“He’s struggling a little bit,” Johnson said. “Morse is swinging the bat pretty good. I like him. It’s not a dramatic change. Six is a big spot in the lineup, and he’s hitting behind a .300 hitter.”
What is to blame for Werth’s sudden slump? Lately, Werth has been striking out with staggering frequency. He has at least one strikeout in 12 straight games, during which time he’s whiffed in 21 of 52 plate appearances. But in the broader picture, his strikeout do not actually seem to be his biggest problem.
Werth has struck out a lot this season, but the high strikeout total is not unusual for him. He has struck out in 26.9 percent of his at-bats, which is almost identical to last season (26.5) and less than 2009 (27.3). Werth’s problem, then, is not necessarily not making enough contact. It’s the weak nature of the contact he’s been making.
Werth’s most obvious problem is that he’s hitting the ball on the ground more often than he has in his entire career. Morse has hit groundballs 45.4 percent of the time when he’s put the ball in play. He’s only hit fly balls 38 percent of the time, and 14.9 percent of those have been infield pop-ups – last year, only 5.3 percent of his fly balls went to the infield.
Werth is just not hitting the ball with authority. Werth has hit line drives 16.6 percent of the time he’s put the ball in play, which is below league average and the lowest rate of his career. Werth has a .265 batting average on balls in play, but that is not unlucky. It’s the product of weak, on-the-ground contact.
The result has been an alarming dearth of extra-base hits. Werth has one extra-base hit in his past 39 at-bats, and that was a bloop double to right against the Angles. Werth hit homers in back-to-back games on June 15 and 16, against the Cardinals. He has not hit a homer in the 66 at-bats since, having gone 10 for 66 with three extra-base hits, all doubles.
Werth has battled a sore left knee all season and, recently, a tight left hip flexor. He has said he feels “close” to breaking his slump, and also that his nagging injuries have not affected him on the field. It stands to reason, though, that the ailments to his front leg have prevented him from swinging with his usual force.
The Nationals have no choice, really, but to wait it out and hope a better, typical version of Werth appears. Moving him down in the order, they hope, could trigger that.
“He’s showing signs, to me, that he’s starting to feel a little better,” Johnson said. “I’m really not in panic mode.”