Wells Talks About His New Swing

Vernon Wells made his Yankee debut yesterday, and had a chance to speak with the media about his move to New York and expectations. It’s obviously been a tough couple of years for the outfielder, but we learned that he’s looking for a new start with the team he secretly rooted for over his Major League career. Looking at his last two seasons with Angels doesn’t inspire the type of enthusiasm he’s portraying, but there are reasons to believe that he’ll be productive in 2013. The biggest thread of hope is a change of approach at the plate. Chad Jennings has the quote.

“Coming into spring training and throughout the offseason, my goal was just to get back to the basics and just put the barrel on the ball as many times as I can,” Wells said. “Shorten my swing and use the other field. I forgot what right field was like for a couple of years. You get caught up in hitting home runs and seeing how far you can hit them, and your swing changes. I was able to take some time this offseason, look at a lot of video from when I was younger and just spraying the ball all over the field. Once we got into spring training, that was my goal. And so far, so good. Getting back to just being short and quick, and balls are still jumping off my bat and my hands are still as quick as they were when I was younger.”

As I pointed out on Monday, there have been some clear changes to Wells’ approach at the plate. In recent years, he’s backed up off the plate and entered a more crouched “athletic” position. From 2012 to 2013, he’s trying to shorten his swing and hit for contact over power. In yesterday’s game, you could clearly see less extension in his arms, and less of an uppercut on contact.

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In his statements on Tuesday, he explains that these changes came about as he concentrated on pulling home runs. Indeed, there have been some massive changes in unexpected stats since 2010. From 2009 to 2010, Wells’ swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone rose from 26.7% to 29.2%, followed by 32.3% in 2011, and 30.0% in 2012. The contact rate on these pitches fell from 64.9% in 2009, to 60.6% in 2010, 59.3% in 2011, and then up to 67.1% in a shortened 2012. In most of these cases, the last three years represent major regression when compared to his previous seasons in Toronto.

So what happened in 2009 to make him think about home runs? He only hit 15 in 684 plate appearances. His career average 12.0% HR/FB fell to 6.4% that year, and it’s understandable that he’d want to spend his time fixing his power swing. Although the home runs returned in 2010, the swing rates tell us that he was swinging at many more pitches outside of the zone, and by 2011 his walk rate fell to just 3.8%.  His fly ball rate also skyrocketed to 48.1%, while his line drive rate fell to 12.3%. Some of these numbers improved in 2012, but it’s hard to see their significance behind just 262 plate appearances.

The good news is that Wells sees the difference in his swing, and is now looking to revert back to his old approach at the plate. He spent all offseason adapting his swing to go to the opposite field. In 2012, 55% of his hits were pulled, 39% went to center, and 6% went to opposite field. In 2011, 55% of his hits were pulled, 33% went to center, and 12% went to opposite field. I couldn’t find an instance where he was “spraying the ball all over the field”, but his pull-happy approach has grown particularly bad over the last couple of years.

His numbers this spring have been very good. He’s hit .333/.364/.667 with 4 home runs, 1 double, and 6 singles. This obviously won’t continue over the long term, but it’s good to know that he’s hitting the ball hard.

One odd effect of his new approach has been the type of contact he’s made in February and March. Looking back over all his contact this spring, he’s hit 10 ground balls, 19 fly balls, 3 pop ups, and 1 line drive. Most of these hits have come on ground balls, which perhaps speaks to how hard the ball comes off his bat. The problem is that he’s not hitting line drives, and without line drives, there’s no reason to think he’ll hit for average. Of course, this is small sample size, and I have questions about how well MLB keeps track of ground balls and fly balls in Spring Training, but it’s something that sheds doubt on his early performance.

Overall, knowing that he’s working on his swing makes Wells one of the more interesting players to watch in April. He still has some amazing contact rates, he hasn’t lost an ounce of bat speed, and he’s working with one of the best hitting coaches now. He has the potential to hit 30 home runs and bat .270, but he’s also very capable of being a total bust.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

15 thoughts on “Wells Talks About His New Swing

  1. Andrew

    Also, he's in the best shape of his life!!!

