Vernon Wells: by the numbers

Vernon Wells has under produced this season—plain and simple. In December of '06, the club signed him to a huge extension worth $126M over 7 years; at the time it was the 7th largest contract in MLB history. Details of the contract break down as follows:

Year Salary ($M)
2009 10
2010 21
2011 23
2012 21
2013 21
2014 21

There are also performance bonuses:
250K MVP
200K World Series MVP
100K Most votes in all-star balloting

The contract also includes a full no-trade clause and Wells has the option of opting out after the 2011 season (not bloody likely at this rate).

Offensively, Vernon Wells is in the lineup to produce runs, and this is something that he has not done. Through 84 games, he has hit just .167 (15-90) with runners in scoring position, has only 9 dingers and 38 RBIs. Wells is also struggling when he is down in the count, hitting only .205 with two strikes—he loves to chase that slider down and away and every pitcher seems to throw it at him. Wells' struggle reached a unprecedented level when Cito—the stingiest litmus test for loosing confidence in a hitter—moved him from the cleanup spot to 6th in the lineup.

I'd like to push my frustrations to the side and take a purely objective view of Wells' production this season and compare him to the other CFs in the league. The only way to do this is using number: statistics and sabermetrics. Good thing I love numbers. Here's a list of the qualified CFs this year, sorted based on 2009 salary:

1 Carlos Beltran NYM 8 40 0.336 0.952 53.2 1.09 19,243,682
2 Torii Hunter LAA 17 65 0.305 0.938 59.2 0.65 18,000,000
3 Kosuke Fukudome CHC 7 27 0.26 0.811 41.7 0.87 12,500,000
4 Vernon Wells TOR 9 38 0.261 0.721 46.1 0.64 10,000,000
5 Mike Cameron MIL 14 41 0.259 0.84 50.6 0.62 10,000,000
6 Aaron Rowand SFO 9 40 0.293 0.819 47.3 0.3 9,600,000
7 Grady Sizemore CLE 13 47 0.229 0.768 38.3 0.54 4,766,666
8 Curtis Granderson DET 18 43 0.254 0.794 54.9 0.58 3,500,000
9 Shane Victorino PHI 6 42 0.314 0.851 63.4 0.9 3,125,000
10 Marlon Byrd TEX 8 44 0.283 0.799 42 0.34 3,060,000
11 Nate McLouth ATL/PIT 14 49 0.267 0.817 49.9 0.61 2,500,000
12 Cody Ross FLA 14 49 0.278 0.833 48 0.33 2,225,000
13 Chris Young ARI 6 25 0.198 0.661 29.8 0.44 1,950,000
14 Willy Taveras CIN 1 11 0.238 0.575 25 0.36 1,500,000
15 Melky Cabrera NYY 8 33 0.278 0.771 35.3 0.67 1,400,000
16 Matt Kemp LAD 11 50 0.324 0.892 62 0.46 467,000
17 Franklin Gutierrez SEA 10 37 0.297 0.809 42.9 0.43 455,000
18 Jacoby Ellsbury BOS 5 28 0.301 0.755 50.9 0.69 449,500
19 B.J. Upton TAM 7 33 0.246 0.721 47.2 0.45 435,000
20 Adam Jones BAL 12 47 0.308 0.851 53.8 0.34 435,000
21 Michael Bourn HOU 3 25 0.289 0.775 53.7 0.53 434,500
22 Ryan Sweeney OAK 3 21 0.269 0.675 27 0.53 414,000
23 Dexter Fowler COL 3 21 0.256 0.732 40.7 0.58 401,000
24 Colby Rasmus STL 11 34 0.281 0.815 40.9 0.29 400,000

Most headings in the above should be familiar expect maybe for a couple:
OPS (On-base plus slugging) which measures a player's ability to get on base and hit for powers; and RC (Runs created) which is an estimate of the number of runs a player contributes to his team. The modern formula takes many statistics into account, and is quite accurate (usually within %5) of the actual number.

Wells ranks as the 4th highest paid CF in the Bigs, with Beltran well in the lead and a relatively large grouping of players at the bottom end making less then $1M. The average salary for Big League CFs is $4,25M; Wells is over double that this year.

What's interesting to observe is the trend in salary:

The above plot shows CFs (ranked from lowest paid to highest paid) and their salaries. The results was not all that surprising for me: the trend was clearly exponential—the solid red line shows an exponential fit to the data points (For those number junkies, the actual trend line follows the function,

Salary = (149121)(exp{[rank]/4.89}) - 38885

If you don't understand what that means, then you're not a number junkie).

Basically, what the trend line shows is what a CF should make based on his salary rank. Points on the red line indicate that a player is making what he should for his rank, dots to the left of the line indicate that a player is making more than he should based on the trend, and dots on the right of the line indicate that a player is making less than he should based on the trend. Take a look at Wells (highlighted in blue): he is to the left of the line and thus is currently making more than the trend for CFs.

Here's where Wells ranks in all the above stats:

Rank 12 13 16 20 14 7 4

One could make the fair assumption that if Vernon is making the 4th highest CF salary, then he should rank around 4th in all categories. He clearly does not. In fact, he ranks well below 4th in all stats that I've shown.

However, since the trend in salaries is not linear, maybe it's unfair to look at these statistics in a purely linear sense. Well, for this we need slightly more intense statistics (don't worry, this won't be too rough): z-score. Basically the z-score quantifies how a number compares to the average (technically it is the number of standard deviations from the mean); a high z-score means that a value is much higher than the average, and a very negative z-score means that a number is well below the average. Here are Wells' z-scores:

-0.01 0.08 -0.47 -0.82 0.01 0.44 0.98

Wells has a salary much above the average (z-score of 0.98) for CFs. One would would then hope that his performance in statistical categories is about this z-score as well. It is not. He is near average in 3 of 6 statistical categories (HR, RBI, RC). He's above average in only BB/K. The bad new is that he's well below the average in BA and OPS: two massively important categories for someone who the Jays reply on for his ability to get on base and drive runs in.

Compare these numbers to Beltran's:

Beltran -0.23 0.24 1.89 1.91 0.71 2.68 2.71

Compared to the average salary for CFs ($4.25M), Beltran makes a shitload more ($19.24M), which is represented by the high z-score in that category (2.71). However, as opposed to Wells, Beltran also has high z-scores in RBI, BA, OPS, RC and BB/K; not quite 2.71 in those categories, but they're up there.

What does this all mean?

Well, according to the salary trend for this year, Vernon is overpaid for his rank. He also ranks below his salary rank in all 6 categories. Using a statistical approach, Wells is under performing; his z-scores rank below his salary in all 6 categories.

Now, let's remember that this is based on this 2009 salary. That all goes even more to shit when you consider he'll make $21M next year, then $23M the year after that. Oh, but there is hope the he might opt-out of his clearly inflated contract in 2011? Not a chance at this rate.

Conclusion: Vernon Wells is more of a fucking useless piece of shit than I thought. Numbers don't lie.

The only bright spot in a potential Halladay trade would be if they could package Wells and his ridiculous (or maybe even half) contract.