Blue Jay Disappointments

The Blue Jays got off to a very hot start this season, in spite of pitching injuries, thanks largely to the performances of both Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro. The latter is an average hitter at best while the former is known more for glovework than offensive contribution. Absent from much of their success were the two hitters considered to be the cream of the Blue Jays crop: Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. To date, Wells has posted a Jimmy Rollins-esque .241/.299/.367 line while Rios sits at .278/.336/.454. Granted, Rios’s line still produces a .350 wOBA but this slash line seems quite low for a player expected to break out into MVP-level production before each and every season.

Last year, Rios added 5.5 wins above replacement primarily due to incredible defensive work accrued in both right- and centerfield. Playing centerfield helped reduce the number of runs docked in his positional adjustment, all told making Rios around a +20 run fielder. A .350 wOBA coupled with defensive marks like that makes for one heck of a player, but UZR hasn’t been as sunny on Rios this season and his offense has not improved. The .337/.461 OBP/SLG from a year ago is virtually identical to the .336/.454 on his page as we speak. Though +2.3 runs is a solid UZR mark, Rios is not going to have the benefit of seeing his positional adjustment lessened from playing centerfield, meaning he is on pace for around 3 wins above replacement as opposed to the 5-6 expected of him.

If this is what type of player Rios is going to be, fine, he is still putting up pretty solid numbers, but let’s all can it with the breakout talk, expecting him to be something out of his realm. Wells, on the other hand, is perplexing. I wrote in this space last year about how his reputation led to ignorance about his numbers, with many thinking Wells is a perennial 25-25 player with incredible centerfield defense. In actuality, Wells hasn’t surpassed a .900 OPS since 2003, the only season in which he reached that plateau. For his career, Wells has a .281/.330/.473 line, which would be really great for a guy like Shane Victorino, but not a former all-star thought of as highly as Wells.

ZiPS doesn’t see Wells improving all that much this season with the bat, ultimately finishing with a .254/.310/.400 line. The projected 15 HR and 18 SB help elevate the wOBA to .316, but a below average rate like that coupled with a UZR perhaps on pace to be worse than -15 runs makes Wells a replacement player. In a full season in 2007, Wells produced just 1.2 wins. He added another 0.8 more last year albeit in just 108 games. This year: -1.0 wins. Rios is proving that he can be a good, not fantastic player, while Wells is showing that he does not deserve a starting spot in the big leagues, let alone one at such an important position.

It will be tough for the Jays to continue to compete in such a tough division, especially with their entire pre-season starting rotation on the shelf, but productivity increases from both Wells and Rios will be needed to have any hope whatsoever.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Interesting, Eric. I hadn’t really clued in to the notion that Wells may now be a below-average defender. Dewan’s +/- numbers seem to tell a similar story to the UZR data you cite — according to Dewan, Wells was an above-average CF in 2004-07 but has been markedly below-average in 2008-09.

Theoretically, the Jays could go with a Lind/Rios/Snider OF going forward, but in practice they’re stuck with Wells, whose (apparently undeserved?) defensive reputation will keep the team from considering the drastic step of benching such a highly-paid player.