    Jesus. Stupid puff pieces like this — X washed-up-vet has a new swing, has gone back to his old swing, has lost weight, has gained muscle, has lost muscle and gained flexibility — are worth less than the paper they're not printed on. I expect this sort of nonsense from Murray Chass, not IIATMS.

    Although I have to hand it to you — you've finally found something LESS likely than the Rangers trading Mike Olt for Joba Chamberlain: Vernon ".279 OBP" Wells "hitting 30 home runs and batting .270."

    I eagerly await your next piece. May I suggest "Lyle Overbay, 2013 MVP?"

    • Mike

      Did you read the same article? Maybe you had a different version come up, the Andrew version that says what you want it to say?

      "…it’s something that sheds doubt on his early performance." (referring to his gaudy spring training #s)

      and the article's conclusion: "He has the POTENTIAL to hit 30 home runs and bat .270, but he’s also VERY CAPABLE OF BEING A TOTAL BUST." Vernon Wells has the potential to hit 30 HRs because he's done it 3x, unlike me and you.

      Look, I don't think he's going to hit 30 HRs either. But don't be an ass about it. The point was, Eder didn't predict that Wells is going to hit 30 HRs.

      Let me put it this way: wouldn't you want Wells to look at his past 2 year's #s, and say "shit i should do something about that." Which is apparently what he did. Because if he was doing the other option, you know, nothing, I'm pretty sure that would portend similar results from the past 2 years. So maybe you are not happy to see articles like this, but I am. It at least lets me know that Wells is not off living in a dreamworld or stubborn. No, no, he seems very aware of the circumstances are and connected to the reality of his situation.

      • Santiago

        ….and decided to retire.

  2. roadrider

    He has the potential to hit 30 home runs and bat .270, but he’s also very capable of being a total bust.

    I'd give this statement more credibility if probabilities were attached to these potential outcomes. I mean, Wells has hit 30+ homers only three times in his career and since he's explicitly quoted in the posting as saying that that trying for home runs is what led him astray and that he's trying to be more conscious of not doing that I would not assign a very high probability of him matching or coming close to his career high numbers for homers.

  3. Mike

    Agreed. I'm guessing it's more like 15-20, obviously depends on # of ABs he winds up getting. While I wouldn't be surprised if either case happened, it seems unlikely he only hits 10 or manages 25+. I know I'm making a bold statement there.

    • roadrider

      Well, you're more optimistic than I am about Wells. I don't really expect much from him at all and would be pleasantly surprised if he does enough to even stay on the roster past the All-Star break.

  4. It's funny; we write many articles that people complained are too negative about Mr. Wells. When we pen one or two like this, which try to be objective and find the positive, people complain. Ya know, sometimes you just can't please everyone.

    Come back tomorrow. Sun will be shining. A new day. More DFA'd players to add/drop. Good times in Yankeeville.

  5. Hawaii Dave

    He is 34, and he will attempt to adjust….this is admirable….I think I agree with the writer…that he will be interesting to watch in April. At least he had admitted that adjustments need to be made. Shortening a swing and hitting the ball where it is pitched is a concept that most hitters cannot comprehend. Many players try to hit a homer on every swing. The irony is that Wells has hit 4 homers this spring while shortening his swing while dozens of power hitters have not hit 4 while still swinging for the fences on every pitch. Considering everyone is facing spring training type pitching, all things are equal. Go for it Wells.

  6. OldYanksFan

    What this article should remind us of, is that poor play isn't always age or regression related. How smart you are in your approach has a lot to do with performance (assuming the skills are still there). I don't think Wells with be an impact player, but he certainly seems to have more talent than he's showed in the last 2 years. Some improvement/regression to the mean is certainly possible with his new attitude.

    It's hard when a player is 'forced' to change his approach. That often doesn't work, ala Jetes and Teix. But Grandy was up for a change, and we have seen the results.

    These guys aren't machines. They get into bad habits. Especially playing at YSIII, we don't need RH batters tring to hit HRs. There is lots of Gap room for doubles.

