Blue Jay Disappointments

The Blue Jays got off to a very hot start this season, in spite of pitching injuries, thanks largely to the performances of both Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro. The latter is an average hitter at best while the former is known more for glovework than offensive contribution. Absent from much of their success were the two hitters considered to be the cream of the Blue Jays crop: Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. To date, Wells has posted a Jimmy Rollins-esque .241/.299/.367 line while Rios sits at .278/.336/.454. Granted, Rios’s line still produces a .350 wOBA but this slash line seems quite low for a player expected to break out into MVP-level production before each and every season.

Last year, Rios added 5.5 wins above replacement primarily due to incredible defensive work accrued in both right- and centerfield. Playing centerfield helped reduce the number of runs docked in his positional adjustment, all told making Rios around a +20 run fielder. A .350 wOBA coupled with defensive marks like that makes for one heck of a player, but UZR hasn’t been as sunny on Rios this season and his offense has not improved. The .337/.461 OBP/SLG from a year ago is virtually identical to the .336/.454 on his page as we speak. Though +2.3 runs is a solid UZR mark, Rios is not going to have the benefit of seeing his positional adjustment lessened from playing centerfield, meaning he is on pace for around 3 wins above replacement as opposed to the 5-6 expected of him.

If this is what type of player Rios is going to be, fine, he is still putting up pretty solid numbers, but let’s all can it with the breakout talk, expecting him to be something out of his realm. Wells, on the other hand, is perplexing. I wrote in this space last year about how his reputation led to ignorance about his numbers, with many thinking Wells is a perennial 25-25 player with incredible centerfield defense. In actuality, Wells hasn’t surpassed a .900 OPS since 2003, the only season in which he reached that plateau. For his career, Wells has a .281/.330/.473 line, which would be really great for a guy like Shane Victorino, but not a former all-star thought of as highly as Wells.

ZiPS doesn’t see Wells improving all that much this season with the bat, ultimately finishing with a .254/.310/.400 line. The projected 15 HR and 18 SB help elevate the wOBA to .316, but a below average rate like that coupled with a UZR perhaps on pace to be worse than -15 runs makes Wells a replacement player. In a full season in 2007, Wells produced just 1.2 wins. He added another 0.8 more last year albeit in just 108 games. This year: -1.0 wins. Rios is proving that he can be a good, not fantastic player, while Wells is showing that he does not deserve a starting spot in the big leagues, let alone one at such an important position.

It will be tough for the Jays to continue to compete in such a tough division, especially with their entire pre-season starting rotation on the shelf, but productivity increases from both Wells and Rios will be needed to have any hope whatsoever.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

12 Responses to “Blue Jay Disappointments”

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  1. Rowen says:

    Interesting, Eric. I hadn’t really clued in to the notion that Wells may now be a below-average defender. Dewan’s +/- numbers seem to tell a similar story to the UZR data you cite — according to Dewan, Wells was an above-average CF in 2004-07 but has been markedly below-average in 2008-09.

    Theoretically, the Jays could go with a Lind/Rios/Snider OF going forward, but in practice they’re stuck with Wells, whose (apparently undeserved?) defensive reputation will keep the team from considering the drastic step of benching such a highly-paid player.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Yeah, he suddenly forgot how to field last year after being really solid for a while. Perhaps injuries, perhaps not, but even if injuries are the case, we cannot ignore them as if they aren’t there. If they were to switch Rios and Wells, the defense might improve, as below average centerfielders are usually average-ish or better corner OF. Snider is considered a defensive butcher, but Wells is actually doing his fair share of butchering as well.

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  2. Rowen says:

    I haven’t watched him play that much, but I’m not convinced Snider’s defense is as bad as conventional wisdom seems to say it is. We can infer that it’s better than Lind’s, for instance, from the fact that Cito consistently played Snider in LF and Lind at DH when they were both in the lineup to start the season.

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  3. mattymatty says:

    In any case the 7 year $126 million deal the Jays signed him to through 2014 isn’t looking too good right now, eh? The real kicker is that, according to Cot’s, $117 million of that is due starting next season. Oops.

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  4. wobatus says:

    I think well’s wrist is really bothering him still. His babip and especially homers to flyballs are really low. Of course, peole declare those things to be random. But samples like this tell me they are not as random as folks suggest. And if they are random, aren’t you docking Wells a bit much for his supposedly random babip (yes, hitters influence that more) and homer/flyball issue, caused by an injury, that, at 31, he will likely eventually heal from? Even though this year he may be kinda lost, and he was not as awesome as folks thought to begin with.

    I am not completely sold on uzr in small sample sizes, although it has been a year and a third. What can I say, I am an apostate.

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  5. Evan says:

    Wells in an average player, and he has been for years. I don’t know why anything expects anything different. That contract of his is a travesty; without it they could easily retain Halladay.

    Snider’s defense looks poor, but I don’t have numbers to back that up. And his arm is terrific.

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  6. Nobody, really says:

    It’s not so much that Wells is average as much as it is that his body seems to have finally utterly quit on him. He finally went from average to awful defensively after his hamstring injuries last year, and it appears his shoulders have degenerated to the point that he can no longer get around on a fastball (judging from fangraphs numbers, that is).

    Which is unfortunate because for all the things he can control he does really, really well. It’s just that he no longer has the physical ability.

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  7. Adam says:

    Thanks for this post Eric. I don’t know if its because i emailed the site a few days ago on the topic of Wells terrible D, but i’m glad someone made a post about it to shed some light to others about what hes (not) doing in the field.

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  8. brent says:

    Wells is suffering thru the “I broke my wrist and/or hand and now all of my power is sapped for a calendar year or more” syndrome. However, instead of using the tools he could have by losing weight to maximize his speed (stretch out doubles and run the bases well) and defense, he has stuck with trying to hit homers for which he doesn’t have the power for now.

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  9. Zoom says:

    And half-heartedly swing at pitches out of the strike zone.

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  10. kris says:

    It’s interesting, because Wells is still getting great jumps on the balls. His reading skills haven’t declined at all — What has declined is his actual fielding ability.

    He just looks awkward trying to pull in balls after he’s run to their landing spot. He’s making ridiculous jumps where the ball almost hits him in the face, rather than the glove. I haven’t the slightest clue what’s wrong with Wells.

    He’s clearly lost a step, but he just reminds me of those old school video games where it’d should you a giant circle and you could never quite get your fielder inside of the circle, so you’d over correct left and right and you’d just end up having the ball bounce off you.

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  11. andy says:

    Barry Zito 7yrs/126mil. Vernon Wells 7yrs/126mil. Wells has been worth 2.1mil a year and a half into his contract. Zito has been worth 18.4 mil two and a half in. Brian Sabaen IS a genius.

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