On the surface, this smart individual is right on the money. Conventional wisdom dictates putting up with a lighter hitting CF but demanding power from corner fielders, suffering their terrible defense in the exchange. It should be noted once again, just as the Southpaw pointed out months ago, that Vernon's deal doesn't appear so awful when compared to other recent free agent center fielders. His offensive production/contract years are on par with the likes of Ichiro and Torii Hunter yada yada yada.
By using (and understanding) Fangraphs's newfangled stats, we can look a little more deeply at a player's value in search of inequities. Based on his $18 million dollar average salary (not reality though, his contract is heavily backloaded), Vernon Wells needs to account for approximately 4.5 wins over average. 4.5 total wins would place him third among qualified left fielders in 2008 and fifth among center fielders. Remember these figures adjust for position, meaning a good left fielder isn't as valuable as a good center fielder.
Could Vernon Wells provide this type of value from left field in 2009? Vernon's superlative 2006 was worth 5.8 wins, 4.4 for his 2003 breakout season. According to the information available to us lowly blogger types, he didn't follow the same route to arrive at these numbers. In 2003 Wells provided more offense (+34.2 runs) but well below-average defense (-14.6 runs). His 2006 campaign married strong offense (+28 runs) with excellent defense (+7.1 runs) to provide more value on the whole.
The "penalty" for moving from center to left is 10 runs or one win. Johnny Damon is the perfect example of a below average (though once great) center fielder born again as an excellent left fielder. If Johnny plays 150 games as a left fielder in 2009 as well as he did in 2008, he adds one full win to his total. If Wells can play left to the level of Damon (a player 5 years his senior with a worse track record in center) a solid/good season at the plate would justify his paycheque.
Because I can't help myself, I'll use a nifty graph to look at the kind of value Vernon Wells would provide depending on the scenario. I'll leave the offensive projections the same (and completely made up, screw you Chone Petoca) and assume he's healthy enough to play 145 games or about 600 plate appearances.
|2008 Vernon Wells||10.5||-12.8||15.5||0.7||13.9/1.4|
|2009 Vernon Wells A||18||0||20||2||40/4|
|2009 Vernon Wells B||18||-15||20||2||25/2.5|
|2009 Vernon Wells C||18||6||20||-3.5||40.5/4.1|
|2009 Vernon Wells D||18||0||20||-7||25/2.5|
|2009 Vernon Wells E||18||16||20||-7||47/4.7|
- Vernon Wells provides a full season of good if unspectacular offense and league average center field defense. An acceptable situation unless you are Vernon's wife or agent.
- Brad Hawpe-ish offense with still horrible but "slightly improved over 2008" CF defense from Vernobot. This is approaching the worst case scenario. He would need a monster season to cancel out the negative defense, lest he become the contract albatross we all fear.
- Vernobot starts in center, sucks for 60 games when Travis Snider is recalled and inserted into right field. Vern moves to left and bounces back just like Johnny Caveman. Likely? Maybe not. But it is a reasonable version of my little fantasy, and also nets the same number of wins as the league average center field Vernobot.
- Cito moves Vernobot to left field during spring training, which makes Vern sad. He does his thing at the plate but mopes around left field like a league average Eeyore. Trouble again, this looks suspiciously like bad center fielder Vernobot. Interesting to note that a full season of league average LF Wells is a full win better than 100 game CF dropsies Wells, despite the positional correction. Cheer up Vernobot!
- The final scenario is my pie in the sky, "Vernon Wells is not quite Carl Crawford but almost as good" left field star. 4.7 wins, thank you very much.