  7. Chris

    He's right about one thing he needs to start putting the bat on the ball more often, which perhaps starts with simply swinging more often. The numbers suggest his ability to make contact both on balls inside and outside the zone were still there, he simply wasn't swinging enough at balls inside the strikezone.

    I don't know if he was just gun shy on pulling the trigger on balls in the zone, or if he was trying to work the count too much, or if he was just sitting around trying to whack a HR and letting better pitches pass him by but if you compare his Z-Swing and O-swing percentages from his last great season in 2010 to last year it tells a very interesting story..

    In 2010 his O-swing% (or percentage of balls he swung at outside the zone) was 33.5%, last year it was right around that same area at 34.2%, So he was basically swinging at the exact same number of pitches outside the zone last year as he did in 2010. He was actually making much more contact on pitches out of the zone last year (75.4%) than he has in his entire career (61.1% average) which may have led to a comfort factor in letting better pitches go in order to try and work the count, or look for what he thought was a fatter pitch knowing he was at the very least making contact on pitches out of the zone at a pretty high clip. However if you look at his Z-swing% (or number of pitches he was swinging at inside the zone) you see he dropped from 71.9% in 2010 down to career low 61.5%, which means he was basically giving away a strike without swinging 10% more of the time. Before that his lowest Z-swing% was 67.6% in 2008, so we're talking about a pretty large drop off from his career norms. He was making almost identical contact, in fact a little better, on pitches inside the zone as he ever had he was simply swinging at those pitches less. He was also swinging and missing less than he ever had, with a swinging strike percentage of 6.6% down from 9.6% in 2010 and 8.7% career. So again a pretty large decline, though this time you would assume for the positive, since it should never be a negative to swing and miss less. Though maybe if it comes from simply swinging less that could be the case.

    So he was making better contact outside of the strikezone than before, swinging and missing less than before, making slightly better contact inside the zone than before, but was swinging less at pitches in the zone and producing one of his worst seasons with the bat ever. Perhaps he was trying to work the count more and getting himself into a hole or perhaps he was simply waiting around for a pitch to hit a home run on, as he suggested, and passing up on pitches that with a good swing would have produced base hits. Either way it's a very interesting case, but one that doesn't point to a declined skills set that would justify the numbers he put up.

    • Mike Eder

      In the end, he's still make a ton of contact. He won't strike out very often.

      I talked about it a little in the post, but the O-swings have increased a lot over the last few years, and I'm guessing it has to do with an eagerness at the plate. He described his approach was to hit the ball as hard as he can, and I wonder if that translated into a lack of plate discipline, because that was certainly a huge problem. If he's not willing to take a ball out side of the zone, there's no reason to give him anything good to hit.

      • chrisN

        That is so true Mike. It happens to power hitters (especially ones who feel the need to live up to big contracts). Being on the same team with Tex he might learn something. People bash Tex for not living up to his contract but he still goes out and knocks in close to 100 rbi's and 20-25 HR every year by NOT trying to hit every ball out of the park (granted it would be nice if he hit to the opposite field once a year) unlike Grandy.

  8. James Dogg

    Wells has the potential to hit 30 hrs and .270, or could be a total bust…OR he could become the new Pope, oh wait that is taken… Wells, Youkliss, Overbay, Hafner, Rapada, Wang, even Pettitte the yanks keep betting on the old dudes to "pull out one more productive year" they are starting to look like the gambler who multi-mortgages the house because he knows he can make that one big score and win it all back instead of going to work each day saving his money and investing wisely– no get rich quick ideas will work over a 162 game season- time to use some home grown youth and, as my man Eric said 'Let it grow"

  9. Is it just me, or has the general tone of commenters gotten decidedly negative lately?

  10. oldpep

    I think Wells' comments would have been a bit more worthy of notice if he'd mentioned his atrocious plate discipline. As he's gotten older, his willingness to swing at almost anything the pitcher throws has led to increasingly negative results. I think the most likely scenario is that he continues to decline, as do most players in their mid-30s.

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