The inevitable Vernon Wells discussion begins

Mets clinch 2013 Subway Series; blow Yankees out 9-4
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(Dustin Bradford/Getty)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty)

The Yankees 2013 offseason was “interesting,” to say the least.  It involved a couple big names departing to greener pastures Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and several apparent retreads joining the NY ranks in their stead.

Among these acquired castoffs was Vernon Wells, who the Yankees — in seeming desperation — elected to pay $13.9M over the course of the next two seasons (though the bulk of the money owed was front-loaded to 2013).  This was despite Vernon’s rash of injuries and meager .258 on-base percentage over the prior two seasons (apparently his 2011 .248 OBP was the lowest among all outfielders with at least 500 plate appearances since 1904 … so there’s that).  To put it mildly, most of us had our doubts about the deal on a lot of levels.

However, as John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman vehemently claim, “You simply cannot predict baseball!”  Wells had recovered from his varying ailments (a torn ligament in his right thumb most notably), he focused on improving his offensive production by applying a shorter, more direct swing — all of which would presumably be enhanced by the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

By mid-April, Vernon was batting in the heart of the order to the tune of .300/.366/.544 with six home runs.  He was looking like a rejuvenated version of his former self and an early Comeback Player of the Year candidate — all while inadvertently making Cashman look less like a ninja and more like a genius.

May has been somewhat of a different story though.  Consider the grid below, compliments of Baseball-Reference.

Split G GS AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS GDP BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
2013 Totals 49 46 186 24 49 6 0 10 4 2 14 29 .263 .313 .457 .770 4 .264 100 112
Last 7 days 5 5 22 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 4 .091 .091 .091 .182 1 .111 -51 -49
Last 14 days 11 10 43 3 6 2 0 0 0 1 1 9 .140 .159 .186 .345 1 .176 -8 -4
Last 28 days 24 22 92 10 21 2 0 4 2 2 4 14 .228 .260 .380 .641 2 .230 66 76
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

The numbers aren’t pretty, which is particularly hard to stomach considering he’s the guy often times backing up Robinson Cano in the lineup.  A quick glance at Vernon’s April and May spray charts (provided by Texas Leaguers) confirms what our eyes have witnessed these past few weeks: he’s been hitting into far more ground outs in May (23%) then he did in April (12.87%).  There have been far more ground outs hit towards the second baseman as well than there were last month – so it’s not like he is getting overly pull happy either (not that that would necessarily help him in NY).

vw spray chart aprvw spray chart

In terms of the ground outs, it’s possible some of his May struggles have been exasperated by an atrocious BAbip  (considering his career norm is .279).  I’m leery of over-simplifying BAbip to the term “luck,” but regardless of how one wants to define the stat, Vernon has certainly not been the benefactor.  Even if his stats do regress to what we’ve seen over the past few seasons from him, Vernon’s BAbip would still qualify as unusually low.  Eventually, some of these balls should get through the defense.  And considering that his recent struggles are by very definition inherently limited in sample size, it wouldn’t take much to get those numbers moving back in the right direction.

For what it’s worth, Texas Leaguers shows us that opposing pitchers will have thrown approximately the same amount of fastballs (fastballs including both two and four-seamers, cut fastballs, and split-fingered fastballs) by month’s end as they did in April.  As to be expected, the vast majority of the fastballs seen were four seamers, and in that particular category he’s been proportionately only a few percentage points less effective at putting the ball in play in May (24.5%) than he was in April (29.6% in play) — nothing super drastic — though it is worth noting that opposing pitchers have been throwing more for strikes this month than last.  The problem is the balls he is making contact with are simply not being hit well.

