Monday, March 5, 2012

By Brian Waller - Feature Writer

Vernon Wells will have a productive season in 2012. He will improve on his career low numbers from last season and he will win Comeback Player of the Year. Mark my words and bookmark this article (if for no other reason than to make fun of me if he fails to do so). For those of you that forgot how he did last season, here is his stat line:

Avg.        HR          RBI’s      2B’s        SB           BB’s        K’s          OBP.       SLG.       OPS.
.218*       25            66            15*          9              20*          86          .248*       .412         .660*

*Career Lows

I’m not going to extensively break down Wells’ atrocious 2011 season because, well, that would take far too long and it’s been pretty well documented already. I’m also not going to try and explain why his production declined so sharply, fact of the matter is, there are probably numerous contributing factors. I am however going to explain why I think Wells will improve and have a rebound season. There is cause for optimism people!

Reason #1: Revamped Swing
During the offseason Wells reached out to highly renowned hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo to help him overhaul his swing.  Jaramillo, like Wells, resides in the Dallas, Texas area during the offseason so the pairing seemed logical. For whatever reason in 2011, Wells got into the habit or trying to pull the ball with every swing which resulted in numerous groundouts and weak pop flies. To remedy this, he dedicated himself this offseason to getting back to basics, specifically staying inside the ball and hitting the ball up the middle. Wells himself said that because he was so pull happy his numbers took a nose dive, specifically his doubles. During an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Wells explained that Jaramillo helped him with his balance, stance and timing as well as getting a more consistent swing path. In addition to the physical changes, they worked on preparation, with an emphasis on knowing whom you're facing and what that pitcher did in his previous starts. Granted this has yet to translate to on-field success but let’s be honest, the old Vernon Wells swing obviously wasn’t cutting it. A revamped swing and approach at the plate developed by one of the league’s best hitting coaches is definitely a step in the right direction.

Reason #2: He won’t have to be Batman
Having the best baseball player on the planet batting third on your team makes a lot of things better doesn’t it? We’ve heard it said multiple times, inserting Albert Pujols into any line-up instantly makes everyone better. Even if Pujols’ presence in the line-up has zero affect on what pitches Wells sees during his at-bats, his presence on the team will greatly help Wells by taking the spotlight off of #10. With all due respect, Wells has never been the “big bat” of any line-up; he has always played the supporting role of Robin to someone else’s Batman. Don’t believe me, take a look below at his three most productive seasons in which he was selected to the All-Star team and compare that to the big bopper he had in the line-up with him during that season:

Avg.         HR          RBI’s       2B’s         SB            BB’s         K’s           OBP.        SLG.        OPS.
Wells      .317         33            117           49            4              42            80          .359         .550         .909
Delgado  .302         42           145          38            0            109          137          .426         .593         1.019

                Avg.         HR          RBI’s       2B’s         SB            BB’s         K’s           OBP.        SLG.        OPS.
Wells      .303         32            106          40            17            54            90            .357         .542         .899
Glaus      .252         38            104          27            3              86            134          .355         .513         .868

                Avg.         HR          RBI’s       2B’s         SB            BB’s         K’s           OBP.        SLG.        OPS.
Wells      .273         31            88           44            6              50            84            .331         .515         .847
Bautista  .260         54            124          35            9              100          116          .378       .617         .995

The Angels had no Batman last season, this year they do. Albert Pujols takes the spotlight off of Wells and allows Vernon to play more of a supporting role in the offense. Vernon now doesn’t have to be THE guy. I know people say that numbers can be twisted and used to prove any point, but judging by the ones listed above I’d say the addition of an elite slugger will greatly improve Wells’ production.

Reason #3: Big Fish / Small Pond
The Angels have arguably the top prospect in all of baseball with no place to play at the Major League level. Mike Trout will most likely begin the season in AAA, that’s not a horrible thing however since it most likely delays free agency a season for him but that’s beside the point. At only 20 years of age, Trout seems poised to make an impact in the big leagues. He has had success at each stop in the minors and truth be told, if he were on another team without so much depth he most likely would be breaking camp with the big league club. If Trout performs well in AAA and Wells is putting up numbers like he did in 2011 then the front office’s hand may be forced. With such big contracts being issued this offseason one could argue that the Angels are in a “win now” mode. Even if Trout is not performing at a level high enough to displace Wells, Mike Scioscia has other options, he could play either a disgruntled Bobby Abreu who is seeking playing time or Mark Trumbo, who was displaced himself this season by Pujols.

Let’s be honest, the Wells trade was basically a panic move made by former General Manager Tony Reagins. No matter how you analyze it the trade just didn’t make sense for the Angels. You may or may not agree but in my opinion Wells went into last season with a tremendous amount of pressure on him, pressure from the organization and even more pressure from us…the fans. The talent is there, for one reason or another it didn’t translate to on-field success in 2011. Can an argument be made that Vernon Wells is an elite top-tier batter, no. An argument can be made however that Vernon Wells still has the ability to put up productive numbers. There are fans that expect superstar numbers because Wells gets paid superstar money, to those fans I say you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I feel confident in saying that Wells won’t live up to that monster contract; let’s get over the money people. He has a bloated contract that one GM mistakenly signed him to and another GM traded for, it is what it is. It’s not like his contract prevented the team from making any big additions (cough cough..Pujols and Wilson). Wells does not need to put up superstar numbers; he simply has to put up productive numbers. A return to his career norms listed below would be a tremendous addition to this team:

Avg.        HR          RBI’s      2B’s        SB           BB’s        K’s          OBP.       SLG.       OPS.
.274         25            87            34            9              42            82            .323        .469        .792

Needless to say, it’s going to be important for Wells to get off to a fast start this season and that begins in Tempe, AZ. I know there are stat heads out there that will be able to use advanced numbers to show why Vernon Wells’ 2012 season will be a bad one, I for one am going to be optimistic and assume that last season was just a horrible aberration. With a season under his belt wearing a Halo’s uniform, a revamped swing and a Batman he now can play Robin to, I think 2012 might just be a Comeback Player of the Year type season for one Vernon M. Wells III.
Love to hear what you think!

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