The decision to bat Jayson Werth second revealed something about the Nationals’ new right fielder: he
understands his strengths as an offensive player, and he has a pretty advanced, convention-defying grasp of how those strengths are applied during a baseball game.
Werth said he would feel comfortable hitting “wherever” in the Nationals lineup. But he approached Manager Jim Riggleman with the idea of batting second. Typical baseball wisdom suggests you take a big-ticket free agent and stick him in the middle of the order. Werth saw beyond that. He knows he gets on base a lot and the Nationals don’t have many players like that to stick at the top of their lineup. So he realized batting second was the best thing.
“I think with the personnel that we have, it makes the most sense,” Werth said. “It’s definitely our best lineup that way. I hit second a lot in my career. The last time I hit second, I won a World Series. I don’t mind hitting second at all.
“The personnel is what’s driving this at this point. If we had a prototypical 1-2 guy, then I would probably hit 3-4-5. We’re at a stage right now where we don’t. I think we will soon. It’s a matter of getting those guys comfortable in the lineup, getting their feet settled in playing every day in the big leagues.”
Werth batted fifth most often last year, which he felt deemphasized his ability to take pitches, one of his most valuable offensive traits. Werth last year saw 4.36 pitches per plate appearance, fourth best in the major leagues. By batting second, Werth will be able to more effectively grind down the other team’s starter.
“It kind of plays into my game a little bit,” Werth said. “Seeing the pitches, work the pitchers, getting up there more times throughout the year. It gives me a chance to get on-base for [Ryan Zimmerman] and Adam [LaRoche] and whoever hits behind them. I hit fifth the last couple years. I feel like one of my strengths is working the pitcher and seeing a lot of pitches, and it’s kind of wasted down in the middle of the order. … With my on-base percentage, historically, it makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons.”
Werth has always been regarded as a good, smart baserunner – he’s stolen 53 bases over the past three seasons while being caught only seven times. With Ryan Zimmerman batting behind him as opposed to, say, Pedro Feliz, Werth will probably be less motivated to steal bases. But his ability to take an extra base will only become more important.
“I don’t think my baserunning is going to change a whole lot,” Werth said. “I’m still going to run, steal when I can. One of my big things is, I go first to third, first to home really well. I can score from first without being on second base.”