It’s no secret that Vernon Wells had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2011.
You know it, I know it, my dog is even vaguely aware of it. The best spin doctors in the game couldn’t turn the league’s worst batting average and the lowest OBP since forever into something positive.
No one was probably more aware of this fact than Vernon Wells himself.
Deciding he needed to make some drastic changes to his offensive approach over the offseason, Wells sought the advice of Cubs hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.
According to several articles published following the sessions with Jaramillo, Wells effectively “retooled” and completely overhauled his swing to avoid the “pull-happy” approach that allegedly plagued him in 2011.
If this is truly the case, then it stands to reason that the changes in Vernon’s swing should be visibly detectable, so that’s what this post aims to do.
I don’t know the first thing about what does or doesn’t make for an effective swing so this post isn’t going to be is an in-depth analysis of Vernon’s swing mechanics. Rather we’re going to make a side by side comparison of last year’s swing and the “new” swing to see what, if anything, has visibly changed.
To set a baseline of sorts, lets look at two full before and after swings then jump into the side-by-side breakdown.
Here’s a .gif of Wells’ 2011 “pull-happy” swing at Fenway Park on May 4, 2011, with Vernon connecting with his third homerun of the season:
And here is a .gif of a double to right-center in Spring Training last month:
The two swings are looked at from slightly different camera angles and the frame rates aren’t identical, which is unfortunate, but they are close enough that it shouldn’t be an issue.
Vernon has a tendency to rock his hands up and down, bounce, tap his front foot and wiggle the bat around while waiting for the pitcher’s delivery. This hasn’t changed at all. As such Vernon appears to be a bit more upright and his hands a bit higher in the new stance, but this isn’t actually the case; he’s just at a different stage of bouncing around. His feet may be a smidge closer together but otherwise his starting stance is virtually unchanged.
One of the things Wells and Jaramillo apparently focused on was “getting a proper load”. As Vernon begins his load sequence, bringing up his front foot, his first move in both the old and new swing is to shift his weight back and bring his hands downward. No visible difference here, maybe the change occurs when the front foot is planted.
3: Swing Start
No discernable difference here either. As the load foot comes down, Vernon shifts his weight a bit and brings his hands back and up, with the bat at a 45 degree angle behind his head. His hips appear to be on primed for rotation and he’s gone into his signature chipmunk cheek hitter face.
The second big thing Wells and Jaramillo were said to have worked on was developing a “more consistent swing path”. Now, both of these swings have positive outcomes so it’s possible (likely, even) that this is the swing path he wants to replicate. Looks pretty dang identical so far: still in chipmunk face, right knee collapsed, left leg firmly planted, shoulders tilted upward as the hands come through.
Despite the pitches being in different locations and hit to different parts of the field, Vernon appears to be in the same position just prior to the point of contact in both swings.
More of the same… sameness: his weight is back which creates a sort of arch from his right heel to right shoulder, both arms are straight as the top hand begins to roll over, his head is down. I really want to find differences in the swings but they’re just not there.
Same as ever, Vernon has a brief high follow-through that he snaps back out of with a little hop from his back foot to his front. Nothing appears to be different.
Well, I honestly started this post hoping to find evidence of changes in Vernon’s swing that I could parlay into a positive attitude about his performance this season. But they’re just not there.
Despite working in the offseason to reportedly conduct a complete overhaul of his swing–and the press telling us this was so–it appears Vernon Wells has changed essentially nothing. If I had told you the old swing was actually the new swing, there’d really be no way for you to know.
Habits are incredibly difficult to change, especially those involving intricate muscle memory. Our perception of what are bodies are doing and what they actually are doing is often very disparate. While we may think we’ve made a significant change in an action (say, sitting up straight in a chair), our body often reverts to its old position/habit without our conscious knowing.
I don’t doubt for a second that Vernon intended to change his swing, it just hasn’t happened. I realize that even minute changes to a swing at the professional level can invoke drastically different results (see: Jose Bautista), but it certainly doesn’t appear to the naked eye that anything in Vernon Wells’ swing has changed.
You’re more than welcome to prove me wrong–and I sincerely hope Vernon does–but I think this early 2012 spray chart speaks volumes to support my verdict.
As the chart shows, Vernon is still “pull-happy” and I think he always will be. He may think he has a new swing, but what I posit he really has is just a new mental outlook on his swing. Confidence in one’s offensive approach is important but I do not think it’s enough to garner better results when there are significant physical flaws in that approach.
I’d like to see Vernon Wells succeed but it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Perhaps it’s time to free Mike Trout.
Follow Nathan Aderhold on Twitter: @AdrastusPerkins.