Traditional baseball fans know that this slash line is not a particularly good one. All three stats (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) are below the current league average.
Fans of baseball’s advanced metrics (Sabermetricians, statheads, Saberheads, nerds, number crunchers, or whatever you want to call us) know that this slash line is not very good either, and, also, below the current league average.
Hardcore Brewers fans might know that both of these meager slash lines don’t describe Rickie Weeks’ season — they describe Jonathan Lucroy’s.
Here’s a quick head-to-head comparison of Rickie Weeks’ and Jonathan Lucroy’s season, through both standard and advanced metrics. These numbers, courtesy of Fangraphs, are good through Saturday’s game in St. Louis —
With the Brewers off to a frustrating start, fan anger is rampant at Rickie Weeks for his early season struggles. Yet, Lucroy, whose numbers aren’t that much more impressive, seems to be flying under the radar.
Like many things in life, this may be a product of luck and good timing. Lucroy has had some shining moments, in 2013, to hang his hat on. His sacrifice fly in the season opener lead to a walk-off win, and the Brewers’ first opening day victory since 2008. Lucroy also hit a tenth inning go-ahead home run in St. Louis that gave the Crew a huge win, and began a nine-game winning streak. Lucroy also crushed a Matt Cain curve ball for a home run that prompted this memorable reaction –
Even though Lucroy has only hit three home runs, this year, two of them have been extremely memorable. Meanwhile, Weeks’ three home runs have been, well, just regular home runs.
Of course, a slumping Rickie Weeks looks very different from a slumping Jonathan Lucroy. Because of his high strikeout rate, when Weeks’ goes into a slump it’s easier to see him struggling, which I believe creates a more visceral reaction from fans.
As Weeks struggles, at the plate, we think of what Rickie could have done if he just put the ball in play. Yet, when we watch Lucroy hit into outs, we believe he’s unlucky. Never mind that Weeks has hit into his fair share of bad luck too. Of course, there’s more to BABIP than bad luck. Right now, it’s obvious that neither Weeks nor Lucroy are squaring up balls very well.
When Weeks and Lucroy are locked in, both of them can slap doubles to the right field gap in their sleep. In 346 plate appearances, last year, Lucroy hit 17 doubles — that’s a double 4.9% of the time. This year Lucroy has two doubles in 134 plate appearance – or a double at a rate of only 1.5%. This year, Lucroy is on pace to hit about five doubles, instead of 17, over the same amount of plate appearance.
But, you know what? I’m not here to rag on Lucroy. I don’t have a grand hypothesis that, if the Brewers could only get Lucroy going then, suddenly, their season will turn around. For as much as Weeks and Lucroy have disappointed, Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez have both exceeded expectations. Lucroy and Weeks might be “productively challenged,” right now, but neither of them were at the plate with the bases loaded and no outs during the 7th inning of Sunday’s game. That was Segura and Ryan Braun.
I wish I could shift through this mountain of Brewers’ stats and say exactly why this team isn’t playing better (or even achieving their Pythagorean W-L of 18-23). I wish I could explain exactly why David Freese turns into an All Star every time he plays the Brewers. Or why Kyle Lohse’s run support per game (2.1) is only half as much as any other Brewers’ starting pitcher. Because, right now, for every stat or trend not working in the Brewers’ favor, there’s an intangible element of the game that’s also not on their side.
For example, we all know the Brewers could pitch better. But the Brewers are 17-25 with a 4.57 team ERA while the Tampa Bay Rays are 23-20 with a 4.32 team ERA. Or, for the Saberheads reading, why the Brewers are 17-25 with a 4.29 FIP / 3.96 xFIP and the Rays are 23-20 with a 4.24 FIP / 3.76 xFIP. The difference doesn’t seem fair but it doesn’t have to be. It just is what it is.
Much like how it’s not fair that Weeks is singled out for his poor production while Lucroy isn’t. Sometimes the baseball gods bless a player with memorable home runs and sometimes they don’t. Not that I’m advocating for fans to shift some of their frustration onto Lucroy. Both Weeks and Lucroy are more aware of their on-field issues than any of us could dream. They don’t need to look at their batting average, or wOBA, to know they’re struggling. They’re living that struggle every single day.
So, while failure in baseball might be easy to quantify, it’s not always easy to explain. Traditional baseball fans will look at the difference between Weeks’ and Lucroy’s batting averages and say that Weeks, clearly, is having the worse season between the two. Saberheads will notice the smaller difference between their wOBA and say the disparity isn’t as great as their averages suggest. Brewers fan will look at both Weeks’ and Lucroy’s numbers and know that they are a small part of a bigger, team problem — losing 25 games during the first quarter of the season.
At that rate, it’s a stat no Brewers fan wants to project out over the rest of the season.
GIF courtesy of Getting Blanked — Anatomy of a No-Doubter: Jonathan Lucroy vs Matt Cain
* An earlier version of this post inaccurately listed Rickie Weeks’ RBI total at 19. Thanks to “Lucas” for bringing this to my attention.