Jayson Werth and the 2013 Nats
Jayson Werth's first two seasons with the Washington Nationals have been disappointing for one reason or another. In 2011 Werth did not perform up to the expectations set by his massive contract and in 2012 he was injured for a majority of the season. When Werth was on the field in 2012 he was the Jayson Werth the Nats expected they would be getting. His .827 OPS in 2012 is close to his career average of .824 and if Werth can stay on the field for the 2013 season and perform to that level then the Nats will get some improvement from the position.
The big question facing the Nationals and Jayson Werth is: what exactly will his role be with the 2013 Nationals? With Denard Span in the fold there is no longer a reason for Werth to lead-off, but dependent upon the signing or non-signing of LaRoche the Nats may want Werth to remain at the top of the order and bat second, a role he faltered in in 2011. As the number two hitter in 2011 Werth batted .222/.327/.389 compared to .256/.346/.419 in his more comfortable fifth spot.
There is some debate over how much a position in the batting order matters as Werth appears on paper to be close to an ideal number two hitter. Werth has a career .362 OBP and routinely sees at least four pitches per plate appearance. Werth is one of the most patient hitters in baseball and can seemingly foul pitches off at will. If LaRoche is brought back it can be expected that Harper will bat second with Werth returning to the fifth spot in the line-up to be more of a run producer, but his ability to be that type of player is dependent on his power returning.
Of Werth's five homers in 2012 three of them were hit in the 27 games he played before suffering the wrist injury, and while his SLG of .441 after returning from the injury is higher than his pre-injury SLG of .439 that is mainly due to his batting average being .312 post-injury compared to .276 pre-injury. On either side of the injury Werth was a much better player than he had been in 2011 and if he had played a full season of game the Nationals very well could have won more than the 98 games they did win. In fact when Werth started the Nats had a record of 50-29 which is the equivalent of 102-60 for a full season.
With how Davey Johnson operates Werth won't play a full season and he will try and get Bernadina and Moore as many at bats as he can filling in in the outfield, but even 150 games of Werth at his career level is better than what the Nationals got in either 2011 of 2012. If the Nats do get the production of 2012 Werth and the playing time of 2011 Werth then that alone could be all the improvement they need to keep the Braves and Phillies below them in the NL East.
Beyond his play on the field Werth offers something else. Mention the fact that Denard Span doesn't steal a lot of bases for a fast guy with his career high being 26 in 153 games in 2010, and the first thing people say is that Werth will help him with it. Span is a careful base runner having been successful in his steal attempts 76% of the time for his career, but Werth is successful 86% of the time. Werth is one of the best base runners in baseball and having him there to help Span to become better is a huge asset for the Nationals.
Even listening to the young players already on the Nationals in Harper and Desmond and there is one person praised above most others when it comes to improvements in their game. There is no doubt that as 2013 approaches Jayson Werth is the on field leader of the Washington Nationals. What this means when it comes to the record is unclear or if it even matters at all. The most important contribution of any player is their play on the field and so far in his career with the Washington Nationals Werth has not been able to either perform to expectation or stay on the field when he was. If Jayson Werth can simply stay healthy and play to his career level in 2013, the Nationals will benefit greatly.