Quarter Season Crisis | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Quarter Season Crisis

By on May 20, 2013

.215/.276/.339

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.

.615 OPS /.271 wOBA /68 wRC+

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 –

G HR R RBI SB AVG OBP SLG OPS wOBA wRC+ WAR
Rickie Weeks 41 3 19 10* 4 .175 .289 .280 .569 .264 62 -0.6
Jonathan Lucroy 35 3 9 17 1 .215 .276 .339 .615 .271 68 -0.1

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.

K% BB% BABIP
Rickie Weeks 29.5% 13.3% .242
Jonathan Lucroy 11.9% 6.7% .221

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.

 

RESOURCES:

GIF courtesy of Getting Blanked — Anatomy of a No-Doubter: Jonathan Lucroy vs Matt Cain

CORRECTIONS:

* An earlier version of this post inaccurately listed Rickie Weeks’ RBI total at 19. Thanks to “Lucas” for bringing this to my attention.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Nate says: May 20, 2013

    The big reason fans are frustrated with weeks but not lucroy is b/c of position. Catchers aren’t expected to have good batting numbers. Decent but not “good.” Catchers are given more of a pass on offense. And fans who know a little about baseball know that Lu is one of the better framers in the league and that he call a decent game behind the plate. Weeks doesn’t really even have the “good defender” or “demanding position” tag to apply to him. Hence he geta more heat when his bat production falls off.

  2. Joel says: May 20, 2013

    We can slice and dice stats all we want, but they don’t tell the entire story. One of the most telling stats is hitting with RISP. I don’t know the exact figure, and can’t find it anywhere right now, but I’m pretty sure it would be terrible for the Brewers thus far. Sure, we have two people in the tops for batting average, but it means nothing because when it comes to getting the guy from 2nd or 3rd home, they can’t do it. Then you look at a team like the Cards and they do it almost every time (which helps their pitchers not feel as much pressure to be perfect). And if that isn’t frustrating enough, we are starting to see breakdown in baseball fundamentals. Base running errors, poor run down execution, errors caused by lack of focus (i.e. Rickie dropping a fly ball allowing an inning to be extended). On the flip side, the Cards play solid, sound defense (again I think part of that is the pressure not to be perfect since they always seem to have 1-2 runs in their pocket at any time).

    • Joel says: May 20, 2013

      I also wanted to add, that we keep hearing that “it’s early, and it’s a long season”. I understand what they are saying, but in the same sense, every game counts, especially against teams in the central. A game now counts just as much as a game in August or September.

      • Adam Wieser says: May 20, 2013

        I agree with that point. They say you can’t win a pennant in April/May but you sure can lose one.

  3. Dustin says: May 20, 2013

    Lucroy is plus defender and Weeks is a negative.

  4. BrewersWorldSeries says: May 20, 2013

    Another article in defense of Rickie Weeks, what a surprise! All I know is I guarantee Weeks doesn’t hit that 2 RBI single that Bianchi did on Saturday to help us win late. Well all know what a stand up guy Weeks is and how incredibly hard he works, and how seriously he takes his performance at the plate and in the field. We’re reminded of that on a very regular basis on this website. But how much longer can we just keep saying “give him more time/ he’s having bad luck/ he’ll turn it around”, etc? I’ve given Weeks the benefit of the doubt for the last 2 years, and I’m pretty much done with that. As for Lucroy, it doesn’t help that Roenicke seems to keep starting Maldonado every 2nd or 3rd game lately (whereas Weeks has basically started every game this season). Give Lucroy his starts (which pretty much means catching everyone but Peralta), and I think his numbers will normalize. He is a pure contact hitter, not so much the case for Weeks these days. I don’t see how criticizing Lucroy’s numbers should make us feel any better about Weeks. Lucroy might not walk as much, or steal bases, but he will definitely strike out a lot less. Let’s not forget that Lucroy has basically been Mr. Clutch Hitter the last 2 seasons as well. I’m going to the game tonight and tomorrow, and if I don’t see Bianchi starting at 2nd for at least one of those, I will be very upset.

