Jayson Werth’s Batted Balls

With a .279 batting average for balls in play this season after putting up a .352 BABIP last year, you might come to the conclusion that Jayson Werth hasn’t gotten a lot of great bounces with the Washington Nationals after signing a seven year $126 million deal this offseason. While you could also dispute this by suggesting that a 6.6% decrease in fly balls and a 6.4% increase in ground balls has more to do with his decline this season than bad luck, Werth himself isn’t nearly as concerned with his batting average as most fans.

It’s an important stat to the public I think, to the fans. I don’t put a whole lot of weight in average. I’m looking forward to see that movie that comes out in a couple weeks.

Normally, I’d be agreeing with Werth here and christening him the patron saint of baseball nerdom. Unfortunately, the Nationals right fielder doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

He continues:

Even if the average doesn’t get there this year, I’ll be able to look at my numbers and feel good about it at the end of the year, if things go the way I think they’re going to go the next two months.

I’m not sure which way he thinks things are going to go over the next two months, but with a .330 on base percentage, Werth would need to get on base 72 times in 156 plate appearances just to get up to his career on base average. In order to raise his pathetic .382 slugging percentage to his career average, he’d need to collect just under 100 total bases in his next 130 at bats.

It’s worth mentioning that Werth’s walk rate, strikeout rate and plate discipline numbers this season all remain in line with his career averages. And so as much as he disparages batting average, it’s his obvious decline in hitting that’s led to him going from a top ten contributor in terms of wRC+, to being merely league average.

A quick comparison between his spray charts from 2010 and 2011 reveals a potential source for his troubles.

It once again comes back to his decreased fly ball and increased ground ball rates. As we see, despite less at bats and less balls going into play than last season, Werth’s ground balls into the let side of the infield in 2011 look just as crowded as they do for all of 2010. The increase in grounders has meant that he’s not pulling the ball as much into left field, which was a source for many of his hits in 2011. In fact, only 17.9% of Werth’s pulled contact is being turned into a fly ball which doesn’t compares well to the 24.5% fly ball rate he enjoyed on pulled hits in 2010.

And of course, not helping matters in the least is going from Citzen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia which favours home runs from right handed batters to Nationals Park in Washington which is close to league average for power hitting righties.

Despite all of this, Werth blames a glitch in his timing for the disappointing results this season:

I don’t feel great about it, but I feel better. It’s one of those things that somehow got in there. It’s a daily battle to not let it happen. I’m working in the right direction. What’s tough is, once things get engraved, they get hard to reverse.

The same could be said about signing a seven year $126 million contract.