I might get thrown out of the Angels blogosphere for even suggesting what I am about to write. Honestly, the only thing I can think of that might draw a more vitriolic reaction would be to channel my inner-Lyle Spencer and write a puff piece on all the “intangible” benefits Jeff Mathis brings to the team. I’m sure I’m going to regret this, but I think that there is a pretty good chance that Vernon Wells’ absolutely terrible season might actually be the result (at least partially) of good old fashioned bad luck.
OK, OK, relax! Put down the stones. Holster the slings and arrows. Step away from the tar and feathers. I’m not just saying that to be provocative or because I suffered major head trauma, I actually have some real statistical evidence to back up that seemingly absurd assertion.
Your prayers are answered, Vernon. Someone is finally going to get your back.
Allow me to present Exhibit A, Vernon’s BABIP of .203. Even for a guy like Jeff Mathis, a .203 BABIP is comically low. Even if we do assume that Wells has actually lost some physical talent this season, seeing him post this poor a BABIP over the course of the season has to involve a fairly healthy dose of bad luck or maybe the loss of a limb, especially given his career BABIP of .283. To put it in more of a frame of reference, Wells had a wretched season in 2007 (due to a wrist problem) when he barely posted an OPS above .700 and in that season his BABIP was a career-worst .262. Now he is almost sixty points lower than that which makes me wonder if maybe Vernon tripped over a black cat while walking under a ladder inside with an open umbrella and broke a mirror when he landed.
If one were to really believe that Wells’ decline is due to old age or physical deterioration, one would expect to see him making less and less contact at the plate. That definitely is not the case with Wells as he has made contact on 80.5% of his swings this season. That is actually a bit below his career average of 81.9%, but not alarmingly so. That dip can actually be explained away easily as well. It isn’t bad luck in this case, so much as bad judgment. The problem is that Wells is swinging too much. In fact, he is swinging more than ever, 51.7% of the time, a career-high for him. He is also swinging at 36.3% of pitches outside the strike zone, a rate that is way above normal for him, so seeing him make a bit less contact and getting poor overall results should come as no real surprise.
Before I rest my case, please realize that there is a fair amount of evidence to show that Wells is in at least some real decline. His strikeout rate is up, a pretty damning statistic. His walk rate is down, not a good sign, but something that can be partially attributed to him trying to do too much to impress his new team by doing things like, oh say, swinging at too many bad pitches. His ISO is just .169, which is 25 points below his career average and 11 points better than his career-worst season, that same injury-plagued 2007 season. Finally, Wells is also hitting fewer line drives and more flyballs, telltale signs that his bat is slowing down some. So we can’t rule out entirely the idea that maybe Wells is getting worse from a talent perspective.
I doubt any of this makes anyone feel better about what a colossal disappointment Vernon has been in 2011, but hopefully with this evidence in mind we can at least move forward with some hope that he won’t continue to be such an abject failure over the remainder of his very long, very expensive contract.