Anecdotally, there is also the possibility that his stance has opened up a bit again, thus resulting in longer swings.  This would result in less time to see (and swing at) the pitch, which could explain the uptick in weaker ground outs. Perhaps he needs to re-explore the adjustments he made in the offseason.  If he’s not seeing the pitches as well, it’d make sense that he’d be hitting the ball with less conviction more often.  This could be the kind of  “quick fix” solution that resolves itself overnight.  Unfortunately, that’s also the type of mechanical flaw that I’m sure both he and Kevin Long are constantly watching for and are proactively trying to prevent.  It also strikes me as weird that he could go suddenly to different ends of the spectrum against a certain type of pitch.

So where does this leave us?  Has Vernon turned back into the pumpkin (or worse) that most of us expected from day one, or is this just an unfortunate slump (that is being brought to attention a bit more than it probably should be given the team’s overall offensive struggles of late)?  Frankly, it’s too soon to make any meaningful conclusion.  At this juncture, this is merely an observation that’s worth keeping an eye on.  If we find ourselves watching a still-struggling Wells come the All Star break, we’ll probably know where things are heading though.  In the meantime, let’s hope get can keep it together at least until Curtis Granderson‘s able to return.

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  • Jerkface

    Wells BABIP is bad because he has like 33% infield pop flies, which are like the worst kind of batted ball you can get since they dont advance runners and go for outs about 99% of the time.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    As always, great job, Matt.

    The immediate reaction will be “turning back into a pumpkin,” but I’m not so sure. I tend to agree with the anectodal here. Hitters are creatures of habit, and he may be falling back into bad habits as we hit the middle of the season. It does give me hope that he can write the ship, and I actually do believe he will.

    I would have loved for this issue to be a bit more hidden behind a healthy and effective Curtis Granderson in the outfield. I won’t touch Ichiro – the rest of you are plenty good at that already, and I respect my “elders.”

    • http://RiverAveBlues Matt Warden

      Appreciate the praise, RT.

    • hornblower

      Wells is a little overexposed. He and the rest of the outfielders will play a little less as the season goes on. Joe can pick out the pitchers that he sees well and use him on those days. The same for the other three.
      Hopefully the return of the other players will juice the lineup and he will be a little more patient at the plate not thinking he has to hit it deep every time.

  • Robert

    We cant afford to handle the Vernon Wells situation with kid gloves.He was available because of his past few years performances.His April was a bonus performance.

    Our corner outfielders are now giving us nothing.

    Bring up Almonte/Neal/Musty/ any one of them.

    Hafner is not the same as April,no doctor but you know that shoulder is hurting.

    Use Adams as a DH/3b as Youk settles back in.

    Hope Youk stays healthy……

  • LK

    Wells’ overall season line is currently better than his last 2, and 3 of his previous 4, seasons. I think he might be able to keep up his line (and thus be better than his terrible May), but there’s no reason to believe that he’s going to *improve* on his current performance for the season as a whole. Which is mostly OK – this team has much bigger issues than a corner OF who hits at the league average and plays solid defense.

  • Eddard

    There is no discussion to be had now because there’s no better option. The FO has painted the club into a corner and Cashman is doing nothing but scouring the scrap heap for downgrades.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Did you pull the pin out before tossing that one? Just making sure.

    • MannyGeee

      ERMAGERHD!!!! The Yankees are doing what every team in the history of forever has done! Ring the alarm!

      Also, clever usde of ‘downgrades’ instead of upgrades there. Wellp, they all can’t be Nunie….

  • trr

    Excellent article/analysis. This is why I come here (plus the witty repartee of course!) I feel it’s uneasonable to expect a return to Wells of 5 years ago, but he is obviously in what is now a prolonged slump. It’s exasperated by Cano’s slump and the lack of firepower elsewhere in the lineup as presently constituted. I believe Wells will bounce back from this slump and begin producing numbers closer to his career peak rather than say, last year, and certainly well beyond his current production.

    • http://RiverAveBlues Matt Warden

      Appreciate the praise Trr.

  • Greg

    “In terms of the ground outs, it’s possible some of his May struggles have been exasperated by an atrocious BAbip (considering his career norm is .279)”

    *exacerbated. And that’s “possible” in the same way it’s possible that his name is Vernon. That is a huge part of what’s happened, let’s not dance around it out of a desire to not make excuses or whatever.

