Wells’ slump comes at worst possible time

Rockies shutout punchless Yanks in series opener
Ivan Nova and Monday's doubleheader

Like many of you, I was extremely skeptical when the Yankees acquired Vernon Wells for two non-prospects at the very end of Spring Training. The move stunk of desperation, but frankly the team was desperate at that time. They lost a lot of offense to injury in the prior weeks and something had to be done. The Angels had a player they wanted the dump and the Yankees had a need. The puzzle pieces fit.

Wells, 34, made the Yankees look very smart for the first few weeks of the season. He had three hits, including a homer, against the Red Sox during the second game of the season. Two days later he went deep again, and the homers kept coming — five in his first 15 games of the year. Wells finished April with a .300/.366/.544 (145 wRC+) batting line that exceeded every reasonable expectation. It was just what the Yankees needed.

Things haven’t been going so well for Vernon since then, however. Last night’s 0-for-4 dropped him to 3-for-21 (.143) on the month and 10-for-48 (.208) in his last 13 games. That dates back to the series in Toronto, when he bludgeoned his former team for three days. Wells is still hitting a respectable .270/.328/.468 (114 wRC+) on the season, but he has clearly been trending downward of late. Anecdotally, it seems like he’s been getting beat on a lot of outside pitches lately. Both fastballs and breaking balls. The strike zone plots do not show that he’s been getting more outside pitches of late, however (via Texas Leaguers):

(click for the purposes of embiggening)
(click for the purposes of embiggening)

Who knows why the slump is happening, but it’s happening. Maybe he’s just fatigued from playing everyday for the first time in two years. The slump shouldn’t be unexpected either, Wells was hitting far better than he did even during his prime last month. At some point he was going to cool off.

The unfortunate thing is that the Yankees need Wells to hit right now, very much so. With Kevin Youkilis injured and, for at least three games, Travis Hafner limited to pinch-hitting duties in the NL park, there needs to be someone in the lineup to complement Robinson Cano. As good as he is, Robbie can’t do it all by himself. Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki have been doing a fine job of getting on-base of late, but someone other than Cano needs to drive them in. Wells has to be that guy and right now he isn’t.

At some point Vernon will heat back up and go on a nice tear. At least I think he will. It is fair to be skeptical of him going forward given how dreadful he’s been the last two years, but I don’t think he’s suddenly regressed to sub-replacement level. The question is when will that rebound happen? Outside of Curtis Granderson and maybe Youkilis, the Yankees are unlikely to get any of their injured bats back this month. Their offense simply isn’t good enough to get by with a slumping Wells. He gave them more than they could have asked for in April, but now they need him to do more in May.

Rockies shutout punchless Yanks in series opener
Ivan Nova and Monday's doubleheader
  • Eddard

    “Outside of Curtis Granderson and maybe Youkilis, the Yankees are unlikely to get any of their injured bats back this month.”

    Those are some pretty big bats, and Youk is a huge upgrade over Nix/Nelson. Wells will probably be platooned when Granderson returns. Looks like Girardi is already platooning Gardner even with his other platoon option being Ben Francisco. But I’d still take this team of vagabonds over the over-hyped Angels and Jays any day of the week.

  • LK

    He’ll be better than he’s been over the last week, but I don’t think any of us should be surprised if he mostly sucks the rest of the year.

  • Monty

    Too bad they won’t give Zoilo a shot while he’s hot. DFA Fransisco, its amazing he’s lasted until May 8th.

    • Eddard

      There has got to be someone more useful in the minors than Ben Nelson. I’ve combined the two players names into one because that’s how useless they are. You combine their numbers and you get a hitter equivalent to Chris Stewart. Give me someone with speed or a good defender, anyone that can be of some use.

  • Robert

    Look at V. Wells stats over the last two years,thats what he is ,the Pinstriped magic is now wearing off on him.When Grandy comes back he is a righty DH at best.

    • Vern Sneaker

      Granderson, Ichiro, Gardner, Wells — not so bad. It’s the lack of right-handed bats, obvious to everyone, that sticks out. Have to believe Francisco goes when Grandy’s back. A big upgrade there, and getting Youkilis and Nunez back will be upgrades too, but the bench at that point is still Boesch, Romine or other back-up catcher, Nix, and whoever’s not starting in the outfield that day. Even with Wells starting or as right-handed DH, it’s still just Nunez, Youkilis and Wells vs. lefties. Not enough.

