Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cutting Vernon Wells Some Slack

Vernon Wells has been a common target of some Jays’ followers – I refuse to call them fans – for few years now. It seems that there is an expectation that he should put up the type of numbers he did in 2003 every year.

Now I am not about to suggest that this year, so far, has not been bad for V-Dub. It has been. But let’s look at the whole record.

After reading a blog entry about David Ortiz,, I decided to see if there was a similar trend with Vernon Wells. Here’s my graph for VW, although without the convenient year references:

The red line is the moving average of home runs per 162 games, while the blue line is the number of plate appearances per homer over a 162 span. Higher is better on the red line; lower is better on the blue. The first peak on the red line, corresponds to the 2003 season, while the plateau in the middle is 2005-2006. Since bottoming out near in May 2008, his HR production has been steadily returning closer to his career average of 26 HR/162 games.

How about Total Bases? The graph below of the total bases per 162 games tells a similar story: A peak near the end of 2003, with some lower value in 2004 followed by a pick up in 2005-06, followed by a sub-par performance in 2007, Since, the start of 2008, he’s been improving, where he is near his career average of 204 TB/162 games.
Another criticism of Wells is his RBI production. Below is a graph of his production since his first full season. The green line is his RBIs per plate appearance with runners in scoring position, while the orange line is RBIs per plate appearance with runners on base. The blue line is RBIs per runner on base while the red line is RBIs per runner on base weighted by the base runners’ location: 3 for third, 2 for second and 1 for first. The latter assumes that a base runner on third is three times more likely to score than a runner on first, which is not quite the case, but is a decent approximation.
All the lines tell a similar story: 2004 was a slump and 2007 was less of a slump, but otherwise, Wells has been quite consistent. How bad is 2009? Each of the three measures is 30% below his 2002-09 career average.

Except for 2004 and this year, Wells has been above the major league average for RBIs per plate appearance:
To all you Wells-bashers over the past few years, 2008 was his best season relative to the league at 47% more RBIs per plate appearance above the major league average!

However, while doing that, in 2008 he did increase his rate of grounding into double plays:
The red line is his rate of GIDP with runners on first, while the blue line is the rate with any runners on base. His current values are only marginally above his career numbers. Compared to other Jays with 50 or more GIDP opportunities, Wells rate of 14% is lower that both Lind and Scutaro and only slightly higher than Hill.

Yes, Wells has been having a poor year, but we shouldn’t be writing him off for a two-month slump.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Jays Through 80 Games

The Jays went 9-11 through the past 20 game stretch that included 15 inter-league games (7-8) and the first three meetings with the Rays. Over that period, they scored 93 runs and allowed 85; the Pythagorean Expectation record would be 11-9, but they did lose all three one-run games and both extra-inning games. There was a blow-out by the road team in each direction: The Jays took a 9-0 game in Texas, but the Phillies humiliated the Jays 0-10 in the Dome. The Jays were also shut out for the second and third time this season.

93 runs in 20 games is 4.65 runs per game (rpg), close to the league average, but hardly the sizzling pace they were on at the start of the season: 6.25 during the first 20 games and 5.35 during the second 20. The pitching has been remarkably consistent allowing and average of 4.25 rpg in games 1-20 and 61-80 and 4.35 in games 21-40. In games 41-60 the offense dropped off to 3.6 rpg and the pitching allowed 4.95 rpg.


So the Jays are scoring fewer runs. Who’s producing and who’s not?

Let’s start with everyone’s favourite targets, Rios and Wells. Rios left more runners on base than anyone on the team, but he has also had the most baserunners. But to be fair, is numbers are only marginally worse than Hill’s. With the most runners on base, Rios has had the most opportunity to ground into double plays, which he has done more than any Jay. Again, to be fair, his GIDP rate is actually slightly less than Scutaro’s. Rios isn’t all that bad; it’s just that we expect more from him because we’ve seen what he can do and he does have a very lucrative contract.

Is Wells okay, just not living up to his contract or our expectations? There has been a remarkable improvement over the last 39 games on two stats that the anti-Wells forces love to point out: left on base (LOB) and ground into DP (GIDP). During the first 41 games, he led the Jays with 96 LOB, but reduced this to 60 in the most recent 39 games, fewer than Rios (81), Hill (72) and Lind (68). His GIDP dropped from 7 to 3 over the same two intervals. That’s the good news. His batting average slipped from 0.263 after 40 games to 0.248, although he’s hit 0.290 with a SLG of .468 in the past 14 games. Hopefully, this is the VW we’ll see for the rest of the season.

Lind, Rolen and Overbay have all improved over the past 39 games! Their Runs Created (RC) are up and their OPS’s are 0.946, 0.885 and 0.878, respectively. Overbay is getting on base via the walk more, and Rolen has been hitting in high leverage situations. These three were the only three regulars to have positive cumulative WPAs during the most recent 39 games, when the team went 15-24.

A lot of the cooling off of run production is attributable to mean reversion on the part of Scutaro and Hill. Scutaro’s batting average is only slightly lower in the past 40 games, despite his current 1-for-19 slump, but his walks are away down from 35 in the first 41 games to 18 in the most recent 39 games. Hill had 62 hits in the first 41 games and only 42 in the most recent 39 games. Total bases was down from 101 to 73 in the same period, mostly due to having only 3 extra-base hits in games 41-60, That has picked up in the past 20 games to 12. Could we really expect these two to produce at the pace they did over the first 41 games, all season?

The Russ Adams experiment is not working, similar to Joe Inglett’s poor showing before that. During the next month, the Jays will have the opportunity to pick up a proven left-handed bat. Washington is probably shopping Nick Johnson and Adam Dunn while there is a rumour that KC will trade Mark Teahen. While Teahen’s batting numbers are not as strong as Johnson’s and Dunn’s, Teahen would not be a rent-a-player, as he would be under contract until 2011, and he is as versatile as Bautista in the field.


Halladay was on the DL during most of the recent 20 game stretch yet the Jays managed 11 quality starts: 5 from Romero, 3 from Richmond, 2 from Tallet and 1 each from Cecil and Halladay. Romero has only two starts that were not QS, the first two after his DL stint, and his past two starts were the best back-to-back starts by any Jay starter this season based on Game Score. In my mind, the top three starters on the staff right now are Halladay, Romero and Richmond. Tallet’s been great, exceeding all expectations as a starter and one could argue he’s the number 3 guy. Cecil’s had 4 QS but two disasters, so we’ll see how he is going forward.

The bullpen is stronger with Accardo. Downs should be back soon, so Frasor Downs and Accardo given them three reliable relievers. Camp, Carlson and League have all been capable in the past, but have had their struggles this year. There was an interesting analysis of League on another blog suggesting that he’s much better in the first inning of an appearance than in subsequent innings. Ryan worries me. I think Cito will continue to use him in low leverage situations and see if his performance improves. Maybe some team desperate for a closer will trade for him in the next month.

Next 20 Games

The next 20 games include 16 against AL East rivals, three against Cleveland and the first game in Seattle on a 6 game west coast road trip. I see them going 12-8 over this stretch, splitting the road trip 5-5 and going 6-3 on the home stand.