Money Earnin’ Vernon Wells Back On The Fantasy Map

Over the last three or four years, it’s become pretty clear the Yankees have one of the better pro scouting departments in the game. Everyone offseason they acquire some retreads and somehow turn them into useful players, like Bartolo Colon or Eric Chavez or Marcus Thames. They seem to revive guys from the baseball graveyard, and this year they might have done their greatest work, turning Vernon Wells back into a legitimate big league player.

Wells, 34, was hilariously bad with the Angels the last two years. You know that. He hit .222/.258/.409 (82 wRC+) in 791 plate appearances from 2011-2012, his only saving grace the 33 homers he swatted from the right side. Wells was effectively done as a MLB caliber hitter, someone who kept his job only because of the tens of millions of dollars still owed to him. Fantasy owners didn’t even have to think twice about dropping him from their roster or consider him on draft day.

Now with the Yankees and 18 games into the very young season, Wells has come out and produced a .299/.373/.582 (163 wRC+) batting line with five homers and a career-high 10.7% walk rate in 75 plate appearances. Pitchers are throwing him fewer pitches in the zone than ever before (43.6%), explaining the walk rate, and his BABIP isn’t outrageous (.294 compared to .280 career). Odds are in favor of his 19.2% HR/FB rate coming back to a Earth a bit (12.1%), but he is playing half his games in Yankee Stadium now. He’s mashed in the early going.

As Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger detailed earlier this month, Wells did make some changes to his approach this year. It started with watching old tape during Spring Training with the Angels and continued in New York, where hitting coach Kevin Long suggested he stand closer to the plate and pull his hands tighter to his body. Long story short, he told McCullough he stopped trying to hit a home run every time at the plate and instead focused on simply driving the ball. That in and of itself doesn’t mean much of anything — focusing on driving the ball and being physically able to do it are different things entirely — but it’s always nice to know some tangible adjustments were made when talking about unexpected production.

The updated versions of ZiPS (116 wRC+) and Steamer (121 wRC+) project Wells to be an above-average hitter this year, but it’s the shape of that production that matters to fantasy ownership. The AVG numbers are merely okay (.261 and .271, respectively) and not great, ditto the OBP (.318 and .332). Both systems think he can still slug 30 dingers in 600 plate appearances, and so far the Yankees sure seem dedicated to playing him everyday. When Curtis Granderson returns from his fractured forearm — a return that is not imminent, he hit off a tee for the first time yesterday — it could be Ichiro Suzuki who finds himself on the bench. He looks like one of the team’s veteran retread misses so far.

I think we’ve reached a weird point of the season where Wells has done enough to at least pique of the interest of fantasy owners, but maybe not enough to completely convince people the guy we saw with the Angels is gone. He’s still sitting out there on the waiver wire and free agency in a lot of leagues, and he’s someone you could grab for $1-3 in ottoneu leagues. There’s still this sense that Wells will crater as the year progresses and return to being unrosterable, but the acquisition cost is relatively low at the moment. It’s a good time to risk a roster spot and a small part of the budget for a guy who could wind up producing with a solid OF2 or high-end OF3 this summer.

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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

10 Responses to “Money Earnin’ Vernon Wells Back On The Fantasy Map”

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  1. KRS-1 says:

    Picked him up in my league. Sometimes hits 2nd, sometimes 5th. I can’t imagine this team becoming fully healthy where he will need to sit.

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  2. k_r_i_s_k_o says:

    Loved watching Vernon play for the jays around 2003. He was phenomenal back then. In fantasy I missed him in our first week sunday auction because I was too busy picking up Jose Valverde. One of my early season blunders

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  3. BigLeagues says:

    … or Teddy Brosius;
    or Paul O’Neill (yes, Paul O’Neill);
    or Mike Stanley;
    or Robin Ventura (even if his renaissance was for only one season);
    or Miguel Cairo;
    or Ruben Sierra;
    or Jon Lieber;
    or Shawn Chacon;
    or Jaret Wright;
    or Freddy Garcia
    or Ichiro (who, lest we forget, looked like it was over last year in Seattle before his NYY resurgence).

    But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that for all the above, there are the Kenny Rogers’, Javier Vasquez’s, Terry Mulholland’s and Chuck Knoblauch’s.

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    • k_r_i_s_k_o says:

      Agree with most of that list but Jaret Wright? Seriously? He pitched way worse for the Yankees than for the Braves in 04

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      • Herp Derpington says:

        And moreover, he was not a veteran re-tread pick-up. They paid him $21,000,000 over 3yrs, and in year one his ERA+ went from 120 to 70.

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      • BigLeagues says:

        Fair enough, but 2004 was somewhat of a mirage and despite the money, they did squeeze the 2nd best season of his career out of him before it all went to pot. Of course that ain’t sayin much.

        I guess he could be carried over to the high expectation/disaster list though.

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    • majnun says:

      After this much time last year ichiro was one of the best examples. Now he’s the outlier. It’s early.

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  4. DonChrysler says:

    It’s almost like the Yankees have some kind of fountain of youth……………………………………………………………………………………………..

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  5. Kyle says:

    Vernon Wells is having a great season!….

    …aaaaand it’s gone.

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