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Jayson Werth's Struggles Are Temporary, But Bloated Contract Is Real Issue

Jayson Werth's struggles are concerning, but it's far too early to say he's a below-average baseball player. The bigger issue is he's a decent player going through a slump that was handed superstar money.

WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 15:  Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals speaks as he is introduced to the media on December 15 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington DC.   (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC - DECEMBER 15: Jayson Werth #28 of the Washington Nationals speaks as he is introduced to the media on December 15 2010 at Nationals Park in Washington DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Much has been made of Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth's slow start this season. With a .218 batting average through Tuesday night's game and a subpar .372 slugging percentage, Werth's performance already has many Nats fans calling for a refund on the seven-year $126 million contract he signed this offseason.

That being said, anyone who has booed Werth during his recent slump - whether at Nationals Park or from their living room sofa - should be quiet.

You see, for all the disappointment and frustration with the high-priced outfielder's performance, the truth is that Werth hasn't been much worse than his career averages. Sure, his BA seems more like that of a platooned middle infielder than a nine-figure-salary bopper, but for his career, Werth is only a .266 hitter.

Werth's real skill is getting on base - his career on base percentage is .362 - and this year is no different. He's noticeably down from his career average, but at .322, the outfielder's OBP so far this year is OK. Considering where his batting average is, that number means that, if nothing else, Werth's batting eye has not suffered during his slump.

There are two truly worrisome parts to the slugger's stat line so far this year. The first is his slugging percentage, which is nearly 100 points lower than his career average. Still, even that is tempered by the fact that Werth has 10 home runs so far this year, which isn't far below where his career averages would place him at this point in the season. That means that the power is still there. There can't be much physically wrong with him. He's just slumping.

The second, and much more worrisome number, is his batting average since June 1, which is .161. After a stellar performance in May, the slugger's production has severely fallen off. That could be caused by a variety of factors, and only Werth knows whether his problems on the field are physical, mental or emotional. Still, the nature of a baseball season is such that one month is a mere snapshot in a long roll of film. There's no reason to think that whatever's ailing him is permanent.

In short, a quick look at Werth's career shows that this season's slow start is just that - a slow start. His numbers are down a little bit across the board, but not so far down that he can't pick them up during the second half of the year and finish with close to his career averages.  The MLB season is a marathon, not a sprint, and anyone who calls Werth a disappointment with 74 games left in the season (not to mention six and a half years left on his contract) is grossly overreacting.

Of course, when $126 million are involved, things are never quite that simple.

On the one hand, any reasonable person would see Werth's first-half numbers as easily salvageable when compared with his good-but-not-great career stats. On the other hand, I just wrote more than 300 words on why the most expensive player in Nationals history is, at .221 with a .377 slugging percentage, not far below what we should expect of him.

Granted, Werth is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who always seems to get his clients more money than they deserve. And, granted, Werth's last three seasons before 2011 were the best three of his career.  But even those don't come close to meriting a nine-figure guaranteed contract. Throw in the fact that those are the only productive full seasons that he's played, and factor in his age, 32, and you should be left scratching your head.

For Werth, this season's poor start isn't all that poor of a start. The only people who deserve to be booed are the ones who gave a pretty good player a superstar's contract.