Remembering Jayson Werth

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jayson Werth looked like a complete bust in his inaugural season in Washington. Then he broke his wrist. But he's bounced back over the last calendar year, as one of the best hitters in baseball.

From the title of this article, one could conceivably conclude that something terrible happened to Jayson Werth, and we now need to pay homage to him. Thankfully, that's not the case. But the point of this post is to indeed remember him, as he's been pretty easy to forget about.

The Nationals have been disappointing, when they were supposed to be a World Series contender. Within the squad itself, other players receive far more attention, and for good reasons. Even still, despite a really great season, Stephen Strasburg might even be underrated at this point. Some thought Jordan Zimmermann was actually the Nat's best starter, until July and August happened. Bryce Harper is really, really good, but the focus lately has been on his durability.

Werth is a 34-year-old ancillary player on a middling team, whose stars are even playing under-the-radar. The word association game with Werth is typically followed by 'contract.' He also missed a month of time himself.

But as David Schoenfield at ESPN notes, Werth could win the NL batting title. Now, you're reading Beyond the Box Score, so you know the term 'batting title' is about as accurate as 'employee of the month' at a bureaucratic company. But hitting for a high average isn't a bad thing, and Werth is still drawing his typical walks. The power has even returned- not quite at his levels with the Phillies, but .326 / .404 / .529 line shows this isn't an empty batting average.

Werth has a .405 wOBA for the season, and over the past calendar year ranks eighth in baseball with a .389 wOBA, between Robinson Cano and Paul Goldschmidt.  After struggling in his first season in Washington with a .319 wOBA, Werth has been fantastic since.

The main issue, other than his contract, has been the injuries. He broke his wrist, a notorious power-sapping injury. When you add on the park change from Citizens Bank and his age, it seemed as though Werth's best case scenario would be a decent on-base guy without much pop. And we know that pitchers don't love walking guys with little power.

Werth has always been a high BABIP guy (career .332), but has taken that to a new level over the past calendar year with a .369 mark. The main contributor would appear to be a 23.7% line drive rate. Werth has always been in the low to mid twenties on LD rate, with the exception of 2011 when he dipped down to 16.8%. His average plummeted to .232 as a result.

He's also hitting different types of line drives. Let's take a look at his spray charts for 2011 versus the last twelve months:

2011:

via brooksbaseball.net

Last calendar year:

via brooksbaseball.net

I'm paying specific attention to the little red dots to right field, and, more specifically, tightly down the line and/or to deep right field. Over the last year, his spray chart is very balanced, as opposed to in 2011 when most of his line drives were to dead center. That's what you're told to do as a hitter, but he wasn't splitting the gaps or going down the lines as much. It's much harder to hit doubles over center fielders' heads.

Even in 2009 and 2010 (not shown, for sake of sanity), he was more of a pull hitter. That worked, but a ton of those balls to left were fly balls, and, presumably, many were home runs. Playing at CBP helped.

Werth has seemed to change his profile, contributing to his current .326 batting average. He isn't a .326 hitter- few are. But he's using the whole field in a way he hadn't previously, and Mike Podhorzer from FanGraphs points out that his fly balls are, well, flying further than last year:

Jayson Werth lands second on the list simply because of his awful 2012. So what the distance is telling us is that Werth is healthy again. You could see that in his ISO, which is back above .200 [back on 7/30/13], and his HR/FB rate near his peak range of 19-21% [currently at 18.3%].

Hitting fly balls far and line drives all over the field, while taking his free passes (10.8% walk rate), is a great combination of skills. His power won't likely return to pre-2011 levels, but it's good enough to be a threat and keep his walk rate elevated. You don't need me to tell you he won't maintain his BABIP, but he can come down from his current ceiling and still be a nice player. Even if he were completely healthy his whole time in Washington, I doubt a lot of folks saw him producing at these levels.

He still strikes out a good amount and pops up too much, but if Werth can stay healthy, he'll be an instrumental piece to the Nationals' lineup as they try to contend next year. Or maybe even this year.

Either way, his contract is looking a whole lot better than it did two years ago.

. . .

Andrew is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him @AndrewShen_SF.

Spray charts courtesy of Brooks Baseball, and statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

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