      • Vern Sneaker

        I didn’t forget Stewart. I don’t consider him a bat.

  • Coolerking101

    IMO – It’s Raul Ibanez all over again. This is a guy whose last few years in the league have proven he’s no longer physically capable of playing everyday. If they want to trot him out there everyday, he’s going to return to 2011/2012 form. If they use him like they used Eric Chavez, I think they can realistically get .275/.340/.520.

    • vicki

      except that wells is five years younger than ibanez was last season.

  • Darren


    Sorry for allcaps.

    • pablos special sammich


      Sorry for allcaps.

      • Darren

        Well done sir!

        Ok, I know with the injury history and everything else, it’s basically a complete no-go, but it seems crazy to think he can’t even play ONE game in the field without falling apart.

        • Darren

          Ok, I just thought of an amazing way to get Hafner’s bat in the lineup. Insert him as the starting leftfielder, but DON’T SEND HIM OUT TO THE FIELD!!!
          We can play with two outfielders like a drunken softball game. Gardy covers a lot of ground anyway, and with a lefty heavy lineup, the Rockies probably won’t even hit it out there.

          • LarryM Fl

            I’m speechless.

            • Darren

              Larry I tried to reply below but it failed. Anyway, thanks for the nomination! I accept. I am the new Clyde King!

          • steves

            Nice thought Darren so I checked the rule book on this one. Unfortunately Rule 4.17 of the Official Baseball Rules states as follows: A game shall be forfeited to the opposing team when a team is unable or refuses to place nine players on the field. Doesn’t look like there is any rule against Hafner standing still while in the outfield!

            • gageagainstthemachine

              Give him a Sharpie and have him man the keg! Now that’s what I call an assist from the left fielder :)

            • MannyGeee

              Put him in short field like where Cano would stand on the shift. If he can reach it without moving then its his. If not, so be it.

              Wait wait wait… are there any rules against having him stand behind the catcher? just hang out in a ready position, get any passed balls….

              • steves

                Well…. since you asked there is Rule 4.03: When the ball is put in play at the start of, or during a game, all fielders other than the catcher shall be on fair territory.

              • JRod

                Put him in short field like where Cano would stand on the shift. If he can reach it without moving then its his. If not, so be it.

                Even that is just too risky. The way this team is going he’d go to throw the ball in and wind up dislocating his shoulder. Maybe they could put him out there in full catcher’s gear and tell him to walk slowly away if a batted ball should happen to approach.

                • FEED.ME.MORE!


                  Put him against the wall in RF, on the line. He only has to guard the foul pole.

                  • Darren

                    I love these ideas.

                    • LarryM Fl

                      I’m sending in my letter of recommendation which carries much weight for Darren as Front Office employee of the year. There is no way that Girardi could have used his personnel any more efficiently. Girardi with the engineering degree and his binder could not of setup the situation as Darren. Getting multiple suggestions of such quality to get Hafner’s bat in the lineup. The season is now saved against NL competition.

                      Darren do not take this the wrong it is meant in good fun! As we converse about the Yankees anemic offense.

          • trr

            as someone who’s played many a drunken softball game, I either resent or endorse this idea.

            • vicki

              i play better drunk.

              at least i think i do….

  • upstate yanks

    Great article Mike. I was looking at the lineup last night and thinking of how we could possibly win games with Ben Fransico hitting 5th. Teams should have no legitimate reason to give Robbie anything to hit. Unless Wells can start to make teams pay for passing through Cano I’d imagine we’re about to hit a losing streak like everyone thought we would.

  • BeanTooth

    Regression to the mean, meet Vernon Wells. Vernon Wells, meet regression to the mean.

  • Vern Sneaker

    I wonder who’s out there who can be a right-handed hitting alernative against lefties to Overbay and maybe a fake 5th outfielder — and cut Boesch. That way Nix doesn’t have to play third when we want Youklilis to play first against lefties.

    • Havok9120

      Pretty much all the players that were on that list were in camp with us.

