Jayson Werth is known for a couple of things. First there’s the spectacular beard he rocks (it makes the ladies wish they were in a forest an in need of aid in the middle of a snowstorm). The second thing he’s known for is the 7-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Nationals. Year one with the Nationals in 2011 was solid as he was a steal short of going 20/20 while scoring 69 times and driving in 58. Of course, when you also bat .232 as he did that season it’s not exactly what the Nats were hoping for when they shelled out all the dough. Year two was much worse as he appeared in only 81 games due to injury. He performed well hitting a career best .300, but with only five homers and 31 RBIs it was another disappointing campaign. Those two so-so efforts led many in the fantasy game to turn their attention to other options in 2013 thinking that Werth would either be injured or just plain ineffective. They were half right, he appeared in only 129 games, but was he ever special during his 532 plate appearances. Let’s review.
Werth batted a career best .318. That was the 5th best mark in the NL.
Werth had a .399 OBP. That was the 5th best mark in the NL.
Werth had a .532 SLG. That was the 3rd best mark in the NL.
Werth had a .931 OPS. That was the 2nd best mark in the NL.
All told do you know how many players went .318/.399/.532 in the NL? The answer is one – Jayson Man. Hell, in the AL there were only two that could match that slash line – Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. Jayson Werth was a flat out superstar in 2013, whether you want to believe it or not.
As for his fantasy value, it was obviously terrific. Not only did Werth bat .318 but he also hit 25 bombs, knocked in 82 runs, scored 84 times and stole 10 bags. Remember he missed 33 games as well. If he had played 155 games we might be talking about a .300-30-95-95-15 season and then people would really be taking note wouldn’t they?
The batting average was a bit fluky. I know he’s hit .311 the past two seasons, but he’s a .274 career hitters who had never hit .300 before the last two years. He’s also hit better than .273 just once in the four seasons in which he’s appeared in at least 130 games. He sported a 0.59 BB/K ratio in ’13, just barely better than his 0.51 career mark, and his 0.95 GB/FB ratio was a dead on match for his career mark. His average went up because of insanely high 26 percent line drive rate. That mark hadn’t hit 20 percent since 2008. It also doesn’t hurt that his BABIP the past two years is .357, a wee bit elevated from his .331 career mark. The average will come down in 2014 but that doesn’t mean it will collapse.
Werth hit 36 homers back in 2009 but he’s really a 25 homer bat. That position is further buttressed by the 38.5 percent fly ball rate he’s posted the past to seasons, slightly below his 40.4 career mark, as he’s just hit less balls in the air than he did a few years back. He also overshot his career 14.9 percent HR/F ratio in 2013 at 18.0 percent (he was due some of that after the mark collapsed to 5.0 percent in 2012).
The lack of thefts certainly dinged his fantasy value a bit though given his overall game 10 steals is fine. It is odd that he had a .399 OBP, his best mark in a season of 100 games, an only swiped 10 bags, but at least he was only caught one time. In fact, he’s always been extremely discerning on the bases. Werth has 114 steals in his career and he’s never been caught more than three times in a season. He may not return to the 20 level that he recorded in 2008-09, but he could certainly toss out double-digits yet again in 2014.
Werth hit all over the order in 2013. In fact, he appeared in at least 24 games in four different spots in the Nationals order: 25 games hitting second, 24 hitting third, 48 batting cleanup and 24 hitting fifth. The Nationals need to give him a solidified spot in the order. Pay attention to what that spot will be as it will have a direct effect on whether he’ll be looked at as a run producer or a run scorer. Regardless of the spot, the key to Werth’s season is simply staying healthy. As I noted above, he’s only averaged 105 games in his two seasons with the Nationals. He did appear in 150 games each year from 2009-11, but he’s also failed to reach 135 games played in any of the other eight seasons he’s appeared in a big league game.
Don’t draft Werth expecting a .318 batting average or .931 OPS or you will be disappointed. Don’t draft him expecting a 20/20 season or you will be disappointed. Draft him as your third outfielder and you will be doing back flips. If he’s your second outfielder in mixed leagues you should be alright, though that track record of ill health leaves me short of recommending him without reservation at that level.
By Ray Flowers