Sports And The City

It was 4-1.

Slightly above average

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It hasn’t sunk in yet. It won’t, until Spring Training. Until Vernon Wells isn’t in centre field for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Over the past few days, when I thought about the Blue Jays, and thought about centre field, Devon White and Vernon Wells were the only two names that came to mind. I missed the Lloyd Moseby era; I was too young. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember who played in centre before Wells. In my mind, there was White, and then there was Wells. Devo, then Boo. And there would be Vernon, until his mammoth contract expired. Or so the entire universe, save for a couple of crazies in Anaheim, thought.

My point is: Two years of Otis Nixon, and three years of Jose Cruz, had completely faded from my memory.

Drew at Ghostrunner On First writes:

Ultimately, I think this town will forget Vernon Wells in a hurry. Despite logging thousands of innings in the middle of Rogers Centre, his legacy will not last. Other insane contracts will shove his from the memory, other affable & well-adjusted athletes will attract our undeserving scorn.

I don’t buy it. Wells won’t go the way of Nixon and Cruz. Partly because he was a Blue Jay for so goddamn long, and, as The Tao writes, partly because he did represent an era, a decade, one that’s now officially come to an end. And because of his bloody contract. Really, how much more insane can a contract get? There should be two larger-than-life portraits hanging on the walls of the Blue Jays’ front office: One of Vernon Wells, and one of B.J. Ryan. Those contracts, those mistakes, must never be forgotten.

Actually, make it three larger-than-life portraits. This one is a must.

Looking at Wells’ numbers, shit, he was far from great. Worse than I, obviously, a devout believer, remember him. Wells’ career 108 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) proves that, offensively, he was only slightly above average. Jesse Barfield, Carlos Delgado, Fred McGriff, John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, George Bell, Shawn Green, even Shannon Stewart and Rance Mulliniks, all sport higher weighted on-base averages (wOBA), and wRC+ averages, as Blue Jays than Wells. All of them.

Defensively, according to ultimate zone rating (UZR), in the history of the Blue Jays, only Carlos Delgado was a lesser fielder than three-time Gold Glove-winner Vernon Wells. And that blows my mind. I mean, I’m still, weeks later, having a hard time reconciling the fact Roberto Alomar, according to UZR, was a below-average second baseman. My entire worldview was shaped on the belief that Alomar was one of the greatest defensive second basemen. Ever. Now this, Wells’ -38.0 UZR rating? It’s hard to swallow. I can believe Joe Carter’s -32.0, and Russ Adams’ -25.1, career UZR ratings as Blue Jays. But not Alomar’s -26.0. Not Wells’ -38.0. I don’t want to believe I was deceived by my own young eyes.

Depressed by his numbers, I’d have to say no, Wells’ name and number don’t belong on the Level of Excellence. Had he played out his contract in Toronto, there’d probably be no debate; Wells would have owned too many team records not to go up. But now that he’s gone, it’s pretty obvious Wells wasn’t excellent. He was slightly above average. There are other, more worthy candidates to be honoured. Like Jimmy Key.

I’m going to be honest: I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this. I think I might have convinced myself that Drew’s right; perhaps Wells, to some extent, will be forgotten. Not forgotten like Otis Nixon, or Jose Cruz, but not remembered like Roy Halladay, or Carlos Delgado. And that’s how I wanted Wells to be remembered. Like Doc, and Carlos. But as much as I wanted him to be, he was never as good. And as has been pointed out, once he signed that contract, it became his legacy.

I can’t say, though, that I ever thought of Wells the baseball player as complacent, or comfortable. I always thought of V-Dub as someone who busted his ass day in and day out; someone who tried to lead by example. Who dove for balls when he probably shouldn’t have, and who tried to play through injuries, to the detriment of both himself and the team. I saw Wells’ even-keeled approach and attitude to success and failure as ideal for someone who tries to hit a baseball for a living.

After writing this post, I think I feel even more melancholy about Wells’ departure. Slightly above average. I don’t know, it just leaves more to be desired. Like Vernon Wells. With four years and $86 million left on his contract, I guess I never thought Wells and the Blue Jays would have unfinished business.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic about said unfinished business. The Blue Jays gave up more cash when they traded Doc. And Wells’ departure puts the onus on Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Travis Snider. Vernon was never going to be one of the feared hitters in the Toronto lineup when they were finally ready to contend.

