Biggest Surprises of 2011 – #5: Jayson Werth

Today, we begin a new five-part series, one where we evaluate the biggest surprises on the Washington Nationals 2011 roster.  This isn’t about the moments; we’ve covered that already.  It’s about the individual performances that just made us sit back and say “wow.”  Remember, surprises can be good or bad, so don’t be thrown off!

On the docket for today is Jayson Werth.  This seems appropriate as next week is the beginning of baseball’s winter meetings.  As most of you probably remember, at that time last year the Nationals offered Werth a 7-year/$126 million deal that shocked the baseball world for two reasons. First, the Nationals proved they would spend big money.  Second, they offered Werth way, way more than he was being offered by any other team in baseball, both in years and dollars.

Given his substantial pay increase, many Nats fans thought they’d be getting a juggernaut at the plate.  However, Werth’s on-field performance didn’t even come close to staying the same as the previous years in Philadelphia.  It plummeted significantly.  His slash line from his final season in Philadelphia in 2010: 296/.388/.532.  From his first season with the Nationals in 2011: .232/.330/.389.

To explore the reasoning behind this dramatic drop off, we first look at the differences in the line up in DC.  To start the 2011 season, there was no Ryan Zimmerman in the lineup, and Michael Morse hadn’t yet started to to explode into a player that actually got MVP votes this year.  Not to mention, there was no lineup consistency for Werth, especially under Jim Riggleman, who started games in the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 9 holes at some point during the season.  He earned more than 50 plate appearances in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th spots.  It’s safe to say there was little consistency here for Werth.  He also wasn’t playing Citizens Bank Park 81 times a year, where a slight breeze can take a routine flyout to left field over the wall.

Not to mention, it’s not exactly uncommon for a player to have a significant drop of in success after signing a massive contract.  Look at guys like Alfonso Soriano (dodged a bullet there, eh?), Albert Belle, and Andruw Jones among many others.  Werth likely felt the weight of his massive contract and sought to look worthy (no pun intended) of the deal.  This causes a player to reach for a higher level than they’re capable of, which causes them to actually get worse.  Baseball analysts talk about players “reaching” all the time.  I expect this may have had something to do with his sub-par start.

As we move ever closer to the 2012 season, I expect Jayson Werth to earn is pay a bit more than he did in 2011, though it will be hard for him to ever be truly worth of 7 years and $126 million.  Werth will thrive when he’s surrounded by strong players, and it looks like the Zimmerman and Morse could very well be those strong players.  Jayson Werth does bring a winning mentality to the clubhouse, and I suspect that he had a lot to do with the team’s motivation through their stellar September finish last season.  Here’s hoping that his numbers move a little more toward his career average next season.

Joe Drugan

About Joe Drugan

Joe is the Managing Editor of The Nats Blog and host of the Nats Talk On The Go podcast. He's been blogging about the Nationals since 2010 and with The Nats Blog since 2011.