Thursday, April 11, 2013

Analyzing the Jays Claim of Casper Wells (How to Construct a Quality Bench)

So way back on Friday(April 5th 2013) I wrote a piece imploring the Jays to pick up Mariners outfielder Casper Wells (who had been designated for assignment on March 31) off waivers.  I only had to wait 5 extra days, but yesterday (Wednesday April 10th 2013) that is the exact move that took place.  However, that was more than worth the wait, because the effects of this move I believe could be wide reaching on many different aspects of the team.

Before we get into those aspects, lets first take a look at the player. Mr. Wells is not a complete player, however he possesses many assets, which if used in a way to fully accentuate those skills, can have a decent impact on this club.  The first of those skills is his ability to crush left-handed pitching. 

Over the course of his 3 seasons in the majors, Wells has 276 PAs vs. left handed pitching (so about half a full season’s worth). In that time he’s raked to the tune of .264/.349/.489, good for a wRC+ of 132 (or 32% better than the MLB average).  However, if we look deeper than that, it gets even better. 

Wells has spent the majority of his career with the Mariners, and thus, has been hitting in MLB’s equivalent of death valley (especially to RHBs) in SAFECO field.  While I’m not one to generally parse statistics down to such a granular level, in Wells’ case it feels appropriate to find his true talent level.  As a result, when we look at his stats against Left handed pitching on the road in 129 PAs, he’s produced a Pujolsian .326/.404/.628, resulting in a stunning 182 wRC+. 

The second key skill that Wells possesses is a plus defensive reputation as an outfielder.  This primarily applies to the corner spots, where he’s played throughout the majority of his major league career (accruing 15 runs above average, according to UZR), however if forced to, he can also fill in at centre field, where he has played 25 games throughout his major league career.  He makes up for his pedestrian speed by relying on excellent routes to the ball, and a plus arm (having been named the best arm in the Detroit system twice). 

Unlike the roster moves made thus far this season (Dave Bush, Edgar Gonzalez), acquiring Mr. Wells will have far reaching ramifications on the other parts of Jays roster.

The first impact we should see when Wells joins the team Friday in Kansas City will be a return to the standard 7 man bullpen.  I’d expect Edgar Gonzalez’s short tenure on the Blue Jays 25 man roster to come to a close, and to be sent “home” to Buffalo instead of on to Kansas City with the rest of the team.  With how deep the rest of the bullpen is in talent, I don’t see this being an issue, and given that I’d expect Gonzalez to clear waivers, he could be stashed in AAA for additional bullpen depth (much like the recently DFA’d Alex Burnett). 

The next impact, is that Rajai Davis should probably be packing his bags, and calling his realtor to put his house on the market.  I’d assume that until Brett Lawrie returns from the disabled list (rumoured to be for the Yankees series next week), there is a spot for both for both on the roster.  However, once he returns there is surely only 1 spot left on the MLB roster for the two of them.  Given that aside from running, Wells does everything else better than Davis, I’d pray they opt to keep “the Friendly Ghost” in town. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of Rajai Davis, and his dreadful outfield routes.

The final impact, is that unlike having to rely on Mark De Rosa as your primary platoon partner, the
Wells' acquisition allows Bonifacio
to go back to the super utility role
 when Brett Lawrie comes back from injury.
Jays have finally found a player capable of manning the short half of a platoon with either Colby Rasmus, or Adam Lind.  Lind & Rasmus’ struggles vs. southpaws is a well known one, and clearly given that Lind has yet to face a single lefty this entire season, it's one that John Gibbons is more than aware with.  By acquiring a player who can truly punish the left handers, GM Alex Anthopoulos has given Gibby the type of tool he was sorely lacking on the bench prior to now.

If things shake out as I expect them to over the next 10 days, we can expect to see our bench be comprised something like the following.

UT – Mark DeRosa
OF – Casper Wells

What I really love about this bench, is that while each of these players have significant flaws, all of them have a signature skill. 

- Blanco brings plus defense behind the plate, not only when he’s operating as Dickey’s own personal catcher, but also potentially late in games as a replacement for JP Arencibia.

- Bonifacio may be getting stretch thin, while being asked to play every day at 2nd base.  However, if he can settle back into the super utility role he was brought in to play he can still be the asset we thought he’d be when acquired from Miami.  In addition to that, given his blazing speed he can be utilized as a pinch running option off the bench late in games.

- Wells has been discussed at length, but even when he’s not in the lineup replacing Lind or Rasmus he could be used defensively as a late game replacement for Melky Cabrera in left field.  This would give the Jays an elite set of arms in the outfield joining Jose Bautista, and Colby Rasmus. 

- Finally Mark DeRosa isn’t as specialized as the others on this list, but still offers versatility, and a 2nd right handed bat off the bench, likely to pinch hit for which ever of Lind or Rasmus is still in the lineup that day.

I’m thrilled with this pickup (as should be fairly obvious, since I advocated it last week), and am thrilled it actually came to pass.  Much like Gideon's prediction of the Mark DeRosa signing this past January,  we continue to have a relatively stable finger on the pulse of what Blue Jays management seems to be thinking.  Lets hope it stays that way, and they continue to make us look smart and insightful! 

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