Vernon Wells provides early return for the Yankees


(Syndicated from Pinstripe Pundits).

We may be only seven games into the season, but Vernon Wells has shown some unexpected life with his bat. In his first 26 plate appearances, he’s hitting .381/.500/.762, leading the team in the latter two categories. I understand the quandary of reading into sample size performance, but Wells appears to have made an important adjustment: hitting to all fields.

Wells was awarded a massive 7 year, $126M dollar contract with Toronto beginning in 2008, but has failed to live up to expectations. The Blue Jays couldn’t wait to unload his deal, and found a match with the Angels entering the 2011 campaign. It didn’t go too well out west, either. In two seasons with the Halos, Wells posted a lowly 82 wRC+. He still had pretty good power (.187 ISO), but it wasn’t worth the trouble of the rest of his game. After the trade to New York, Wells conceded a major flaw in his approach at the plate in previous years in which he believed he corrected this spring. Rather than trying to square up the ball, Wells claimed to have been attempting to pull off on the ball in order to hit for more power. But was this just a cop out? Or had he really found a resolution?

Here’s an excerpt from an Andy McCullough piece on Wells’ adjustment earlier this spring:

Wells, a 34-year-old, three-time former All-Star, has experienced a perilous decline in recent years. He chalked that up to an infatuation with pulling the ball for home runs. During the winter, he reconfigured his approach while working inside a batting cage at his home in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

“It’s been over the last four or five years, to be honest,” he [Wells] said. “You kind of get away with it at times. You get away with it in Toronto, just because if you hit a ball well, it’s going to go out. You start thinking about hitting fourth and fifth decks instead of just getting hits.”

Wells wasn’t lying. Since signing his megadeal, Wells has hit the ball 392 times to the opposite field, but posted a paltry .176 wOBA. Now, Vernon has always been predominantly a pull hitter, never posting good numbers to right field in his career. However, perhaps as his skills have deteriorated, he has finally realized he needed to make an adjustment to prolong his productivity.

This season, he’s already delivered three hits to the right half of the field. Last year, he only delivered five or six depending on how you look at his 2012 spray chart:

spray chart 1

And here’s his early spray chart for 2013:

spray chart 2

There’s no doubt that there could be an element of luck involved, especially considering the extremely small sample size. It’s going to take me a while to be sold on Wells’ revamped approach, but I’m certainly pleased with what he’s shown thus far. Obviously, his current slash line (.381/.500/.762) is unsustainable. But, let’s hope that the adjustment he’s claimed to have made continues to lead to good production. The offense will take all it can get.

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4 Responses to Vernon Wells provides early return for the Yankees

  1. Michael R. says:

    A good hitter must make adjustments as his skills begin to deteriorate due to age. Wells, for now anyway, appears to have found solutions. Let's hope they're long lasting.

  2. gcorcoran says:

    Strong work on the article. The spray charts are great. I think shortening his swing this season is going to pay big dividends. I don't think he'll hit .330, or even .300 probably, but I think he'll come close to living up to his contract. Keep up the good work Derek

    • Derek says:

      Thanks. The most updated ZiPS projection has him at .265/.317/.485, or a .342 wOBA, which would be 18% above league average according to wRC+. I would be thrilled if he finished at that mark.

      If he can mash lefties and hold his own vs. righties, he'll be pretty valuable going forward.

      • gcorcoran says:

        I don't hold much stock in ZiPS, but I too would be thrilled with that line. I actually think he could do a little bit better than that. I see him with numbers in line with his 2010 season with less power.

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