  • trr

    A regression was inevitable; did anybody think he would revert to the Wells of 5 years ago? He just needs to be a solid RH bat in the lineup, drive in some runs, and play passable defense. It sure looks like a 4 man OF rotation of some kind when Grandy returns ( 10-14 days?) and as the only RH bat his production against LHP will be key.

  • emac2

    Let’s not forget that part of the reason Adams is hitting well over 300 in AAA is the urgent need to overpay Wells for a good week or month here and there.

    • MannyGeee

      Seems like the textbook definition of a straw-man argument.

      • Havok9120

        Has emac ever made an argument that DIDN’T rely on a strawman?

    • jjyank

      Adams can’t get called up yet anyway. Besides, Adams probably has more to do with Nelson’s or Francisco’s roster spot.

    • Havok9120

      So, what, Adams was supposed to be playing in the OF this last month and a half?

  • LarryM Fl

    I’m rooting for .500 ball on this road trip. In fact I’m praying for it.

  • http://RAB I remember the CBS years!

    Wells is slumping because he has a ‘thou shall not pass’ attitude at the plate. Yesterday, the strikeout three balls either low or outside that he tried to pull and the one actual strike that he fouled off. Just like Tex, he has given up going the other way. Wells is missing because his bat speed is the cheating on a fastball speed. Thus, he looks terrible swinging on the curves that bounce in the dirt, or swing outside. What I don’t get about Tex is how quick he gave up on the bunt and go the other way theory. I watched Cabrera…MVP, Triple crown,…Fielder, Ortiz, even Pujols to an extent, go the other way with success. Why Tex feels he is above that in his ever growing mini seasons is beyond me. The great Girardi last year said we can’t run because Gardy is gone. In his show, they can’t play small ball or run until Nuny gets going. But, you got Gardner!..Like I said last year, Jeter hated to hit behind him because he’s a first pitch guy. Jeter waited until he had to swing, thus double plays, which is why Cano hates it also. It sounded a bit sarcastic that the great Girardi told the news on the post game that Gardy didn’t go because of the footing…How about the other times? What did Jeter say about excuses?

  • MannyGeee

    Cashman failed on Wells in 3……2…..

    • Steve

      3….2….Literally the moment it happened.

  • OldYanksFan

    When we started the season in April, with most of our talent on the DL, we all hoped the Vagabonds could play .500 ball, even with almost nothing against LHP, and keep us in this thing until the ASB.

    Now the Vagabonds have lost their 2 best RH bats in Youk and Cervelli, and we might add Nunez to that list.

    The bottom line is that we are ‘beyond’ devastated by injuries.
    No matter how you juggle 6 balls of shit, you always end up with shit in your hand.

    The boys have done a great job to date, but this team is current the Astros + Cano. Against LHP, we are the Astros AAA team + Cano. Even a 2.0 ERA from our top 3 will have a hard time having us play .500 ball.

    It’s a bummer, but you can’t survive this many injuries.
    We can only hope our wounded come back quickly, and come back strong.

    I guess the good news is TB and Toronto are off to poor starts. The Red Sox will fade.

    We may have a glimmer of hope, but we have had crazy bad luck with our DL. The ’27 Yankees could not survive this kind of attrition.

    • OldFartCommentary

      “I saw Ruth play with one arm and half a testicle! These players today are spoiled!

      Now, get off my lawn you hippie!”

    • Jim Is Bored

      “The boys have done a great job to date, but this team is current the Astros + Cano. Against LHP, we are the Astros AAA team + Cano. Even a 2.0 ERA from our top 3 will have a hard time having us play .500 ball.”


      Baseball is pitching too.

      • WhittakerWalt

        True, but we practically have to pitch a shutout to win these days. Our best two starters both just lost by a 2-0 score. That’s wearying.

  • http://www.twitter.com/matt__harris Matt :: Sec110

    Granderson can’t come back soon enough. A steady Granderson in LF and Gardner in CF with Wells/Ichiro platooning in RF.


    Wells regressing was inevitable. He just seems like he wants to pull everything, but can’t catch up to the heat. He looks lost vs. offspeed too.

    I’m not too bummed about this stretch of bad offense, because there is no way this current team can score runs consistently. It’d be like getting mad at the ocean for beach erosion.

