Werth holds different value for Nationals

It’s no exaggeration to call the Washington Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth an unprecedented splash in the free agent market for that franchise. In the previous 20 offseasons, the combined contracts signed by free agents with the Nationals/Expos was $122.1 million. Werth received $126 million.

Few outfielders have rivaled Werth’s impact in recent years. Over the past three seasons combined, he’s offered a WAR (wins above replacement) of 15.0, according to FanGraphs.com. Among outfielders, that’s equal to Carl Crawford and topped only by Matt Holliday (18.2). Similarly, Werth’s 87 home runs in that span are third among outfielders. In both cases, he’s the top right fielder.

Total Wins Above Replacement, Outfielders Since 2008

Of course, all of that was done in the heart of one of most potent offenses in the National League. How will he fare moving from the top of the division to the bottom?

The Elias Sports Bureau offers the limited precedent for such a transition. In the divisional era, Werth is the third player with at least 25 home runs to switch from a first-place team to a last-place team in the same division during the offseason. The most recent example was Shawn Green, who went from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Arizona Diamondbacks following the 2004 season. Despite a rise in OPS, Green saw a decrease in RBIs. Before that, the Oakland A’s dealt Mike Epstein to the Texas Rangers following a 26-HR season in 1972. He lasted only 27 games in Texas before another trade.

Werth will certainly be counted on as a run producer in Washington, but he struggled in that role with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2009, he became just the second player in franchise history with over 35 home runs but fewer than 100 RBI. Last season, he underperformed in RBI situations, hitting just .186 with runners in scoring position, fourth lowest in the majors.

All this came with lots of opportunities given his plum spot in the lineup. In fact, among those with 175 plate appearances with RISP, only three players posted a lower batting average in the past 35 seasons.

Lowest Batting Average With RISP
Since 1975 (min. 175 PA)

Along with his obvious power, Werth’s true offensive value is his ability to get on base. Despite that poor average, he had a .353 OBP with RISP. His 38 walks with RISP were fourth in the NL.

Though performance with runners on base has been shown to fluctuate from season to season, those numbers underscore a change in expectation. In a lineup filled with stars, Werth’s discerning eye had enormous value. The Nationals will be counting on him to take advantage of these situations and anchor an offense that scored the third-fewest runs in the NL last season.

-- Jeremy Lundblad and Mackenzie Kraemer contributed to this report