    And you’re running into some trouble with using arbitrary cut-off points to indicate a continuous downward trend. The last 28 look bad, but that’ literally only because of the last 14. If you isolate the first half of that, he’s hitting .306-.346-.551. In reality, his tailspin has come in his last ten games and that’s it.

    • http://RiverAveBlues Matt Warden

      Thanks for the response Greg. I’m a little annoyed that I didn’t see that spelling error. I go through and read my posts after I write them a few times and yet errors still slip through the cracks. Such is life I suppose.

      As for the cut off points, you’re absolutely right. It is arbitrary. They just happened to be the convenient reference on B-Ref’s splits. As I mention in the conclusion, this is just an observation that we’ve been noticing for the last couple weeks. There’s certainly a chance he’ll turn it around, but who knows for sure if that’ll happen.

      • Greg

        Yeah, if you’re trying to analyze baseball you’re always going to be using arbitrary cutoff points, no big deal there, I only bring it up because it’s particularly misleading here in that it makes the coming-down-to-earth process look gradual at first glance, when it’s actually a crash. He’s gonna turn it around from the anemic last couple weeks (that’s tide-in, tide-out territory), it’s only a matter of what he’ll turn it around into.

        Wasn’t trying to mock your error or anything btw, just happened to be in a sentence to which I wanted to respond. Catching non-misspelled incorrect words in proofreading can be a bitch.

  • Mike HC

    Nice work.

    I don’t think he is as good as he was in April or as bad as he is now in May. My guess is that he has an OPS of around .750 for the season.

    • http://RiverAveBlues Matt Warden

      Thanks Mike. I agree with you that we’ve probably seen both ends of the spectrum. I think you’d also have to take the .750 OPS too.

  • mick taylor

    he is still hitting better than nick swisher is with cleveland and is a better fielder. jason nix and ichiro suck

    • Mike HC

      He is not hitting better than Swisher. Swisher is hitting .278/.371/.497, Wells is at .263/.313/.457.

      • pat

        Lol. Same thing, right?

      • LK

        Sure, but who has more RBIs?

        Boom.

        • vin

          And who has a better career ERA?

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Clutchiness?

      • mick taylor

        wells has more home runs and more r.b.i.s than the choke king swisher

        • WhittakerWalt

          You’re obsessed.

          • jsbrendog

            and wrong haha

  • Chris M

    Maybe the psychological effect of Granderson coming back has diminished him as a hitter. Having to rotate 4 starting outfielders is like rotating 2 starting hockey goalies…doesn’t work.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      We should have a Mobile Crisis Team on hand when Tex and Youk return, then.

    • MannyGeee

      This just in, Vernon and Curtis don’t get along. They are working the entire clubhouse for alliances. Vernon has been spotted hanging out with Pronk and Ichiro and rumor has it Curtis has been getting nWo shirts and bandanas made up for the “Tampa Faction” as we speak.

      #IrresponsibleRumourMongering

  • Tim

    One issue that could be part of the offensive problems in total is that teams could be pitching the offense more aggressively as a whole. NY has seen their walk and K rates slide (BB% 8.2 to 6.4 and K 17.5 to 21.2 from April to May. With Robbie performing worse and Hafner missing time because of injury and NL parks their is nothing to be afraid of in that lineup. If the starter can attack the lineup without fear of damage he can get deeper in the game and avoid the middle relieft. Teams seem to be doing a lot of starter to LHR for Gardner/Cano and then setup or closer. The best parts of each teams staff.

    In April it appeared there was atleast some respect shown to Hafner and Youklis in the middle of the lineup. Losing Granderson is bigger than people realize since he would provide them with a second competent OF and he reduces the importance of Wells/Ichiro. I think Tex and Youklis will help the lineup since they both will help the walk rate and the pitches/PA. There won’t be as many single digit pitch innings with them in the middle of the lineup. It will be great to see a middle of the lineup that doesn’t include Wells, Overbay, Ichiro on a near nightly basis. Atleast at the bottom of the lineup I can stomach some of that.

