Nationals Baseball: Trying to get Jayson Werth's struggles

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Trying to get Jayson Werth's struggles

Players struggle. It's a fact of baseball. Players get into slumps that often last weeks, sometimes months. But when it happens to the guy that just got a 72 year 1.4 billion dollar contract, it draws more attention. Despite the Nats winning again (back to two games over .500, but still only 6th in the WC standings) the story from last night, and the story from every night until it isn't a story anymore, is Jayson Werth's struggles.

Kilgore went over a lot of the important stats yesterday. There's a little bad luck involved, but basically Werth is struggling because he's pounding the ball into the ground and when he does manage to get under a ball, he's not hitting it with any power. But why is he doing that?

Usually you can point to something. Do we have too little historical information to go on? (we got plenty) Is this more in line with his career numbers? (certainly not) Are pitchers pitching him differently? (not really) Is he losing track of the strike zone? (no) Is he injured? (presumably not) Is he just getting too old? (doubtful)

If you can't point to something then you get into dangerous territory. You can either (1) chalk it up to luck / circumstance and move on hoping everything will even out over time (see what sabermetricians usually do with John Lannan) or (2) think about what, if anything has changed and make assumptions based on that. #1 usually works. With thousands of ballplayers over a hundred plus years you are going to get some anamolies, even at the half-season (or longer) long time-frame. But there are some compelling reasons to examine #2 for Jayson.

There were two big changes in Jayson's playing situation for 2011. He left Philadelphia for Washington. He moved up in the lineup to several different spots. We knew the first would have some effect, particularly on his power. We assumed the second wouldn't matter. But it is possible that both combined to drastically effect Jayson Werth.

You see for most players, I'd say nearly all players, things like batting order, what defensive position they are playing, when they come into pitch, it doesn't matter. There's a base talent level that is the driving force to the results they get. This is why we see things like good closers being relatively easy to find, or Alfonso Soriano doing perfectly fine when being forced out of second base. But nearly all isn't all. There are going to be a few that it does matter for. (and frankly ruin a lot for sound analysis and strategy because baseball people are frightened little mice and the loud noise of one out-of-the-traditional-box thinking failure can scare them back into their holes forever) There is going to be that 1 in 20 pitcher who gets wide-eyed coming into save a game. What if Werth is that guy?

This isn't totally blind speculation. Werth had his best month by far in May, when he was batting third. He got crushingly bad in June the same time he was moved to leadoff. Could it be that he was trying to hit the ball on the ground more? That he has been purposely doing that thinking it would help him get on base more and that was his new job? Or could it be a reaction to the park itself? Finding himself out of the bandbox that is Citizens Bank could he be thinking "Oh I can't go for homers anymore. Gotta hit more ground balls"?

The split information is going to have sample sizes that are too small and the counter examples abound. His power was fine batting 2nd to start the year. For every two pitcher parks he's been terrible in I can find one he was good in. But at this point, with nothing else to go on, I think that you have to try to go back from those changes and return Jayson to a comfort zone. The Nats can't start playing home games in Citizens Bank, so they need to do exactly what Davey has done. Move Jayson back to 5th in the lineup and let him work on things.

Hopefully people will understand that if he gets better it doesn't really prove anything. Remember #1 usually works. It's far more likely to be just a strange couple of months than anything. That's the "wear you seatbelt, don't speed, don't drive drunk" explanation for avoiding accidents. But given the money involved, removing anything else from the equation is the prudent move. Get the headlights cleaned and the brakes checked. If he's going to fail, make sure you've done all you can to prevent it.


Hoo said...

Werth looks mentally confused at the plate. So I'd put that more into part 2. I'm not measuring his bat speed but I doubt his physical attributes have dropped off a cliff.

Instead, it looks like he's guessing at the plate, constantly locked up and fighting himself. I'd like to think that one good series could have finish the year at .250 with some pop.

But yowza, 6.5 more years?

calindc said...

I agree with Hoo, Worth has the dead-behind-the-eyes look at the plate now since he doesn't have the artillery around him like he had in Philly. I guess the best term I can use is "exposed".

Oh, by the way, the Nats are two games over 500. :-)

Donald said...

I'd like to know how he does in batting practice, which should take a lot of #2 out of the equation. I know it isn't the same as a real game situation, but if he looks solid in practice, then that would be a good indicator that it's in his head. If he looks just as awkward in batting practice, it would indicate mechanics that should be fixable.

Bryan said...

I fully expect Werth to turn it around a little in the last half of the season, with the caveat that numbers are down all over baseball. How many times have you seen guys have pretty dreadful starts only to turn it around pretty nicely after the All-Star break? Werth has always been a slow starter if I recall. Change the team and the park and it will just take a little longer.

As a worst case scenerio I expect he'll return to form next year. At the end of his career kids will look at the back of his (virtual) baseball card, see his 2010 numbers, and wonder "what the heck is with that year?"

If, as Hoo said, Werth is guessing and fighting at the plate I think that is actually good news. We know the guy can play. This isn't some young prospect who may or may not have the ability to figure it out. Then the guessing and fighting is worrisome. We know Werth can figure it out. His numbers tell us that. So if its merely waiting until he does, I can live with that.

Anonymous said...

I agree that he looks lost at the plate right now. I would luv to see him get more aggressive on the first pitch until he turns it around. He looks at a lot of first pitch strikes.

Section 139 said...

During our May swoon who actually was playing well? Werth. His slash line for May: .287/.364/.455. It included 4 HR and 14 RBI. Easily his best month. The Nats: 11-17. He has been absolutely dreadful since and well...the Nats haven't. In months not called May he has 6 HRs and 16 RBI with a .184 BA. The Nats: 34-26.

So I was discussing this with a Mets fan yesterday who is convinced that all Mets who sign big contracts become lazy bums. He hates his Mets, but they are his team. Go figure.

But anyway...why not consider that he perhaps laid down? When the Nats were stinking the place up, who would be scrutinized? Werth. The 126 Million Dollar Man. So played a little harder. I'm not entirely sold on this, but he's made some spectularly lazy plays in outfield lately that aren't helping his case. I still don't know what to think about Soriano's pop fly to right center on July 4th. That was just plain bad. Bernadina may have been at fault too, but you'd think a veteran like Werth could have noticed a need to do something. I don't an Alpha ball player and call it. Is his head just not in the game right now? Or worse, did he lay down because of a spat with Riggleman and now he's in a funk because of it? I'm hesitant to say he's out of it because of the heads up play in the same game, but still...

I feel like I'm rambling. Grumble grumble grumble.

Mr. S said...

steroids, anyone? you have to ask it these days when a guy isn't too old, but loses production drastically.

Anonymous said...

Sometime players just have bad years. I remember Paul Konerko (in 2003 I think) halved his home run total and has his batting average go in the tank. Maybe it is just that kind of a year for Werth.

Anonymous said...

If I had to guess, I would bet on (1). There's nothing special about Werth or his history that would make me think that lineup position matters for him. He's simply in constant take mode.