To be fair, it’s not like people really expected Vernon Wells to be that good this season. The Angels’ decision to bring in Wells and his colossal contract was universally panned. But even though Wells wasn’t going to be worth $23 million in a season, he did show signs of life in 2010, posting a .362 wOBA and 3.8 WAR for the Blue Jays. The Angels thought they were at least getting a solid, if overpriced, player in Wells. Instead, Wells has posted a .214 wOBA so far. What gives?
First, let’s take a look at just what powered Wells’s 2010 season: power. Wells hit 31 homers and 44 doubles en route to a .242 ISO, his highest mark since posting a .239 in 2006 and well above his career .193 rate. In the three years prior to 2010, Wells’s ISOs were .158, .197, and .140, respectively, which leads us to an obvious question: was 2010 a true turnaround, or just noise distracting us from the signal of the previous three years? Unfortunately, one year’s worth of power numbers don’t tell us as much as we’d like: it takes 550 plate appearances for ISO to stabilize, and even then there’s still a significant amount of regression necessary before we can identify true talent.
A move to Anaheim certainly doesn’t help. Toronto is one of the best places for right-handed batters to hit home runs. Just ask Aaron Hill. According to StatCorner, the park factor on home runs for righties at the Rogers Centre is a robust 117, and a 103 park factor on doubles doesn’t hurt either. Anaheim is a much different story. Although it doesn’t have much of a reputation as a pitchers’ park, Anaheim suppresses power. For right-handed batters, the park factor on doubles is 94, and on home runs it’s a rather modest 93.
Of course, part of Wells’s issues are just luck and random variation. He won’t maintain a .194 BABIP, although Wells’s .286 career BABIP means we can’t expect as much regression as we would from most hitters. His power numbers also won’t get anywhere near last year’s; he’s probably a league-average power hitter. However, his plate-discipline skills appear to be deteriorating as well: his walk rate has fallen below 5% and his K rate has risen above 15%, each for the first time in the last four years — yet another poor sign for Angels fans.
Even if the Angels couldn’t expect Wells to play at the MVP level his contract calls for, they thought they were at least bringing in a useful player. Right now, it just doesn’t seem that way: ZiPS only projects a .311 wOBA for the rest of the season. At this point in time, Wells basically defines replacement level, and it’s hard to imagine anything more from the Angels’ $86 million man.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.