Name: Jayson Richard Gowan Werth
Nickname(s): The Beard, Larry Leadoff
DOB: May 20, 1979
Twitter?: No, but you can follow @JWerthsBeard
From: Springfield, Illinois
Position: Right Field Batting Order: Anywhere from second to fifth, but likely second
With the Nats Since: Acquired as Free Agent in 2011
Who is this guy?: If you don’t know the glory that is the bearded one, your best bet is to start with his 2013 Get To Know A Nat.
What Happened in 2013: Despite missing a little more than 30 games, Jayson Werth easily had his most productive year as a National- on par with the best years of his career. Whether you’re a fan of more traditional measurements (318/398/532 25 HR 82 RBI) or more advanced notions of play (.403 wOBA, 4.6 fWAR) Werth finally played the season the Nats were expecting from him (and, if you’re gonna be “like that”, paying him for.)
Many fans have been quick to criticize Werth for his age (now going on 35) relative to his contract-a situation I’ve been a defender of. Still-a miserable first year with the team, followed by missing half his second year to injury did nothing to assuage those criticisms. Indeed, even after finishing 5th in batting average out of all hitters in the National League (and that’s 2nd best if you organize by wOBA btw) there are going to be folks who continue to see Werth, and his contract, as a hindrance.
To those people I point to the Nationals hitting numbers in May and June (when Werth et al missed the most playing time) and suggest that the four games difference between the 86 win Nats who missed the playoffs and the 90 win Reds who squeaked in might have been lost in that time frame. There are no guarantees, but looking at how Werth played 2013 and adding (just) him back into the mix there might have been the difference between playoffs and not.
What’s Expected in 2014: More of the same, please. The team will look for Werth to stay healthy in 2014 and put up the numbers of his last two years. The fact Werth ended 2013 on such a hot streak isn’t a harbinger of his 2014 season, but it is certainly better than if he had suddenly shown his age. If he get to a wOBA above .370 (or, if you will, hit about .300 again) his presence will dramatically improve the Nats anemic offense.
I expect Werth to hit in the two or five hole this year. His skill set gives him the ability to both drive in players and get on base as a back up second baseman. In my mind this depends in part on if the Nats think Bryce Harper is ready to perform that same role-a good bet and a good problem to have.
Werth’s defense isn’t what it used to be, but this is partially why he’s a corner infielder and not roaming center. One of the under appreciated aspects of Denard Span’s game is that guys like Werth are allowed to get old and not run the outfield as well as they used to- as long as they keep hitting. As much as I’d like to see Werth pick it up out there, his primary contribution needs to be offensive.
If It All Goes Right: The Nats need a lot more than Jayson Werth to go right in 2014 to have the offense they think they have-but Werth represents the swing man between those most likely to succeed (Ian Desmond) and those to be most skeptical of (Adam LaRoche). If Werth plays in 150+ games this year there is a great chance he contributes the way he needs to. Consequently, the Nats score runs and win games.
If It All Goes Wrong: The problem with getting old is you can only put it off for so long. Jayson Werth is a gluten-free warrior of taking care of himself but there is only so much you can do to fight time. Two years ago he broke his wrist on a freak play in the outfield, and last year he had groin and leg problems. Those might have been accidental injuries, or they could be the result of a body that’s more likely to break down than it used to be.
Take all of that and add in the possibility that he has a LaRoche like season of decline for no real injury reason (“just because”) and Werth represents a risky proposition that only gets riskier every year. A repeat of 2011 stats, or of 2012-2013 injuries leaves the Nats in much the same place they were last year-down a big bat and outfielder with no real replacement on the bench.
The National League is too good for Jayson Werth to miss much time in 2014.