Spin Doctors: Jason Bay vs. Vernon Wells

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In a typical Yahoo! fantasy baseball draft, Vernon Wells is selected around pick number 88 and Jason Bay is grabbed up roughly five picks later, each going right around the time fantasy owners are willing to gamble on a rebound season. It wasn’t too long ago that Wells was a .300, 30 homers, 17 steals guy for Toronto and Bay was producing back-to-back 30 homer seasons. Who’s the better bet for a turnaround? Yahoo! Sports fantasy experts Brandon Funston and Brad Evans take sides, arguing (in 250 words or less) for their favorite:

 

Funston says Evans says
Jason Bay over Vernon Wells – who’s with me?

Well, until Brad Evans had a change of heart in recent days, the other three Yahoo! fantasy baseball experts agreed with the sentiment that Bay is the preferable choice.

We’re talking about two similar players, both 29 years of age coming off disappointing seasons, likely brought about by physical breakdowns (Bay’s knee, Wells’ shoulder) and some bad luck (as their BABIPs, and other peripherals, suggest).

Given their parallels, why did all four Yahoo! experts (Brad, too, before his momentary lapse of reason) side with Bay? One big reason that stands out is the fact that, before last season, Bay had never registered an OPS below .900 at the Major League level, while Wells had topped the .900 plateau just once in his previous five full seasons.

Fact is, when both are firing on all cylinders, Bay is the better all-around hitter – so good in ’05 that he was a top 10 fantasy hitter even without factoring in his 21 steals.

Should we be concerned that Pittsburgh is shopping Bay? We know from past performance that he can rake at PNC Park. But, if a deal happens, it should only benefit Bay. He’s hit 61 percent of his 118 career home runs away from Pittsburgh. And any deal likely means he’s headed to a contender, one that you can only assume offers more punch than the Pirates’ 23rd-ranked offense from ’07.

Playing with a torn labrum for most of ’07, Vernon Wells showed tremendous fortitude, but at an unfortunate fantasy cost. The popular early-round pick saw his power (’06: 32 HRs, ’07: 16 HRs) and BA (.303 BA, .245 BA) totals plummet. More worrisome, Wells’ K% increased for the third consecutive season, nearly matching his career-worst 15.5 mark in 2004 and his LD% (line-drive) nosedived to a career-low 16.8 percent.

Wells underwent shoulder surgery in September and has claimed to be back “close to 100 percent” this spring. So far, the veteran outfielder hasn’t suffered any setbacks, compiling a respectable .276 BA with one home run and six RBIs in 29 at-bats. It appears Wells’ slower plate approach has helped him build bat speed and resolve any burdensome flaws in his swing.

Drafted on average (Y! default leagues) some five picks ahead of Jason Bay, Wells is undoubtedly the safer and smarter choice. Bay, who had offseason knee surgery, has performed miserably in the field and at the plate this spring, slapping a mere seven hits in 34 at-bats (.206 BA). With primo prospects Steven Pearce and Andrew McCutchen both lurking in Triple-A, Bay could be shipped out of Pittsburgh, and into a questionable situation, with a lousy first half.

Don’t anticipate Wells to miraculously return to his ’06 levels, but given his consistent mid-80s contact rates a .275-.280 BA, 23-27 HRs, 90 RBIs, 85 runs and 10 SBs rebound is attainable.

Unlike Bay, a Wells revival isn’t wishful thinking.

Updated Tuesday, Mar 18, 2008