In an interview with ESPN980's The Sports Fix hosts Thom Loverro and Kevin Sheehan before the trade with Minnesota for center fielder Denard Span, Washington Nationals' manager Davey Johnson said he would take Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper atop the lineup over any other 1-2 punch in the game. "I really like Jayson Werth and [Harper] 1-2," the soon-to-turn-70-year-old skipper said, "I mean, they're not only run producers, but they got on base. They were outstanding at getting on base and both of them [are] outstanding base runners. I wouldn't trade those two guys for any [1-2] combination in baseball."
As the Nats' leadoff man, Werth (described by Johnson in an article by MASN's Dan Kolko as a 6'6" Donkey) had a .309/.388/.450 line with 13 doubles, a triple, 20 walks and 24 Ks in 38 games and 170 PAs. Leading off the game, Werth had a .235/.316/.294 line with a .340/.402/.526 line when he led off an inning. Batting 5th, where Werth has the most PAs in his career, the outfielder had a .275/.359/.435 line in 19 games and 78 PAs in 2012. Over 339 games and 1,398 plate appearances hitting fifth since he debuted with Toronto in September of 2002, Werth has a .280/.374/.509 line after ten major league seasons.
While Davey Johnson talked about Werth leading off, acknowledging at the time that there could be changes to the roster, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo talked in an MLB Network Radio interview in early November about where he thought the free agent he signed to a 7-year/$126M dollar deal in the winter of 2010 would ideally hit in the Nationals' lineup.
"I think his skill set profiles as a middle-of-the-lineup type of hitter," Rizzo said, "You're a much better team when you have a good leadoff man and Jayson driving in runs in the five-hole or six-hole or wherever it might be for the team." That being said, had the Nationals not been able to acquire the center fielder/leadoff man they were after, the Nats' general manager said, "... it doesn't hurt us to have a .370-.380 OBP guy that can hit 20-25 HRs at the top of the lineup either." In Span, however, the Nationals got the "good leadoff man" they wanted.
In 2012, the 28-year-old '02 Twins' 1st Round pick finished his fifth MLB season with 47 walks, 62 Ks and a .283/.342/.395 line in 128 games and 568 plate appearances over which he hit 38 doubles, four triples, four home runs and was worth +3.9 fWAR. Span had a .280/.339/.393 line in 122 games and 565 plate appearances as Minnesota's leadoff man last season, and he brings a career .282/.354/.386 line to the top of the Nationals' lineup. As the first batter of the game, Span has a .251/.337/.346 line so far in his career, with a .268/.351/.369 line when leading off an inning. In 2012, Span had a .243/.287/.365 line in the first at bat of the 122 games he started and a .280/.331/.404 line when leading off an inning last season.
In an introductory discussion with the D.C. press corps after the Nationals traded 2011 1st Round pick pitcher Alex Meyer to Minnesota for Span, the outfielder talked about what he thought he brought to the table as the team's table setter, telling reporters, "I thrive on being one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, or trying to be. And I love setting the tone. I love getting up to start the game and taking pitches and trying to give my teammates the best look they can [get] and [trying] to set the tone and get on base." Span admitted that his running game was a work in progress, and that's one area in which the Nationals' GM too said he saw room for improvement in an otherwise glowing scouting report he gave on his new center fielder/leadoff man last month.
In Span, Rizzo said, "You're talking about a true defensive ballhawk center field type of guy with great range. Sabermetrically and with a scout's eye, he's a front line defensive center fielder. He's a confident leadoff type of hitter. He appeals greatly to us because of his skill set as an offensive player. You know, high average guy, .350 OBP-type of guy, doesn't strike out -- one of the tougher guys in the league to strike out -- so a contact bat and can really, really run... from the left side of the plate, which keeps our lineup balanced and a guy that in the past has stolen a lot of bases and we feel is really going to come into his own as a base stealer in the National League."
Davey Johnson may have liked having Werth lead off, but it looks like it's back to the middle of the order for the 6'6'' Donkey in 2013. Opening Day Lineup?:
- Denard Span
- Bryce Harper
- Ryan Zimmerman
- Adam LaRoche/Michael Morse
- Jayson Werth
- Ian Desmond
- Danny Espinosa
- Kurt Suzuki/Wilson Ramos