In a couple of weeks, the next savior of the Washington Nationals will trot onto the rich green Florida grass in rural Viera and begin the process of trying to live up to both his reputation and his $126 million contract.
Jayson Werth, who in his four seasons in Philadelphia averaged .282/.380/.506 with 29 homers and 90 RBI in a 550 at-bat season, is expected to take over for Adam Dunn and bat cleanup for the Washington Nationals in 2011.
Anything less than .300/.380/.500 with 30 homers, 100 RBI and 20 or so stolen bases could be considered a failure.
I have never given the possibility of a Jayson Werth regression a second thought. Since he signed with Philadelphia four years ago, he has been remarkably consistent. There was no reason, I thought, to suggest that he wouldn’t do for the Nationals what he did for the Phillies.
But today—for the first time since his signing—it dawned on me that Werth was leaving that veritable band-box that is Citizens Bank Park and is moving to the far more spacious Nationals Park. Now, to be sure, the Nationals aren’t playing in RFK Stadium any more, but unlike in Philadelphia, high-powered bunts don’t go for home runs.
How will playing his home games away from Citizens Bank Park affect Jayson Werth? Was he—like so many other sluggers over the years—a product of his surroundings?
Here are Werth’s home and away splits since 2007—his first year with Philadelphia—expanded to a full 162-game major league season for easier comparison:
Home: .292/.386/.506, 31 home runs, 97 RBI
Away: .262/.379/.474, 26 home runs, 80 RBI
Most major league hitters have better statistics at home, some marginally, some significantly. It’s simply easier to get out of your own bed and head to a park where sheer repetition has made it easier to succeed at the plate.
So some of Werth’s better home stats are as a result of simply feeling more comfortable, and batting average and on-base percent are more a product of comfort than environment. But the additional home runs and RBI are probably the result of the closer outfield fences in Philadelphia.
My guess is that three or four of those homers, and perhaps 10 of the RBI, were rewards for playing at Citizens Bank Park. If that is the only difference in production for Werth in Washington this season, there is no reason to worry.
But there is more.
In his first two seasons with the Phillies, Werth’s statistics were better on the road. In 2007 and 2008, he hit 20 home runs and drove in 58 runs away from Philadelphia, while garnering just 12 homers and 50 RBI at home.
In his last two seasons—when Jayson Werth became a star—he was dominant at home. Though his batting average and on-base percent were the same (.270, .380), his slugging average was 125 points higher at home (.560). He also hit 15 more home runs at Citizens Bank Park and drove in 23 more runs (39, 104).
Why the difference? In his first two seasons, he was a part-time player, while he played every day in 2009 and 2010. Other than that, everything else seems the same.
Was there a bump in the numbers playing in Philadelphia?
Here are Werth’s home and away splits in his four seasons before he joined the Phillies, two in Toronto and two with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Again, they are expanded to represent a full 162-game season for comparison purposes:
Home: .250/.340/.410, 21 home runs, 90 RBI
Away: .245/.335/.430, 20 home runs, 82 RBI
Playing at the Rogers Centre and Dodger Stadium, his production at home and on the road was almost identical. This, of course, was a different Jayson Werth. He was still having injury problems and had not yet played enough at the major league level to polish his skills.
Still, he was the same hitter on the road that he was at home.
In the end, I think playing all those games at Citizens Bank Park did indeed tweak Werth’s offensive production. But by how much, I cannot say. I doubt there will be a significant drop off, but it will be obvious.
What can we expect from Werth in 2011? I think .290/.380/.490 with 26 homers and 100 RBI along with 20 stolen bases seems about right. No, those are not Adam Dunn numbers, but then Adam Dunn doesn’t have Jayson Werth’s defensive numbers either.
As long as Werth plays the defense we all expect and his offense is similar to what he hit in Philadelphia, Nationals’ fans and the team’s front office will be quite happy with his signing. Hopefully, the $126 million will never come up again.