysonWerth’s beard put up a stellar 2014. His .292/.394/.455 slash line was good for a wRC+ of 141. Add on top of that his quality baserunning (a UBR score of 3.5), and he was in the running for the most valuable player on the Nats in 2014.

Werth is an archetype of the Moneyball player. By that, I mean he is patient at the plate, doesn’t chase out of the strike zone, sees a lot of pitches, and gets on base any way he can. His career walk rate is right around 12%, and that was no different in 2014 as his 11.8% walk rate lead to his OBP of nearly .400. Since coming to the Nationals, Werth has drastically cut down on his strikeouts while keeping that impressive walk rate. With the Phillies, Werth was averaging a strike out rate of nearly 25%, but he dropped that all the way down to 18.5% in 2014. You always knew you were getting a quality at bat from Jayson, as he waited for something to drive by fouling off pitches. Those tough at bats seemed to always end with Werth putting one in the gap after about 10 pitches. His BABIP in 2014 was relatively high at .343, so he usually did get on after those long at bats. And while that is a high BABIP for someone without the greatest wheels these days, that was still his lowest mark in 3 years.

That stereotype of Werth as a “tough out” is backed up by his plate discipline stats. His O-swing% (percent of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) of 24.10%, while it has risen a little over the years, is still well below the league average. His swing percentage is astronomically low at 37.3%, and his swinging strike rate is only 6.2%. When Werth does get a strike and he pulls the trigger, he connects 91% of the time. It is really hard for a pitcher to induce Werth into swinging through a pitch.
Although Werth is 35, he hasn’t shown any obvious signs of slowing down. The biggest red flag for Werth comes when digging into his power numbers. He hit only 16 home runs in 2014 and his power drought during one point in the summer was a major talking point. Those 16 home runs mark his lowest output as a National, ignoring his injury plagued 2012. He did offset that low with a near career high mark in doubles with 37. Is this a one year blip or a sign of his aging process? To answer, take a look at Werth’s average fly ball and homerun distance since 2008, a great indicator of true power:

That big drop in 2012 was due to his wrist injury, which is notorious for sapping power. It sure looks like it is on a downhill trend and that drop off in homeruns is a result of Werth’s aging process. On the other hand, that previously mentioned wrist injury is often said to need a multi-year recovery process to regain full power, at least anecdotally. While that may be the case, I’m not going to bet on a major power recovery for the nearly 36 year old Werth. It’s not like he isn’t hitting the ball hard, though, he just ends up with more balls bouncing off the warning track for doubles than flying over the fence for round trippers. 

Werth’s spot on the aging curve also has implications on his defense. By both UZR and DRS, Werth is a liability in the outfield. He is smart enough (or the coaching staff is smart enough) to position himself well so he is not a Mike Morse level liability yet, but it’s not too early to think about buying him a first baseman’s mitt and letting him spell Zimmerman at first base every now and again.
That previously mentioned wrist injury is, of course, only one of the various ailments that has sidelined Werth during his Nationals tenure. The Nationals should be expecting him to miss some time due to injury. Luckily enough, the Nationals have a couple of young guns who they are probably looking to get some playing time in Taylor and Souza, so I would look to Matt Williams to get Werth more scheduled days off to keep him fresh and to see what they have in the pair of talented rookies. 

The Steamer projection for Jayson expects another quality year from the right fielder, with a slash line of .285/.374/.455, good enough for a wRC+ of 134. The projections see Werth’s drop off in power as part of that aging trend and not a one year blip, pegging him for only 17 home runs, and, interestingly, only 29 doubles. Long story short, the Nationals can count on Werth to be a solid offensive bat in 2015, but not the cornerstone of the lineup. Combined with his clubhouse presence, though, he is someone the Nats will be counting on to lead the team in 2015. I might start dropping some hints to Matt Williams to move him out of the 3 hole in favor or Rendon or Bryce, but either way I’m stocking up on my glutenfree beer.

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