Frustrated in their attempts to sign a big-ticket free agent, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are on the verge of a major pickup, outfielder Vernon Wells, but he’s one who may hurt them statistically in one significant area.
WellsThe Angels may have weakened their lineup against left-handed pitching, against which they hit .243 in 2010, fourth-worst among major league teams. They also hurt themselves against lefties by dealing catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli to the Blue Jays -- a team that had the lowest batting average in the majors against southpaws last season (.215).
Of the 96 right-handed hitters with at least 250 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in the last two seasons, Wells’ .619 OPS ranks second-worst, trailing only Brendan Ryan. His .201 batting average against lefties in that span is the worst in baseball.
Yet Wells’ numbers against right-handed pitching are pretty good -- a .285 batting average and .822 OPS over the last two seasons.
The difference in Wells’ splits vs left-handed and right-handed pitching, in both batting average and slugging percentage, is the greatest for any right-handed hitter in baseball.
The Angels felt it was worth the risk to pick up a player who ranked in the top 10 in the American League in extra-base hits, home runs, and slugging percentage last season.
It’s also possible that Wells could revert to the form that made him a quality hitter against lefties. From 2005 to 2008, he had a .331 batting average and .924 OPS against left-handed pitching.
The biggest issue that has led to Wells’ decline in that area has been his struggles with breaking pitches. We can break that down with our Inside Edge video scouting data.
Highest Isolated Power
Primary Position: Catcher
Isolated Power, tracked on Baseball-Reference.com measures a hitter’s ability to hit for power, calculating how many extra bases a hitter got per at-bat (the formula is slugging percentage minus batting average). Among those whose primary position is catcher, Mike Napoli fares well, though it's still early in his career -- Ben Duronio
While many right-handed hitters mash a curve or slider from a lefty, Wells struggles to get hits against that pitch. In 2007 and 2008, Wells got hits on 13 and 14 percent of his swings against breaking balls from lefties, respectively. Over the last two seasons, those numbers dropped dramatically, to four percent of swings in 2009 and eight percent in 2010.
Last season, Wells missed on 41 percent of the swings he took at lefties’ breaking balls. That’s a huge jump from the 27 percent rate he maintained in both 2008 and 2009.
Wells won’t be able to get any tutelage from Napoli, who is one of the best in baseball at hitting left-handed pitching. His .966 OPS against southpaws last season rated fourth-best in the American League. But Napoli is headed eastward, to the Rogers Centre, a ballpark that might allow him to boost those totals even further.
That’s another factor that may concern Wells and his new team. Last season, he hit .321 and averaged a home run every 14.5 at-bats at home, but just .227 with a homer nearly half as often in road contests.