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Jayson Werth's home run seals Nationals' Game 3 NLDS victory over Dodgers

Jayson Werth's uncommonly aggressive approach is the upshot of another rarity: round-trippers against Kenley Jansen.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It's no secret that Jayson Werth has a reputation as a patient hitter. In fact, in a piece on the Washington Post earlier this year, Chelsea Janes documented Werth's then forty-game on base streak by looking at how his approach evolved over the season. Like everything she writes, Janes' piece is worth a read (heck, if you're on this site, you've probably already read it), but it frames Werth's home run last night in a pretty interesting context:

By now, after nearly a decade and a half in the major leagues, Werth is unique and unabashed, aware of what works for him and what doesn’t, a creature of health-conscious habit and years of experience.

But the 37-year-old tried a new trick this season, which amounted to a seismic shift in his approach: Instead of being patient, like he always had, he would try to be more aggressive, like everyone always said he should. It didn’t work. He started hitting his way again, and the longest on-base streak in the majors — which reached 40 as he doubled and homered Wednesday — was born.

Of course, you always hear about adjustments working, a player reaching new heights on the strength of a new pitch, or a lower batting stance. But for every change that works, there are ten more discarded to the batting cage or bullpen when deployed against the rigors of major league competition. Werth tried to be more aggressive at the outset of this year's campaign, and he came up snake eyes. It was different for him, because he's a disciplined hitter.

Here's another way of looking at Werth's patience over the season. Early on, and good to his initial 2016 approach, Werth ranked near the bottom of the MLB leaderboard in pitches seen per plate appearance.

But as the season went on, he very clearly worked deeper into counts, saw more pitches, and reached base more often:



MLB Rank (50 PA per month)





















1st the end of which month do you think he said, "screw this.  I'm going back to what got me here"?

As Janes observed, Werth's OBP shot up to .438 in June, .353 in July, and .349 in August.  He stumbled in September, but the point holds: Werth's "old" approach was key to getting him back on track in 2016.

Having buried the lede halfway to China, one of the most pivotal moments of the Nationals' 8-3 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 last night was Werth's early-count obliteration of a 94 MPH Kenley Jansen cutter. Jansen, you may have heard, is a pretty good pitcher.

He's also someone who just doesn't give up a lot of home runs, even when he misses middle-middle or middle-up. That's why Melvin Upon's walk-off home run on a middle-middle cutter earlier this season was wow-worthy: Jansen hadn't given up a dinger on a pitch in that location in three years. You want some rarity?Here's Werth giving it to you, via maple blistering cowhide:

Werth Dodgers HR

Thinking about how, in a similar way, Werth has consistently worn out pitchers by going in deep in at-bats, I had to wonder: when was the last time the Nats' left fielder hit a 1-0 home run?

Turns out, I only had to go back to May 29 of this year. Werth dug in late against St. Louis reliever Dean Kiekhefer, with the Nats having plated four runs in the game then too, looking to add to the lead.  And add he did:

Werth HR

Now, there's a wrinkle here, and that's that Werth entered this contest as a pinch hitter. You can't hear it, but with St. Louis on the ropes, F.P. says, "might be on the attack early here, let's see" (whatever one thinks of F.P., he does have moments like this with some regularity).

And he was right: Werth jumped on a hanging breaking ball early, deposited it over the center field fence for a grand slam, and sent Nats fans home happy.

So, recognizing that he'd done this once this year--although under slightly different circumstances--I went further back.

What I found: Nothing in 2015. Nothing in 2014. Then, three full regular seasons and thousands of at bats ago, two bombs on 1-0 counts in 2013.

There isn't much predicative here, or even particularly historic, for better or worse.

Of course, those things aren't necessary to be a fan or enjoy a game. It's just as easy to watch Werth roast a 450+ foot home run off the Dodgers' second best pitcher in a must-win playoff game and appreciate it for what it is.

But thinking about events in context is what makes baseball so awesome. Kenley Jansen, one of the best relievers in the world over the past several seasons, rarely gives up home runs pitched in what most batters would say is the ideal location for hitting them.

Jayson Werth, historically a patient hitter, goes with a more aggressive approach early in the year, abandons it, thrives during the summer, then springs an unlikely trap in his biggest plate appearance of the year.

The Nationals won either way, and they still have a tough challenge--potentially two--before advancing to the next round of baseball's second season. But this time of year, you can never look too close to find a little magic.