Vernon Wells played third base, might not be awful

USA TODAY Sports

Alright, let's get it out of the way: You're really reading this because Vernon Wells played third base on Wednesday. Angel Hernandez is the baseball headline right now because of his continued, weaponized awful. But Vernon Wells played third base last night. You don't get this nonsense with other sports. Don Nelson probably played Muggsy Bogues at center because that's how he got his kicks, and a quarterback lines up as a receiver just about every Sunday to mess with the opposing defense.

When something like Vernon Wells playing third base happens, though, it's magic.


He got an assist! Giants fans still remember this, six years after the fact:

Pedroiscatching_medium

And Yankees fans will remember the time that Vernon Wells came into a one-run game and helped Mariano Rivera get a save. Players play out of position all the time. Jimmie Foxx played a game at short and over 40 games at catcher. Larry Walker played second and third while Neifi Perez caught in 1998. This isn't even the first time a notable Yankee has played out of position.

But it's still amazing. Vernon Wells at third! Next thing you know, Miguel Tejada is going to play there or something.

That's the reason Wells is on the collective baseball hive-mind today. But it's also a good excuse to bring something up: Vernon Wells is not useless:

Year Age PA HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2013 34 126 7 4 0 10 19 .287 .341 .504 .846 126

The Yankees needed a right-handed outfielder with power. They paid actual cash money to bring Vernon Wells in. It was hilarious. And now, over a month into the season, he's still hitting. Two different ways you can take this:

1. Damn Yankees
It's the name of a musical and a shredding, balls-out, totally still relevant supergroup for a reason. Because it captures the decades-long frustration of people waiting, waiting, waiting for the Yankees to fail. And they always pull something out.

Travis Hafner staying healthy and productive? Kind of ridiculous, but it's not like he's ever been a bad hitter. Just hurt and unlucky. I'll buy that one as a prudent chance that paid off.

Wells doing the same thing? Not sure if it's the universe trolling or if it's time to accept that the Yankees know something we don't. They have a secret division of baseball science and magic that works in a bunker beneath the Adirondacks, and everyone in it will still be alive after the nuclear holocaust

2. Sample size, fools
If you want to play around with arbitrary endpoints, here you go: Vernon Wells hit .317/.394/.619 from the start of the season to April 21, and he's hit .250/.275/.365 since then. Now, that doesn't have to mean anything on its own, but the latter is what most of us expected, so it has a shinier ring of truth around it. There's a chance that everything on May 9 isn't as it seems. Just a chance.

However …

There's an alternate theory I'd like to explore. It's not a very intelligent, learned theory. It isn't going to blow your mind. But I don't hear it a lot. Here are Wells's park-adjusted numbers for the last seven seasons, where 100 is league-average:

OPS+
2006: 129
2007: 85
2008: 123
2009: 86
2010: 125
2011: 84
2012: 91
2013: 126

For a while, he was alternating excellent years with dreadful years. It would have been confusing if it weren't so danged predictable. But when there were two down years in a row, it looked like Wells was finally broken for good. It happens to the best every-other-yearers. Aubrey Huff's run ended last year. They're good runs when they're active, though.

Here's the theory, though: What if, instead of looking at Wells as a guy who alternates good and awful years, he's a combination of both? His average numbers from 2006 to present: .257/.307/.442. The average counting stats are 479 plate appearances, 18 homers, and 32 walks to 64 strikeouts per year. And he is generally a little better against left-handers, which makes him okay in a platoon situation.

Which means … he was kind of the player the Yankees should have been looking for this offseason.

I know, I know. It doesn't make sense to me, either. But an average hitter with a little lefty-mashing on his resume isn't a bad bench player. I think we might have been too binary with Wells, parsing only the easily-identifiable endpoints that our little brains could handle. Awful, good, awful, good, awful, and awful broke the tidy pattern, and it was easy to assume he was never going to be good again.

It's hard to look past the salary, and it's hard to look past the Angels making one of the worst, impossible-to-explain trades of the last decade, but maybe Vernon Wells has been nothing but average all along. He's just been playing a 600-game season to mess with us all.

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