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« Felix is good, he's just not a king this season | Main | Top HR Hitters since the All-Star Break »
Tuesday
Sep132011

Vernon Wells: Historically Bad Power Hitter

As the Angels try to run down the Rangers in the AL West standings and snag a playoff spot, the offseason acquisition of Vernon Wells continues to be an anchor around the club's neck. Not only did L.A. take on the contract of a player in his early thirties owed a combined $86 million between 2011 and 2014, but they surrendered catcher/DH Mike Napoli, who found his way to Texas and is now slugging north of .600, to do it. That's especially galling with Jeff Mathis needing a big September just to reach the Mendoza Line.

While the trade was indefensible back when it occurred in January, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thought Wells would be this bad. With a 2-for-4 showing on Monday that included a homer, he "improved" his line to a .220 average, a .254 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage. About the only thing Wells has done this year is occasionally run into a pitch: he has 21 homers in 2011.

In fact, Wells is having one of the most putrid power-hitting seasons ever. Using Baseball-Reference's Play Index Tool, I found hitters who posted the lowest on-base percentages while cracking at least 20 home runs. Wells is in some historically hack-tastic company:

                                 
Rk            Player         OBP HR Year  Tm
1    Marquis Grissom .250 21 2001 LAD
2       Vernon Wells   .254 21 2011 LAA
3         Tony Armas    .254 36 1983 BOS
4       Dave Kingman  .255 35 1986 OAK
5         Juan Uribe      .257 21 2006 CHW
6        Jeff Newman   .267 22 1979 OAK
7      Alex Gonzalez   .270 23 2004 FLA
8       Tony Batista    .270 26 2003 BAL
9         Aaron Hill       .271 26 2010 TOR
10      Tony Batista   .272 32 2004 MON

A broader measure of offensive value, OPS+, makes Wells' season look a little better. But emphasis on little. We're still talking about one of the 25 worst 20+ HR seasons in history:

 Rk            Player        OPS+ HR Year Age  Tm
1    Marquis Grissom        71 21 2001  34 LAD
2         Juan Uribe            73 21 2006  26 CHW
3       Tony Batista           73 26 2003  29 BAL
4         Juan Uribe            74 20 2007  27 CHW
5    Willie Kirkland            75 21 1962  28 CLE
6         Ed Sprague           76 20 1998  30 TOT
7         Joe Carter             77 21 1997  37 TOR
8         Aaron Hill               79 26 2010  28 TOR
9        Pedro Feliz              79 22 2006  31 SFG
10     Alex Gonzalez          79 23 2004  27 FLA
11       Pedro Feliz            80 20 2007  32 SFG
12      Tony Batista           80 32 2004  30 MON
13       Dale Murphy          80 23 1978  22 ATL
14     Daryl Spencer          80 20 1953  24 NYG
15     Alex Gonzalez          81 20 2003  30 CHC
16     Steve Balboni          81 24 1987  30 KCR
17      Clint Barmes           82 23 2009  30 COL
18      Ruben Rivera          82 23 1999  25 SDP
19        Bret Boone           82 20 1999  30 ATL
20       Jeff Newman          82 22 1979  30 OAK
21         Joe Crede            83 21 2004  26 CHW
22    Vinny Castilla            83 33 1999  31 COL
23       Gary Carter            83 20 1987  33 NYM
24      Vernon Wells          84 21 2011  32 LAA
25   Alfonso Soriano         84 20 2009  33 CHC

Part of Wells' placement here is due to his batting average on balls in play dropping to .220, which is over 60 points below his career average. But he hasn't helped himself by drawing walks at the lowest rate (4.3 percent of his plate appearances) since he was a 23-year-old Blue Jay back in 2002. While Wells is chasing more pitches off the plate (34 percent, compared to 31 percent in recent years), it seems like pitchers are challenging him more often. Fifty-two percent of the pitches that Wells has seen have been in the zone, about five percentage points above his 2008-2010 rate.

And, unless a pitcher misses with a belt-high pitch down the middle or goes low and inside, Wells isn't doing much of anything:

Wells' in-play slugging percentage by pitch location

While the Angels chase the playoffs, Wells chases history. It's just not the kind of history the Angels had in mind.

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