Lost in Vernon Wells’ steep decline offensively is that he also looked significantly worse defensively this season, but new general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made it clear that the Blue Jays won’t be moving him from center field any time soon:
We don’t have any plans of that at all. We consider him a mainstay in center field. If Vernon was older, it might be more of a concern. He’s still a young guy and he also made some tremendous plays as well. There’s times he didn’t make great plays, but he also made a lot of tremendous plays. It’s just to the point that we expect it, so if he doesn’t come up with a ball or comes close, those are the ones that stick out like a sore thumb, because it’s rare.
That’s a nice way to spin it, of course, but not particularly close to reality. Wells was once a strong defensive center fielder, with Ultimate Zone Rating pegging him as 20.6 runs above average from 2004 to 2006. However, in the three seasons since then he’s rated 33.6 runs below average, including -18.2 runs in 1,357 innings this season. Naturally, when MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian asked Anthopoulos about Wells’ declining UZR totals the GM downplayed the stats:
We do some defensive analysis from a statistical standpoint, but those are certainly not fullproof at all. It’s just one tool. We certainly use our eyes as well. Some of the things we look at are just jumps and guys getting ready between each pitch. Those are little things that can make all the difference in the world. It’s not foot speed. It’s not routes. It’s not instincts. It might just be getting ready between each pitch. A split second one way or the other can really impact things.
Uh huh. When the Blue Jays signed Wells he was coming off a season in which he hit .303/.357/.542 with 32 homers and 77 total extra-base hits while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field. Now he’s coming off a season in which he hit .260/.311/.400 with just 15 homers, showed that he should probably be playing right field, and turns 31 years old next week. Luckily for the Blue Jays they only have to pay him another $107 million over the next five seasons.