ESPN seamhead supreme Buster Olney introduced a new feature yesterday; having three baseball "talent evaluators" offer their scouting reports on a specific player. His first selection is Jays moneyman Vernon Wells.
Thanks to his massive contract; Vernon Wells faces a great deal of a scrutiny from Blue Jays fans and writers everywhere. In the past few weeks ago The Southpaw broke down his big extension by comparing it to other free agent centerfielders and the deals they received. Unsurprisingly, the Wells deal shakes out pretty well. The good men at Mop Up Duty took a look at his frustrating pattern of good year-bad year, a phenomenon that all Jays fans are painfully aware of. I recall L'Homme du Sport mentioning Vernon Wells being completely unsatisfied with his play in 2005 and vowing to get better for 2006. After kick-starting his season at the WBC he did just that. So when Olney kicks off his piece detailing Wells new commitment to fitness, I'm encouraged. But what do the scouts/front office lackeys have to say?
Generally, they say the same stuff you and I say during an average Jays game. He has far too many bad at bats. He seems to lack focus on a consistent basis. He's a highly skilled player but not quite a franchise cornerstone. Sigh. Let's get specific with a few choice quotes:
I can't get over how many at-bats he throws away chasing high fastballs or breaking balls off the plate, even in fastball counts, almost like he occasionally lacks any semblance of patience or ability to slow down the game
That is certainly how it seems, but is it true? As far as patience goes, Vernon Wells was last among Jays regulars with 3.4 pitches per plate appearance, consistent with his career numbers. Wells also has a little bit of Joe Carteritis, falling victim to the slider low and away, but does he really swing at that many bad balls? Yes, yes he does. He swings at approx 27% of balls out of the strike zone. Compare that to other highly paid center fielders like Carlos Beltran (19%), Torii Hunter (28%), Grady Sizemore (19.5%). The most telling part of this quote is the "even in fastball counts" part. Wells is best when he's aggressive, as his 42 career first pitch home runs will attest (most of any count). But when Vernon Wells is ahead 2-0, his career OPS dips to .795. How does that make any damn sense at all?
...when he's not (ed: emphasis mine) playing against some of the tougher teams in the AL. I wonder about his ability to maintain his focus and concentration at the plate
Very interesting. AL teams that hold Vernon Wells to a sub .800 OPS: Anaheim, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa, Texas. Aside from LAA, hardly the elite of the American League the past 10 years.
Wells could conceivably be a classic change-of-scenery guy who really wakes up when he finds himself in a larger, more pressurized market
Would you like to see me cry? I'll break down, right here and now.
In addition to leading the Jays in home runs in 2008, he also leads the Jays in affability. He seems like a genuine goof, and probably the Jay I'd most like to hang out with. Does this Dude-like demeanor keep him from getting up against the shitballs of the AL? The Indians have killed the Jays for years now, so he's certainly not alone. Does Vernon Wells need to work more on his day to day effort rather than his physical performance? He's got all the tools, what will it take to keep him interested? Being in the thick of a pennant race? His strongest months are May, June, and July, but he's a Toronto Blue Jay so that doesn't tell us jack about pennant races or Meaningful Baseball, does it?