To say that Washington Nationals $126 million man Jayson Werth is struggling would be a dramatic understatement. After last night’s 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, Werth is hitting a robust .224/.329/.391, all career lows for seasons with more than 300 plate appearances. At the pace he’s on, there’s no way he’ll even come close to his 162-game average of 25 home runs or 83 RBIs.
Team officials are quick to assure Nats fans that Werth is just going through a slump, that he’ll rebound any day and that he’s too good a player and athlete to be mired in doldrums like this much longer. Despite Werth’s struggles, the team is enjoying an unprecedented run of wins, taking 13 of 16 games, vaulting the Nats within arm’s reach of the Wild Card spot. Add in the fact that veteran skipper Davey Johnson ended his semi-retirement to guide this team, and it’s the closest to salad days the Nats have had since 2005. So while it might be unsavory to consider Werth’s plight during this time of plenty, every day it continues, it’s becoming more worrysome.
The deeper we look into Werth’s stats, the worse it gets. He’s hitting .186/.305/.353 on the road. In the month of June, he’s hit .153/.298/.282 with just six extra-base hits and has struck out 23 times, almost a quarter of all his plate appearances. His BABiP for the season is slightly depressed (aren’t we all) at .262, so he should see a little bump in his luck as the season goes along, but it’s not like all of this can be blamed on balls not falling in for him, and especially not the missing power.
And if we analyze his ratio batting stats, the news doesn’t get any better. He’s grounding out at a 40 percent higher rate than he has at any time in his career, and grounding out more than flying out for the first time since he became a full-time player. And what you see with your eyes can be comfirmed with statistics: Werth is looking at strikes, especially strike three. His strikeout totals aren’t off his career pace, but he’s striking out looking 40 percent of the time he Ks, which is 15 percent higher than his career average and the league average. He’s not pulling the trigger.
Combine the lower on-base percentage, general lack of power, increasing groundball rates and strike three calls and it’s a recipe for disaster. I wrote last season about how two sluggers, Adam Dunn and one of his possible free agent replacements, Carlos Pena, suffered from a very similar set of symptoms. Both Dunn and Pena’s groundball ratios have risen dramtically over the last couple of seasons, a warning sign that their production would take a similarly dramatic hit. Much like other sluggers in the past, when they hit 30 they saw their skills start to decline.
Werth is a better athlete than either Dunn or Pena, and he certainly runs better than either of the those two lumbering first basemen. But Werth makes his living - and earned his contract - on the basis of his power skills. All of NatsTown better hope this is just a slump. The alternative is just too chilling to think about.
Dave Nichols covers the Washington Nationals for Nats News Network. Read Nichols’ Nationals observations part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.