    I mean, if you think of the 13 position players on the roster, only 7 (!) of them would be on the team under normal circumstances. Who the hell can survive that?

    Arod – Nelson
    Cervelli – Romine
    Youk – Francisco
    Grandy – Boesch
    Tiexiera – Overbay
    Jeter – Nix/Nunez


    BTW, what’s the word on Mustelier? Is he getting closer to game shape (whatever level that is for him?)

    • Havok9120

      He hasn’t hit a lick in his AAA assignment so far. That’s all I know.

  • DInnings

    Nah, sorry, Wells doesn’t have to step it up, Cano does.

    .315 BA, .365 OBP, 8 HR, and 19 RBI is nice, but not worth $25M a year for 6 to 8 years, sorry. ‘Say Cano doesn’t drive in a run tonight. That’s only 19 RBI in the first 32 games, a measly 99 RBI pace. I say “measly” because 99 RBI is just that, especially when Cano hasn’t driven in 100 runs in a season yet. I’m not giving a guy who will turn 31 in November $25M a year when he hasn’t driven in 100 runs in a season yet after NINE seasons. Vernon Wells has done that three times, .300+ BA, .350+ OBP, 30+ HR and 100+ RBI twice. If Cano has a .305 BA, .362 OBP, 35 HR, 93 RBI 2013, goodbye, enjoy playing for the Dodgers or whoever and continuing to be the hitting version of Mike Mussina before 2009: Mr.Almost. Almost a 40 HR guy, almost a 100 RBI guy, almost an MVP etc. I expect nothing less than an ALMVP, ALMVP runnerup, or third place in the ALMVP voting 2013 from Cano. It is time he has a true breakout season. I’m talking .320/.400/.600/1.000 with 40 HR and 120 RBI, ALMVP 1, 2, or 3.

    Bottom line is this lineup is coming down after overachieving for an entire month, and that has to be expected. All we can hope for is for players to pick up the slack. Time for Suzuki and Gardner et.al. to step up. Time for the Yanks to cut bait when the time comes. I want Francisco, Nelson, Nix out of here and Mustelier, Adams, and Almonte in their places.

    • Havok9120

      So who, exactly, is the backup shortstop?

    • Kosmo

      Cano has driven in more than 100 runs 2 times in his career.

    • Dalek Jeter

      So I guess 2010 and 2011 aren’t real baseball seasons then?

      • WhittakerWalt

        This guy’s hilarious.
        Putting up MVP seasons hasn’t exactly endeared ARod to the Yankee faithful, now has it?

        • CS Yankee

          Shh, he’s on a roll.


  • qwerty

    “The move stunk of desperation”

    Actually, according to an article on this very website, Cashman wanted Wells during the winter meetings so he could replace Andruw Jones. If this had been a last minute grab I might have agreed that it was desperate, although at the time, Soriano was available. But this was not the case. Cashman was willing to trade and spend 13 million dollars on a bench player. In light of the payroll restrictions in place, this seems exceedingly stupid, especially when the money could have been used elsewhere beside the bench.

    • vicki

      the low cost for 2014 was critical, but i never thought it was fair to think of him as an andruw jones, who got paid $3.5M over two seasons.

      • qwerty

        Wells will still make 13 million regardless of how it is parcelled out. That’s a lot of money for a righty bat off the bench.

  • John

    This was a no risk move that netted the Yanks a few wins in the first month of the season. Even in the midst of this slump, his production from the start of the season is still well above what was expected from him. Thanks, Vernon.

    • vicki


  • http://itsaboutthemoney.net Domenic

    This extends further back than the last couple of weeks. Wells is batting .244/.281/.400 since April 8 … which looks an awful lot like 2011 and 2012. He walked five times in his first seven games, and he’s walked five times since then.

    None of this is to say that he won’t be useful – I still think the power will play up, and he will end up very valuable if platooned a bit more. It’s just worth noting that the entirety of his production (in what is entirely a small sample size of 30ish games) is from the first week of the season and a brief layover in Toronto.

    • qwerty

      Interesting. It looks like he’s reverting back to his old self.

  • Get Phelps Up

    /reverse jinx’d