Friday, January 23, 2009
Wells Runs Dry
A couple nice chunks on the interwebs yesterday regarding defense. The obsessives at Fangraphs discuss deploying 3 center fielders at once to create a superb run saving juggernaut. The examples of the Rays, Orioles, and Mariners use three CF-style glovemen to cheaply prevent runs rather than expensively create them with a DH-in-waiting. I started to think "the Jays have a similar set up! They have two CFs and one kid that can play either corner spot." I then remembered that Vernon Wells is far from an effective center fielder anymore. We can all acknowledge that he had a down 2008 defensively, but I was amazed how far down it was. His UZR/150 games was a miserable -21.5 and his Dewan +/- was an equally depressing -16. So he either lost a step, or was playing hurt, or both. That's fine, I'll accept it to a point.
I've always held the belief that Vernon Wells has a strong, accurate arm; not overwhelming but effective none the less. I based this opinion on nothing but false hope, kind of like the friend of yours that convinces himself that the stripper LOVES him, not just cocaine. The Hardball Times published the results of their outfield arms research for 2008, and it doesn't look good for Vernon.
This chart (courtesy of the Hardball Times) shows Vernon to be slightly above average at throwing runners out but below average at holding them on. The most troubling aspect is how much of an outlier Vernon is among center fielders. He's far behind the field in holding runners while offering very few kills above average. People just don't respect his arm, it would seem. Troubling indeed.
This brings us to young Alexis. Alex Rios, as I've discussed ad nauseum, is a tremendous fielder. He also has a great arm, splitting time between right and center in 2008 to the tune of about +8 runs in 150 opportunities, compared to Vernon's -1.9 per 200 opportunities. So he can throw it better, and he can go get it better. Does that mean, in spite of his offensive struggles when slotted into center, it's time for Rios to move there full time?
If he can normalize his offensive performance from that position, I say yes. But not until Travis Snider is ready to play every day. In a too small to seriously consider sample size, Snider was an excellent right fielder in the big leagues. Add his plus arm (so sayeth the KLAW!) and hopefully big bat, and he sounds like a good candidate for every day right fielder. Moving Vernon Wells to left hopefully lends him a few steps in the outfield (hello Johnny Damon) and his arm, which figures to the be the worst of the three, is in the least impactful position. Wells may balk at a move to left just before his potential opt out year, and may recover his previous slightly above average form in centerfield. But if the Jays aren't going to shell out quite yet for a big bat, preventing runs and maximizing the skill set of the outfielders trumps Vernon's pride and his agent's tears every time.
Thanks to John Walsh for the chart and insight