Does Jayson Werth's move to Washington hurt his fantasy value?
When the Nationals inked Jayson Werth in early December, the signing was not met with applause by many baseball analysts. Seven years and $126 million for a player who will be in his mid-to-late 30s for the majority of the contract, and who was once considered injury-prone? That's not exactly what most would call savvy spending. Even ESPN's own Keith Law called the deal "irresponsible." After all, at the time, it tied Vernon Wells for the third-largest contract ever for an outfielder, and it's safe to say that Wells' deal with the Blue Jays hasn't exactly been viewed with envy by rival organizations well, except for maybe the Angels, who inexplicably acquired him and his contract in the offseason. But that's a topic for another day.
From the Nationals' perspective, they wanted an impact bat and knew they'd have to overpay to lure Werth to Washington (it was rumored that he would have accepted a six-year deal from the Red Sox, but they offered only five years). Right or wrong, it was a move the Nationals were willing to make, and you have to give them credit for spending money and trying to compete, which is more than you can say about some organizations. And hey, if the Nationals need to unload the contract three or four years down the road, Angels GM Tony Reagins is always just a phone call away.
But do we really care as fantasy owners? Maybe the Nationals will regret the contract, maybe they won't. But it's not relevant to fantasy. We want to know how Werth's move to Washington will affect his fantasy value, and it's important that we don't let an opinion about his contract skew how we view him as a fantasy commodity.
Unfortunately, there's no getting around the fact that Washington was far from a perfect landing spot for Werth. Then again, for a hitter, there aren't many situations better than what he had in the City of Brotherly Love. Last season, Werth's home/road splits were drastic; he sported a .320-18-51 line at Citizens Bank Park, compared to a .270-9-34 line on the road. That probably makes many fantasy owners nervous about him. However, his splits with the Phillies haven't always been so defined, and he actually hit more home runs (35) on the road from 2007 to 2009 than he did at home (33). He also hit for a better average on the road in both 2008 and 2009. So while moving away from Citizens Bank isn't a good thing, it's not damaging either.
Plus, drastic home/road splits don't always translate when players change teams. Remember when Alfonso Soriano was traded to the Nationals in December 2005 after two years in Texas? Fantasy owners almost fell into a widespread panic. Soriano's home/road splits with the Rangers in 2005 looked like this:
Home: .315-25-75-60-14 in 311 at-bats
Road: .224-11-31-42-16 in 326 at-bats
Not only that, but in 2005, RFK Stadium ranked as the third-worst ballpark in the majors for home runs, according to ESPN's Park Factors page (Rangers Ballpark ranked fifth-best). How could Soriano go from one of the league's best parks for hitters to one of the worst and be expected to maintain his elite production? As it turned out, Soriano had the best power season of his career, hitting .268 with 46 home runs, 96 RBIs and 119 runs.
This isn't to say Werth and Soriano are perfect comparisons. Soriano had more raw power, and it helped that he was in a contract year with the Nats in 2006. But it serves as an example why we shouldn't put too much focus on home/road splits. It's something to consider, sure, but it's just a small piece of the puzzle. Plus, Nationals Park ranked 15th for home runs in 2010, while Citizens Bank ranked 10th, so the difference between the two parks isn't nearly as big as common perception makes it out to be.
Then there's the lineup argument. Werth leaves the Phillies, a team that scored the second-most runs in the National League last season, and joins the Nationals, who scored the third-fewest. In Philadelphia, he batted fifth behind Placido Polanco, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, a great source for production. In Washington, he's expected to hit cleanup. Nyjer Morgan (.344 career OBP) and Ian Desmond (.309) aren't great table setters, but Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats' No. 3 hitter, posted a career-best .388 OBP last season, which bettered Howard's .353 mark, so that's actually a positive. And while the whole idea of lineup protection might be overrated, Adam LaRoche (.468 slugging percentage last year) will be batting behind Werth instead of Raul Ibanez (.444 SLG), which could turn out to be a slight upgrade. Yes, when judging the overall talent level between the two lineups, the Phillies' is clearly superior. But going from one to the other isn't necessarily the gloom-and-doom picture some like to paint.
Something that's easy to overlook is that Werth will now have to face the Phillies 18 times this season instead of the Nationals, a team he hit .368-5-13 against in 17 games last season. Sure, 18 games is a small sample size, but it could be significant. Think about it. Instead of facing pitchers such as Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis and John Lannan, he'll square off against Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Not exactly an even trade-off.
While Werth's 27 home runs last year fell short of his 2009 total (36 homers), his 46 doubles led the National League (he hit only 26 doubles in '09). The extra doubles won't necessarily translate into more homers in 2011, but his 75 extra-base hits and .532 slugging percentage were both career highs. His 45.4 fly-ball rate last year -- a mark that has been trending upward the past three seasons -- was also a career high. That's not good for his batting average (which was inflated by a .352 BABIP last year), as fly balls turn into outs more often than ground balls and line drives, but it does bode well for his power numbers.
According to the ESPN Player Rater, Werth was a top-20 fantasy hitter in 2010 and ranked No. 11 among outfielders, and he has hit at least 24 home runs with double-digit stolen bases each of the past three seasons, something only Ryan Braun and Hunter Pence have done. Sure, it would've been nice for Werth to stay in Philadelphia, and his numbers likely will take a slight hit with the Nationals, but he is still a potential five-category fantasy producer. He was a borderline top-10 fantasy outfielder with the Phillies, and that doesn't change now that he's in the nation's capital.