    • Bob M says: May 20, 2013

      I’m not sure you actually read the article

  5. Lucus says: May 20, 2013

    FYI Weeks has 10 rbi not 19 rbi. Lets not give credit were credit isn’t due.

    • Adam Wieser says: May 20, 2013

      Correction made and noted. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It wasn’t an attempt to talk up Weeks. Just accidentally copied his R total into the RBI box while building the table.

  6. Bob Hale says: May 20, 2013

    OK, I get it. Lucroy is struggling, too. However, Weeks is hitting .218 over the past two seasons and hitting less than .250 lifetime. Fellows, this is not a slump. This is Ricky. He is not a plus defender and he is not a good hitter. He is a nice guy and a hard worker. I don’t know if Bianchi, Yuni, or Scooter can do better but I would like to see them try. The BIG contract is sunk cost. Play the most productive players….Period.

    • Steve Garczynski says: May 20, 2013

      Weeks does not have a big contract. He signed a 4yr/$38.5 million that has a club option for 2015 if he reaches a 600 PAs in 2014 or 1,200 PAs in 13-14. That isn’t a huge deal for a veteran player who, when he signed, was in his prime coming off his best pro season, and then followed it up with another excellent season before his ankle injury.

      Honestly I’m wondering if his body is letting him down at this point. He has an extensive injury history, he’s in his age 30 season and it’s his ninth year in Major League Baseball. Second basemen traditionally haven’t aged well and even if Weeks starts playing at the level we expect, I don’t know if those expectations will ever be reasonable for him in a 162 game season.

      • Bob Hale says: May 20, 2013

        OK, I guess $10M+ this year is not a big contract however, Ricky is the highest paid Brewer this year and represents about 12% of the Brewers’ 2013 payroll. And for this, they get a buck seventy batting average with poor slugging numbers and tons of strikeouts. Of course, he is a good guy and he does work hard.

  7. Doug says: May 20, 2013

    You can blame Weeks and Lucroy for their slow starts and the effect it has had on the team through the first 40 games. But I think those slow starts are offset to a degree by the successes of Segura and Gomez. What is truly killing this team is basic roster construction – the ‘youth movement’ with the starting pitchers has been a borderline disaster. Throw in one of the veterans – Gallardo – contributing with a 4.50 ERA etc. and that has been an absolute killer. Even though Lohse only has not won a lot – you have to wonder how much worse it would be without him pitching every five days.

    Additionally, first base has been an absolute black hole offensively this season. Bentacourt has come back to earth and Gonzalez has contributed nothing there offensively. Moldando hasnt hit well there either. Where do you think this team would be if Melvin would have had the foresight to drop a couple million on signing Mark Reynolds to back up at first and third? He knew Hart and Ramirez were injury prone. And now it sounds like Hart is going to miss about sixty games this season at least.

  8. Doug says: May 20, 2013

    BTW – Wouldn’t mind seeing Melvin take a flier on Daric Barton at this point. He was just DFA’ed by the A’s – slot him in at first until Hart comes back. He has had a couple of tough years but a career OBP near .360. Drew 110 walks a couple of years ago – I mean he is no Gonzalez/Bentacourt combo but let’s see what he has at this point.

    • Bob M says: May 20, 2013

      Melvin has had a lot of chances to grab a lot of low priced 1B. He passed on all of them, in favor of starting a no-offense SS there instead. I don’t think he’s going to chance his plan now, with Hart this much closer to returning.

      • Doug says: May 21, 2013

        Great:

        “In [Hart's] absence Brewers first basemen have hit just .200 with four homers in 42 games for a .560 OPS that ranks 28th among 30 teams…”

        • Doug says: May 21, 2013

          ….and Daric Barton passes through waivers and is back with the A’s triple A team. .421 OBP in the minors – glad we have that power platoon of Yuni and Gonzalez at first instead.

