Had I told you before the season that Peter Bourjos and Vernon Wells would be locked in a battle for playing time by the beginning of May, you probably would’ve had yourself a good ol’ belly laugh and then had me committed to a mental institution on a 5150 hold. Sure enough though, that is exactly where we are today, with the exception of me being in a loony bin. That didn’t happen. Thanks for that; I appreciate it.
The good news is that this unlikely playing time battle arose for a smart reason, clearing a full-time starting job for Mike Trout. This whole situation would be even more absurd if it was Trout battling for playing time with one or both of Vernon and Peter. That doesn’t make it a “good problem” though. No, a “good problem” would be that Bourjos and Wells were both playing so well that Scioscia couldn’t decide which one to play more often. Instead, he is trying to pick between two players that have been highly disappointing. Lame.
So who should he choose?
Should it be the guy who isn’t totally allergic to drawing a walk? That would be Bourjos and his 5.7% walk rate, compared to Wells at a pitiful 2.4%.
Or should it be the guy who hits the ball hard in the rare even that he hits the ball? That would be Wells and his .193 ISO, compared to Bourjos at .083.
Well, the choice probably shouldn’t be based on the small sample sizes of 2012. Wells has a .289 wOBA whereas Bourjos is at .216. Both are awful, with Bourjos’ being the most awful, but neither is the sort of thing you want in your lineup if you felt that was indicative of their true talent. That is where youth is on Peter’s side. In his only full season of big league ball, he was pretty good, finishing with a .336 wOBA. That same season though, Wells posted a a .285 wOBA, which is an awful lot like his number this year. Aha! We’ve cracked it!
Not so fast, my friend. Wells has a much longer track record before 2010 suggesting he is a much better hitter than he has been as an Angel. He may not be that player anymore, but if you think that Mike Scioscia isn’t thinking about Vernon’s glory days in Toronto every time he pencils his name onto the lineup card, you would be wrong. And Scioscia might not be totally wrong-minded in that line of logic either. Vernon is hitting line drives almost twice as often as last season, which is a good sign that he might start lucking into some more hits. However, Wells is also swinging at even more pitches out of the zone than last season, which is a sign that he probably isn’t going to sustain that line drive percentage and thus won’t be getting those additional hits I just said he would get. D’oh!
You know what else is wrong? Talking about ISO and wOBA and walk rates in regards to a decision Mike Scioscia is making. He probably isn’t totally ignorant of sabermetrics, but he definitely doesn’t manage according to advance stats. No, his decision likely boils down to, “Vernon Wells has four homers and four doubles. Peter Bourjos has one homer and one double. I pick Vernon.”
Under normal circumstances, Bourjos’ elite defense would play a factor as well. However, with Mike Trout capable of playing a strong center field, Scioscia isn’t downgrading much by benching Peter. And Scioscia probably doesn’t feel like he would be upgrading in left field much if he were to play Trout there with Wells on the bench since Wells played fine defense there last season and has some shiny Gold Gloves in his trophy case at home. Mike Scioscia seems like the sort who actually thinks Gold Gloves accurately reflect a player’s defensive ability, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.
All the evidence seems to be leaning towards Bourjos coming out on top of this battle, but having now sat in three straight games, he clearly isn’t coming out on top. I guess Mike Scioscia just can’t justify playing a guy who is hitting .167 with no power, unless that person is named Jeff Mathis, of course. Peter is probably better than that, but he isn’t going to get a chance to prove it unless he gets to play, which he isn’t, at least not enough to break out of his slump. Ah the vicious cycle claims another victim. Just when we finished freeing Mark Trumbo, it seems that the Free Peter Bourjos campaign is just beginning.
Then again, maybe we should hold off on that until he gets his average over the Mendoza Line.