  • billbybob

    “Frankly, it’s too soon to make any meaningful conclusion.”

    But isn’t that why the internet was invented?

  • Bavarian Yankee

    tbh I’m not too worried about Wells. Actually I’m not worried at all. Sure, May has been pretty ugly but he’s had some bad luck too. He won’t be as good as in April but he’ll be better than he’s been in May.

    • Vern Sneaker

      That pretty much describes my feelings on it. His bat looks slower than in ST and April, maybe long swing habits returning plus a bit of fatigue, who knows? Fixable, at any rate. Nobody expected .300 for the season anyway. And who else do we have that’s an upgrade, especially with Granderson out? Not the current Ichiro, not Boesch, and Almonte/Neal/Mustelier have no track record whatever (though I wouldn’t mind seeing one of them come up for a while and having Ichiro depart, but that’s not going to happen).

  • LarryM Fl

    The article by Matt is an example of statistics being a big factor in our examination of a player’s worth to a team or his play in general. I do not find this to be a wrong approach. It was not how I come to love this game. Many moons ago the back of the baseball card had statistics on a player but not to the scope of today. I have grown to appreciate these numbers and their meanings. I just enjoy the subjective feel to judging a player. Its not that I believe all those who embrace statistics do it without any other consideration.

    I believe Vernon will turn it around and give us .275 batting average along with league average plus HR totals for a corner OF. I enjoy his defense. I must admit that I have grown to dislike Ichiro’s appearance in the lineup when it appears more than deserving. As far as Swisher’s performance this year I believe he would perform to his numbers both in the season play and will perform to his .167 BA if Cleveland makes the playoffs. This is why I do not miss Nick Swisher in a Yankee uniform.

    Matt I thought the article was well written. I appreciate your efforts to bring attention to Vernon Wells slippage.

    • http://RiverAveBlues.com Matthew Warden

      Thanks for the praise, Larry.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Very nicely written, Larry.

  • lou from the bronx

    Vernon smells is back to stinkin it up.

    • WhittakerWalt

      “Vernon smells”

      Don’t quit your day job.

      • lou from the bronx

        I couldn’t think of anything better..

  • TomH

    I’m leery of over-simplifying BAbip to the term “luck,” regardless of how one wants to define the stat

    “Luck” will do just fine.

  • mt

    The Grandy re-injury has turned “how do we play 4 outfielders into 3 starting spots” into “when will the 3 starters get any rest” (unless they start playing Boesch) – I was hoping that they would send a 13th pitcher down and Boesch when Youk and Tex come back but given age and recent suckitude of Ichiro/Wells they probably will keep Boesch. They might not be comfortable with Nix as the fourth outfielder and platooning/back-up SS.

    I am really wondering what they will do tomorrow with return of Youk/Tex to 25 man roster – which pitcher (Nova, Claiborne, Waren, and Kelley all can make some sort of claim that they should stay assuming Pettite is the one to replace Nuno) and which position player (Adams, Overbay, or Boesch) – they may go “easy” route and just send down Adams. In some ways I am more intrigued by that than thsi Mets game tonight with our struggling offense.

    Mike, this would be a good question for a poll with the 4 most reasonable scenarios (one of choices would have to be keep both Adams and Overbay which will cause the most “out of the box” issue with Nix as 4th OF).

  • MannyGeee

    Great stuff as always Matt.

    I would be curious to see some pitch analysis, namely, is he being challenged and just not getting it done or is it a situation of pitch selection and pressing… Two markedly different problems with the same potential result, with two markedly different solutions.

    All this said, I still love the Wells deal for what he has done so far this season. Here’s to hoping he (and Ichiro for christs sake) remember how to swing the lumber soon