- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The first thought most fantasy baseball owners will have about outfielder Jayson Werth leaving the Philadelphia Phillies and heading to the Washington Nationals -- and it's a reasonable one -- is that his statistics will drop as a result of the move, if for no other reason than the change in home ballparks. True, the hitting environment at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park is more generous than Washington's Nationals Park, but Werth is a pretty good baseball player regardless of stadium.
Werth finished as fantasy's No. 20 hitter on the 2010 Player Rater, and he finished 23rd the year before. He has averaged 29 home runs and 18 stolen bases the past three seasons; for perspective, consider that Carlos Gonzalez and David Wright were the only big leaguers to reach both of those numbers in 2010, with Matt Kemp and Arizona's Chris Young just missing.
While a healthy portion of those numbers came in home games in 2010, it also looks like last season's splits were a bit aberrant for the right fielder. In 2010, Werth's OPS was 161 points better in Philly; he hit .270 with only nine home runs in road games. However, in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Werth actually hit for a better average in road games than at home, and the home runs and OPS were nearly even. For his career, Werth's home OPS is 32 points higher at home than on the road, certainly not a red flag. Also giving credence to what was clearly an odd 2010 for Werth was a horrific .186 batting average with runners in scoring position and a lack of power against right-handed pitching. Neither of those issues were problems prior to 2010, and he should return to the mean.
That said, I do think Werth is a lesser fantasy option with the Nationals than he was with the Phillies. The ballpark change does account for that somewhat, but it's more because of the difference in talent around him; the fact that his extraordinary seven-year contract is now consummated and he's no longer a free agent-to-be; and let's face it, he doesn't get to face Nationals pitching anymore. His career numbers at Nationals Park are impressive (.307 batting average, .970 OPS), but now he'll be facing Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, not John Lannan and Jason Marquis.
Getting back to the ballpark discussion, note that Citizens Bank Park ranked a neutral 16th among parks on our Park Factors for 2010, while Nationals Park was close by at 18th. Park Factor compares the rate of home statistics for each stadium with road numbers, regardless of a team's pitchers, so while the Phillies have strong pitching and the Nationals do not, the fact is the ballpark switch is a bit overrated. Werth can hit anywhere.
Werth will play right field -- and he's a good one defensively -- and likely replace Adam Dunn, who is now the designated hitter for the Chicago White Sox, as the Nationals' primary clean-up hitter. He'll likely follow Ryan Zimmerman in the order, as well as table-setters Nyjer Morgan and Ian Desmond, neither particularly adept at getting on base. In Philadelphia, Werth batted fifth and followed, in general, high on-base options in Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. However, Zimmerman is a terrific player, and Werth should be able to hit at least 30 home runs, knock in more than 100 runs and, if he's so inclined, could steal 15-20 bases as well. There's ample evidence a player can choose to steal bases -- and Werth rarely gets caught --- regardless of where he hits in the lineup. He just needs to remain healthy, and after three injury-free seasons in Philadelphia, I think we can remove the brittle tag.
Ultimately, had Werth remained a Phillie, he likely would have been recognized as a borderline top-10 outfielder in fantasy drafts, just as he was in 2010, when he was taken ninth among outfielders in ESPN average live drafts and 40th overall. So should the change in home venue, which I think is generally overrated in the first place, push Werth out of the top 10 now?
Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft revealed his top hitters by position for 2010 in an October article and listed Werth 12th among outfielders, behind Carl Crawford, Ryan Braun, Carlos Gonzalez, Matt Holliday, Josh Hamilton, Kemp, Justin Upton, Alex Rios, Andrew McCutchen, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. Knowing Werth was likely leaving Philly, that seemed a fair rank to me. Now that he's a National, I would add Ichiro Suzuki and Jason Heyward as outfielders I'd draft ahead of Werth, but that's about it. Some of the major upside might be gone with him leaving the Phillies, but don't drop Werth too far in your rankings. He remains a borderline top-50 choice on draft day.
As for what Werth leaves behind in right field in Philadelphia, top prospect Domonic Brown likely will be platooned with Ben Francisco. The Phillies have known of Werth's likely departure for months, if not longer, so it's no surprise to them. It is interesting they'll have to face him in 18 games per season, but that's a different issue. Don't drop Halladay or Oswalt on draft lists because of this! Brown might not be ready for regular duty, as he struggled against major league pitching and left the Dominican Winter League early after hitting .069 in nine games, but let's see if the Phillies make some offseason moves and what happens in spring training first.