Monday, December 7, 2015

2015 Season Review: Jayson Werth

Jayson Werth, and Jayson Werth’s beard, may be one of the most popular Nationals but his 2015 season was nothing to cheer about. Expected to be a stalwart in the middle of the lineup, Werth started the season on the DL following off season shoulder surgery and took a fastball to the wrist in May that sent him to the DL yet again. Put it all together and Werth played in only 88 games while posting the worst numbers of his career.

Despite a two week hot streak mid-summer, Werth ended the season with a .221 batting average, his lowest as a National, even lower than his miserable opening year with the Nats that saw him hit for a .232 average. Werth, despite the injuries, never changed his approach at the plate. He didn’t start pressing by swinging at more pitches or become even more patient at the plate. His swing rate was only 38.5%, a slightly higher rate than 2014 but in line with his career level. However, Werth struggled to make contact when he did swing. His swinging strike rate was 8.3%, the highest rate of his Nationals career, and his contact rate was only 78%, the lowest as a National.

Digging a little deeper, it becomes apparent that pitchers were not worried about going right after Werth. Opposing pitchers went to their fastball a whopping 62% of the time against Werth in 2015. It’s not as if Werth forced pitchers to do this by crushing off speed pitchers (like Bryce Harper). Werth hit under .200 versus sliders and curveballs on the year. No, instead pitchers viewed Werth and his sub .250 batting average against fastballs like a #7 or #8 hitter and chose to attack him with fastballs in hopes of getting a quick out.

Taking a look at Werth’s plate coverage, it becomes obvious why pitchers went to the fastball so often. In previous years, Werth feasted on fastballs. Take a look at Werth’s plate coverage versus fastballs during the 2013-2014 seasons, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:

Werth hit close to .400 when facing fastballs in 7 of the 9 zones tracked by Brooks. Only fastballs up and away gave Werth trouble, but he tended to lay off those with only 17 balls put in play on pitches in the up and away quadrant. If a pitcher threw a fastball over the plate, odds were Werth was going to do some damage.

Compare those results to Werth’s 2015 numbers against fastballs:

All of a sudden, those hot zones turn into dark blue cold zones. Werth was fine against pitches in the middle three zones, a.k.a meatballs, but anything up or down in the zone gave Werth fits. Most troubling, as pitchers recognized these struggles from Werth, they realized they didn’t need to be careful with their pitchers and could attack the zone. That meant fewer pitches outside of the strike zone and a big drop in walks for Werth. In 2015, Werth, a patient hitter who could usually be counted on for a solid OBP propped up by a high number of walks, saw his walk rate plummet to 10%, a slightly above league average walk rate but a personal low for Werth dating back to his early days as a Dodger.

If Werth’s offense was bad, I’m not sure what to call his defense. Relegated to Left Field, Werth posted some of the worst advanced defensive stats in the league. Take your pick, and the picture is not pretty. Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) credited Werth with 10 runs lost on defense. Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) saw him losing 7.3. Take a look at the tape and the eye test shows a player a step slow breaking on balls or misreading trajectory all together. Werth never had blazing speed in the outfield but made up for it with his smarts and great instinctive reads off the bat. Those reads were nowhere to be found in 2015 and meant Werth was a liability in the outfield.

Now, there is an optimistic viewpoint to all this. It might not be likely, but in the right light Werth’s 2016 forecast doesn’t have to be as bad as his 2015 was. For one, Werth never had a chance to take reps in Spring Training in 2015. His off season surgery meant that his Spring Training adjustments came in April and May in regular season games. On top of that, Werth tried to come back quickly from both his major shoulder injury and broken wrist and it’s likely that he wasn’t at 100% for any extended period of time in 2015. With an entire off season devoted to fully rehabbing those injuries, maybe Werth can start the year healthy following a full Spring Training to get into playing shape. Defensively, the shift from Right to Left isn’t drastic, but Werth was having to adjust to seeing the ball come off the bat at different angles. Perhaps, as Werth gets more reps from the Left Field viewpoint, those quick reads return.

However, Werth hasn’t had a fully healthy season in years. While he is known for taking good care of himself, Werth will be approaching 37 years old at the start of the season. Relying on Werth to be a day in and day out contributor to the lineup is asking for trouble. It’s the reason Mike Rizzo needs to be aggressive in the offseason to find a reliable 4th outfielder. The big signing of Werth looks better today than it did at the time the contract got inked, but the days of Werth as a regular contributor are coming to a close.

Previous 2015 Season Reviews:
Denard Span
Ian Desmond
Doug Fister
Jordan Zimmermann
Wilson Ramos
Ryan Zimmerman
Danny Espinosa
Yunel Escobar
Bryce Harper
Michael A Taylor

1 comment:

  1. yea but still's like the ending of the Incredible Journey "he was too old..." but gotta love him...