It’s a fascinating time to be a Blue Jays fan. Halladay and Wells traded in back-to-back off-seasons, along with another Opening Day starter. Yet baseball boners abound. There’s the Red Sox inquiring about the availability of Jose Bautista. Mike Napoli acquired and dealt in less than a week. Hey, I thought Napoli was a great fit for the Jays, too. But I like that J.P. Arencibia is being given his shot. Edwin Encarnacion, too; I just can’t quit the bastard.

Whether it’s to stock up on potential compensatory draft picks, or help support a very young starting pitching staff, Alex Anthopoulos has revamped the Toronto bullpen. I’ll take Octavio Dotel’s awful splits, the personable Jon Rauch, along with “criminally underrated relief pitcher” Frank Francisco, over Napoli, and, say, Manny Ramirez, and any relief pitcher signed to a long-term, rich contract. The bullpen wasn’t strong last season. Anthopoulos set out to improve it. The kicker: John Farrell. I can’t wait to see the new manager run the bullpen. Hell, the whole ball club.

Anthopoulos always maintained that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be active in free agency. That the Jays would look to improve through trades. Brett Lawrie for Shaun Marcum. Rajai Davis for a couple of arms. Wells for Napoli and Juan Rivera (who’s my starting right fielder, with Bautista at third base). Napoli for Francisco. It continues. There’s no point in speculating whether Anthopoulos is done, because on a Friday evening in January, he pulled off the unthinkable.

It all comes full circle. Slightly above average. That’s how I’d describe Vernon Wells. And how I’d describe, of late, the Toronto Blue Jays. Slightly above average isn’t good enough.

Image of a sleeping Blue Jay courtesy Kimberly Robyn.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 26th, 2011 at 4:25 am

10 Responses to 'Slightly above average'

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  1. Great summation. But don’t kill all your memmories with what is probably faulty fielding data. Even when we get better fielding metrics, it won’t be able to fix the UZR mess of the past. Alomar WAS the best second baseman I’ve ever seen. He made plays I’ve never seen made by anyone else.

    As for AA, man, his body of work in just a short period is amazingly impressive.


    26 Jan 11 at 6:55 am

  2. UZR is a little wonky sometimes, except when it says Derek Jeter sucks and is then 100% infallible.

    There’s a decent chance the wheels fall off the wagon for the Yankees this year. Let’s cross our fingers for a Toronto playoff appearance at New York’s expense.


    26 Jan 11 at 9:45 am

  3. Nav, I don’t think Vernon will slip into Blue Jays obscurity like Otis Nixon and Jose Cruz before him, but Wells’ career just doesn’t come with the lustre of somebody like Dave Stieb or Carlos Delgado.


    26 Jan 11 at 12:24 pm

  4. @ William: Yeah, UZR’s a whacky beast. As for AA, he’s certainly earned the benefit of the doubt.

    @ Chemmy: UZR is a little wonky sometimes, except when it says Derek Jeter sucks and is then 100% infallible.

    I totally buy into this logic. The Yankees just signed Colon. The wheels are definitely falling off.

    @ Ian: Yeah, I think that’s what bothers me. Wells was never quite that good, and I really wanted him to be very good, and he was paid like he was one of the best.

    Navin Vaswani

    26 Jan 11 at 1:31 pm

  5. I’m all for advanced statstics, really I am. I like WAR and many others. But any stat that says Robbie Alomar was a bad fielder and that Rance Mulliniks was better than Vernon Wells is fatally flawed…


    26 Jan 11 at 2:48 pm

  6. C’mon don’t tell me that Mookie Wilson is on the dust-heap of blue jays CF obscurity. He was exciting to watch.

    Mike Hochman

    26 Jan 11 at 6:41 pm

  7. @ Jeremy: I like Chemmy’s approach. Cherry-pick the statistics that you like best. As for Mulliniks, I think it’s time we start lobbying for his name to be placed on the Level of Excellence.

    @ Mike: I remember Mookie Wilson, mostly because of that song “Help Us Mookie,” from the 1992 audio CD that came out after the Jays won the World Series.

    Help us Mookie, help help us Mookie.
    Help us Mookie, help help us Mookie.
    Help us Mookie. Make the Jays number one!

    Navin Vaswani

    26 Jan 11 at 10:50 pm

  8. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Navin Vaswani, Navin Vaswani. Navin Vaswani said: Sports And The City: Do you remember who played CF after Devon White, and before Vernon Wells? [...]

  9. Vernon will be remembered, if for nothing more than being a major piece of any tv show that outlines the key moves AA made turning the Jays into perennial world champions!


    29 Jan 11 at 11:37 am

  10. Robbing Paul to pay Peter, or alternatively though the saying goes.

    Antony Challa

    3 Mar 12 at 12:21 am

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