Sometime between 7:15 and 7:45 tonight, depending on how the first inning goes for the Nationals, Jayson Werth will stroll into the batter’s box at Citizens Bank Park, the spot where for four years he hit so much better than he’s hit this season. It’s his second trip back to Philadelphia. The first centered on the question of whether the fans would boo him or cheer him. Four months later, the question has changed and become more urgent: Will Werth ever hit that way again?
“I’m still very capable,” Werth said last week in Colorado. “I feel like I’ve got that in me. I can do that.”
You can slice and dice Werth’s disappointing first offensive season in Washington any way you want to realize how far he has drifted from his career norm. He’s hitting about 40 points below his career batting average, about 35 points below his career OBP and about 80 points below his career slugging percentage. That sounds bad.
Here’s another way to put it that surprised me, and that doesn’t sound so bad: If you could magically sprinkle less than one additional double into each week of Werth’s season, he would nearly close all those slash-line gaps.
Before we explain exactly what we’re getting at, let’s stop to make one point clear: This is not a Werth’s Season Isn’t As Bad As You Think post. He’s starting to pick it up, and I don’t think we can write off the next few seasons based on the first four months of this one, but it’s been disappointing so far, period, point blank.
What is the point? Well, the large gap between Werth’s career performance and his 2011 performance, through that one-double-a-week prism, says something interesting, to me, about the marathon grind of a baseball season and the importance of keeping track of statistics in regard to evaluating a hitter. This is not meant to be comprehensive, and we’re ignoring all kind of valuable advanced metrics and such. It’s just a different perspective.
If they didn’t record averages and keep of track stats, do you think you would notice the absence or presence of one extra double per week by one hitter? You could be awfully attentive, and still, would that really make a difference if you couldn’t count it all up? It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems to me that it would not, purely by watching games and no record, make the difference between a dominant player and one who is not quite league average.
Is this post starting to go off the rails? Hopefully it’s about to start making some sense. Okay, Werth has played 112 games this season. Here are Werth’s numbers last season through 112 games, and don’t forget he played home games in a rather extreme hitter’s park:
471 plate appearances
119 for 395
That’s a very good season. Werth hit for more power down the stretch, and he ended up finishing eighth in the National League MVP ballot.
Here are Werth’s stats this season through 112 games, and don’t forget he’s playing home games at less forgiving hitter’s park:
486 plate appearances
94 for 415
A lot of those numbers are more similar than I figured they would be. He has four fewer walks in 17 more plate appearances, which is a problem. But what stands out more is the difference in doubles. The assumption when Werth signed with the Nationals is that, out of Citizens Bank, he would hit fewer home runs and more doubles. Well, the homers, to this point, are almost the same and the doubles are way down.
Here we are: what if Werth could magically turn 16 outs in 16 doubles? It sounds like a massive difference, and it is. Think about it like this: There have been 19 weeks of the season so far. It’s not even one double a week. It makes an exceedingly large difference on paper:
2011 plus 16 doubles
486 plate appearances
110 for 415
That slash line comes out to: .265/.364/.463
Werth’s career numbers to date: 265/.362/.468
Now, again, please don’t misinterpret the point. There’s a reason he’s hit fewer doubles. Werth is hitting the ball on the ground more than he ever has. Careful, studious observers of the game know that it’s harder to hit a double when the ball is on the ground than in the air. His season isn’t about luck. It’s about not hitting as well, to this point, as he has in the past.
So can Werth hit like he can in the past? He believes he will. The difference, across the entirety of a season, might not be quite as vast as it seems.