It’s no secret that Vernon Wells has significantly outperformed the expectations so far in 2013. Most people around baseball mocked the Yankees for aquiring Wells, citing the $13MM that the Yankees would have to pay him over the next couple of years and Wells’ uninspiring tenure with the Angels. But, to pretty much everyone’s surprise, Wells has done nothing but hit in 2013, evidenced by a healthy .294/.358/.553 batting line. Vernon has already eclipsed 1 WAR per fangraphs.com, more than most predicted for him in the entire 2013 season. It’s still early, and plenty of bad players put togethether a string of 100 excellent PA’s, but its at least worth looking into if anything’s changed with Vernon thus far.
In Wells’ 95 PA’s, one thing that stands out is his swing% in the strike zone. It currently sits at 72.7% which is substantially higher that the 61.5% of pitches he swung at last season. Even more interestingly, his swing% outside of the zone has remained practically unchanged. By the looks of it, he’s been more aggressive on pitches in the zone without chasing more bad pitches. In theory, this should lead to him making solid contact on more good pitches. His 6 HR and .259 ISO seem to back up this theory. Despite being a bit less selective at the plate, he’s still drawing plenty of walks. His 9.5% walk rate is more than double his 4.6% from 2011-2012.
The word in spring training was that Wells as in excellent shape and that he looked good at the plate. Most of the talk and numbers that come from spring training are useless , but its obviously better to hear good things than bad. Thus far, those reports are looking to be pretty omniscient about Wells’ performance. It’s still way to soon to make any declarations about a new talent level, but there’s a lot to like. His resurgence has been primarily backed by improved plate discipline and power output rather than by a flukey BABIP. He probably won’t continue to belt 6 homers a month, but his improvement doesn’t seem to be entirely luck driven either.
One way or another, the Yankees always seem squeeze production out of seemingly washed up veterans. This year, its been Wells and Travis Hafner. We’ve also seen them pull it off with Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, and Freddy Garcia in the last couple of years. It’s getting to the point where I almost want to assume every retread the Yankees bring in will return to relevance. The Yankees were considering bringing Wells onboard all winter, so they clearly saw something that transcended his numbers in LA. The Yankees pro scouting department has either been really lucky, or really knows what they’re doing.
Even if his performance does fall back to 2011-2012 levels, its hard to be upset with what he’s done so far. As I mentioned, he’s already been worth more than most thought he would be all season. At the very least, he’s helped to keep the lineup respectable with Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixiera on the DL. At this point, ZiPS forsees a .335 wOBA for the rest of 2013 while Steamer predicts a .319 wOBA. In the preseason, ZiPS and Steamer projected .308 and .310 respectively. So even among the statistical models, which tend to be very robust, there’s disagreement about how much weight should be placed on Vernon’s April. It’s probably safest to expect something in-between the .319 and .335 marks. Hopefully, his performance more closely resembles ZiPS’s .335. It would be a pretty big drop from his current wOBA of .391; but, it would still be an above league-average performance. I’m sure the Yankees would take that in a heartbeat.
Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons