Last offseason, the Washington Nationals signed Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract. The deal looked suspect at the time. Werth was coming off three good (but far from sensational) seasons with the Phillies (see his career stats), but he was already about to turn 32. Still, it would have been reasonable to hope that Werth could deliver four or five strong seasons.
As things have turned out so far, Werth has been far worse than anyone could have imagined. For the season, he’s hitting only .218 with 30 RBIs, and since June 4 he’s hit an abysmal .154. The reality is even worse than the statistics. He’s had a seemingly endless series of feeble at-bats, ending in strikeouts (often on called third strikes), pop-ups, dribbling double-play grounders, and stranded baserunners. He has rarely even had a good foul ball. I don’t think that I’ve seen a weaker “power hitter” in my four decades of watching baseball.
Despite Werth’s ineptitude and Ryan Zimmerman’s long stint on the disabled list, the Nats are doing surprisingly well (45-43), largely because of outstanding pitching, much-improved defense, and the offensive exploits of Michael Morse and rookie Danny Espinosa. Ironically, their hottest streak began when then-manager Jim Riggleman made the bizarre decision to put Werth in the lead-off spot and to have the pitcher bat eighth. I haven’t seen anyone else offer this explanation, but I think that decision had the unintended benefit of getting Werth out of the way, so that he wasn’t coming to the plate as often in the middle of promising rallies.
In today’s Washington Post, columnist Tom Boswell makes the case that Werth is suffering from high expectations, that while he is not “a team-carrying giant,” he is “a winner, a very good player, way better than he has been so far.” As a Nats fan, I hope that Werth ends up at least meeting Boswell’s more modest expectations. As of now, his seven-year contract looks like a disaster.