On-Base Perception

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Vernon Wells' spring stats may be a red herring

Veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was traded to

Veteran outfielder Vernon Wells, who was traded to the Yankees from the Los Angeles Angels, surveys a gaggle of media after signing with the Yankees. (March 26, 2013) (Credit: AP)

Don’t put much stock in spring training stats, says one of baseball’s most well-worn axioms. It’s like viewing stats through funhouse mirrors. Sample sizes are simply too small to draw sweeping conclusions of skill.

And yet it’s almost impossible to exhibit the self-control not to use spring-generated information to prognosticate.

Two scouts recently expressed confidence in new Yankee Vernon Wells to Newsday’s David Lennon and Erik Boland.

Wells hit .361 (13-for-36) with a .390 on-base percentage and four home runs for the Angels in 14 games this spring. But there’s a lot of noise in so few numbers.

Of the 30 pitchers Wells faced in the Cactus League, eight didn’t throw a pitch in the majors last season and four were rookies in 2012. Eight of his 13 hits and three of his four home runs came against pitchers who either didn’t pitch in the majors last year or had a plus-5.00 ERA. That sterling OBP was inflated by a stratospheric batting average.

Upon arrival to Yankees camp, Wells said he had been “spraying the ball all over the field.”

He wasn’t doing that with the Angels in Arizona, though. Wells put the ball in play 32 times, 20 of which were pulled -- accounting for 10 of his hits. He went to the opposite field only four times.

Wells, a righthanded hitter, pulled the ball 62.5 percent of the time this spring, up from 51.4 percent during the 2012 regular season and 45.5 percent during his career. Wells does have a career 1.057 on-base plus slugging percentage when pulling. But if he has designs on smacking the ball the other way and toward the short rightfield porch at his new Yankee Stadium home, he’ll need to start thinking opposite field more. And he didn’t display an ability to do that with the Angels this spring, despite what he says.

Wells’ numbers were awful with Los Angeles the past two seasons, posting an OPS of .660 and .682, respectively.

The American League average OPS was .729 in 2012 and the best hitters generally have an OPS of .800 or better. Those are the numbers to pay attention to during his Angels career. Not those 13 spring hits, five of which came off fading hurlers Freddy Garcia and Jeremy Bonderman.

And just as Wells’ spring surge should give some pause, Travis Hafner’s dreadful Grapefruit League stats shouldn’t be entirely discouraging.

Yes, Hafner was hitting .195 with a .667 OPS before Thursday. He had struck out 12 times in 41 at-bats and only walked once since March 9.

But recall another older lefthanded hitting Yankees designated hitter on a one-year deal. Raul Ibanez was 2-for his first 37 at-bats last spring. He had no home runs and two RBIs, looking like a bust. In his final eight games, though, he went 7-for-23 with three home runs and eight RBIs. He parlayed that strong finish into a .761 OPS during the regular season and a heroic postseason performance.
Is Hafner turning the corner, too?

I could give you stats showing “maybe,” but the sample size is too small to provide an accurate reflection.

Though tomorrow we get to step out of the funhouse.

Tags: Yankees , Vernon Wells , Travis Hafner

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