MLB: Will the Washington Nationals See a Return Investment on Jayson Werth?

Orly Rios Jr.Analyst IIMarch 8, 2011

With the Phillies, Jayson Werth protected Ryan Howard, with the Nationals, Werth will be asked to protect Ryan Zimmerman.
With the Phillies, Jayson Werth protected Ryan Howard, with the Nationals, Werth will be asked to protect Ryan Zimmerman.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

From 2008 to 2010, the Philadelphia Phillies won the NL East three times and appeared in the World Series twice, winning once in 2008. 

During that span, outfielder Jayson Werth hit 87 home runs, drove in 251 runs and batted .279.

In a roster loaded with All-Stars like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez, Werth was often batting fifth in the lineup, protecting Howard who was the cleanup hitter.

To "protect" in baseball terms means that the hitter afterwards posses such a threat that the pitcher cannot afford to walk or put on base the hitter before.

For example, in Philadelphia, a Chase Utley double late in the game leaves an open base at first. Typically, when a power hitting All-Star like Ryan Howard steps to the plate, and with first base open, Howard would expect to see four straight balls before ending up on first.

The idea behind this is that by taking the bat away from their best hitter, the pitching team now has the advantage. However, with a strong hitter "protecting" the power hitter, the advantage remains to the hitting team since the last thing they want is to put two men on base with a solid power hitter up at the plate.

Jason Werth did just that with the Phillies. Batting fifth overall behind Howard, Werth ranked 10th overall among right-handed hitters the past three seasons with an .889 on-base-slugging percentage, which records how many times a player gets on base, minus errors, fielders choice or interference. The on-base percentage is then added to the slugging percentage (total bases divided by total at-bats) to get the on-base slugging percentage.

Werth's 87 home runs from 2008-2010 ranked second overall among right-handed outfielders, trailing only Brewers' outfielder Ryan Braun with 94.

After signing a seven-year deal worth $126 million, Werth is now being asked to protect third baseman Ryan Zimmerman in the Washington Nationals lineup that could someday very soon include 18-year-old phenom Bryce Harper.

Zimmerman, who in 2009 had a 30-game hitting streak, has won back-to-back Silver Slugger awards, and is one year removed from a 33-home run, 106-RBI campaign.

In the end, the signing of Jayson Werth, who was being sought after by both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, was as gutsy as it was risky. If the Nationals idea of a future that includes Zimmerman hitting three, Werth at four and Harper at five pans out, then what many writers first believed to be a risky signing will have paid off.

If however Werth cannot do what he did in Philadelphia, then his signing may be looked at as nothing more than a team seeking to become contenders quick, even if it meant reaching for a player who played more of a supporting role than a $100 million contract.