Okay, so let me say straightaway that -- unpopular as this may be -- I am a Vernon Wells fan. And I don't mean that in the, "I like the Jays and Vernon Wells is on the Jays so I like him" sense. I mean it in the, "If Vernon Wells played for the Minnesota Twins, I would check the boxscores everyday to see how he did" sense. That's why it's been doubly hard for me to watch his struggles this season, both at the plate (where he's been six runs below average) and in the field (19.3 runs below average), where he got off to an horrendous start, but seems to have gotten a bit of his range back. For a stretch this season, in fact, Vernon Wells was actually rated as the Least Valuable Player in the League. However, thanks to some good play of late, the centrefielder has passed several players and has managed to exit MLB's bottom five.
Now, personally, I think Ultimate Zone Rating may have been somewhat unkind to Vernon and some of the other defensive metrics (such as +/-) may show his defence has not been quite as bad as UZR shows. Twenty runs below average is so bad that it means that he would be about a full win below average even in a corner slot. I tend to think he would be fine in RF or LF, but with the departure of Alex Rios, we don't exactly have many other options for centre. So, if Vernon's fielding is a bit better than UZR has shown, he's probably at replacement level now, but let's work on the assumption that UZR is right about him.
This may be a bizarre part of my fandom, but I really hope Vernon makes it up to replacement level by season's end. At 2.7 runs below replacement right now, it would take a pretty solid next two weeks for him to make up that ground, but it certainly isn't impossible. We all know that Vernon is a feel hitter and he seems to have improved at both the plate and in the field of late. For those who are wondering, three runs above replacement in 16 games, equates to roughly 31 runs above replacement over a full season (or about 3 Wins Above Replacement), which is about how well Jason Kubel, Todd Helton and Ryan Theriot have played so far. If Vernon stays relatively hot, this is a pretty realistic goal and could make it worthwhile to pay attention to the rest of the season. So join me in wishing Vernon the best, and let's cheer him on in his quest to reach replacement level for 2009!