Wells and Carp
In talking with folks about the 2012 roster, it seems evident that a lot more people are comfortable playing Mike Carp regularly next year than there are folks who would be okay seeing Casper Wells get a majority of the playing time in left field. This strikes me as weird, because, well, just look at their career numbers in the big leagues:
Wells and Carp have both essentially racked up a little over half a season of playing time in the Majors. In that time, they’ve posted remarkably similar batting lines and showed essentially the same offensive skillset. There’s really nothing to distinguish one from the other at the plate – they’re essentially equals in nearly every meaningful metric you can think of. Walk rate, strikeout rate, isolated slugging, swing rate, contact rate, swinging strike rate, batting average on balls in play… you name it, their offensive numbers are darn near identical.
Where they begin to diverge is on defense, where Wells’ athleticism and strong arm make him an asset in left field, while Carp is essentially the opposite of that. You don’t have to buy into UZR or any other kind of defensive metric to see that Wells holds a significant advantage with the glove, and that you’d have to believe that Carp will outperform Wells by quite a bit at the plate to offset the difference in defensive value.
So, why the disparate opinions on which of the two has earned a regular spot in the 2012 line-up? It seemingly comes down to what fans saw with their own eyes, and perhaps more precisely, Carp’s performance from July 19th (when he was recalled from Tacoma) to August 16th, when he hit .376/.411/.634 over 25 games. That stretch solidified the idea of Carp as the young power hitter the team had been looking for, and even the following 39 game stretch to close out the season where Carp hit .227/.268/.403 couldn’t take the shine off that one great month.
Interestingly, Wells performance in Seattle followed the same pattern, as he was a monster for the first 15 games after being acquired from Detroit (.333/.415/.649) and then fell flat on his face to finish the season (.067/.176/.156 in his final 15 games). Both players had boom and bust stretches, and they basically occurred at the same time, so we can’t really chalk it up to an issue of recent performance. Instead, it seems like Wells’ struggles in his final 15 games are looming larger in the idea of his future potential than Carp’s final 39 games are, and I have to be honest, I find that a little weird.
If you have two similar offensive players, but one is a good defender and one is not, why is there a preference for the inferior player? Personally, I think both are probably best suited to job-sharing next year, and I’d pencil each of them in for 300-400 plate appearances in an ideal circumstance, but I am left wondering why there’s such a vast difference in perception between the two.