  9. Doug says: May 20, 2013

    We can blame Weeks and Lucroy all we want – but these number don’t lie:

    Gallardo 3-3/ 4.50 ERA/ 1.462 WHIP
    Estrada 3-2/ 5.44 ERA/ 1.422 WHIP
    Peralta 3-4/ 5.94 ERA/ 1.580 WHIP
    Burgos 1-2/ 6.58 ERA/ 1.500 WHIP

    In my opinion, that’s what is killing this team.

    • D Rock says: May 20, 2013

      No lie. 2 slumping batters (one of them over the Mendoza line) don’t explain being 8-10 games out of first. However, the 11 losses posted by those 4, that’s the reason of the season right there.

      On the other hand, the deplorable run production while Lohse is pitching is another 4 games right there.

    • Adam Wieser says: May 20, 2013

      All valid points, Doug. Your last name wouldn’t happen to be Melvin, would it?

      • Doug says: May 21, 2013

        Ha!

        I wish! If it was me I would have constructed this roster a bit differently for sure. Kudos to Melvin for remaking the bullpen. And maybe this ‘youth movement’ in the starting staff starts to pay dividends eventually….one certainly hopes. Or it is going to be a long couple of seasons here in Milwaukee….

    • Joel says: May 21, 2013

      Good point Doug. I went a head and did a little checking on Rick Kranitz’s history. Here are the major league teams he has been pitching coach for, and their team ERAs:

      2006 Florida Marlins: 4.37 (5th in the NL)
      2007 Florida Marlins: 4.94 (last in the NL)
      2008 Baltimore O’s: 5.13 (2nd last in AL)
      2009 Baltimore O’s: 5.15 (last in the AL)
      2010 Baltimore O’s: 4.59 (2nd last in AL)
      2011 Mke Brewers: 3.63 (7th in NL)
      2012 Mke Brewers: 4.22 (13th in NL)
      2013 Mke Brewers: 4.54 (last in NL)

      Anyone else spotting a pattern here? All the teams this guy has been pitching coach for are bottom halfers at best, and usually bottom feeders.

      • Doug says: May 21, 2013

        Yeah – that’s pretty scary. Though I am of the philosophy that major league ‘coaches’ don’t have a huge effect on wins and losses. (Besides Dave Duncan – that is a story unto itself.) I tend to believe that over the course of a season a team will generally play up or down to the overall level of its talent. Nonetheless, this track record coupled with the current results doesn’t exactly give me a warm fuzzy.

  10. Chad says: May 20, 2013

    It’s pretty funny/ironic that No.23 is on 2nd base in the GIF of Lucroy’s homerun :)

  11. Chris K says: May 21, 2013

    2hrs/4rbi of Rickie’s came in the games the Brewers bats destroyed an opposing pitcher. The pitchers even had hits those games. That tells you the lack of quality those pitchers had that day and then reverts Rickie’s Grand Line down to 1HR and 6RBI.
    Why doesn’t Lucroy get bashed? Maybe it’s because he has the 17RBI, Maybe it’s because he actually bats .281 with RISP. How about that .221BABIP? It’s a lot further away from League avg than Rickie’s and that just shows you how LITTLE Rickie can actually improve on his statlines. Think about it for a minute. Even with Rickie improving to a League norm BABIP he strikes out nearly 30% and has that 12+% BB rate. So 42% of his PAs he doesn’t even put the BIP. So what improvement he would get with a higher BABIP wouldn’t improve his BA much.
    Meanwhile Lucroy and his 18% of PAs that arent resulting in the Ball being put in play, A return to .290BABIP vs that .221 will be greatly noticed. Let’s put it in every 100PAs numbers.
    Rickie now: 14hits at .240BABIP at .290 turns to just under 17. 3more hits Which btw results in him peaking at .200BA Seriously 17hits in 100PAs with a 13.3% BBrate is .200BA folks at a .290BABIP. Rickie has no chance at being better than .220BA moving forward.
    Lucroy now: 18hits at .220BABIP at .290 turns to just under 24 or 6more hits.
    Sure it’s equal in an OB with Rickie’s BB Rate but how many BBs turn in to RBI? You need those Hits at clutch moments and Lucroy will continue to provide them.

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