Odds are, when Rickie Weeks finishes his tenure with the Brewers, Brewers fans will focus on disappointments. Weeks never quite lived up to the mythical potential fans supplied for him. Weeks’s injuries always seemed to interfere with his abilities just as he was turning a corner. He was instantly placed in a batting role — lead-off — that did not seem to suit his potential, but he served the role for the team and produced accordingly. His batting role and traits centered around secondary areas of the game that are not as glamorous as sheer AVG / HR / RBI bubblegum card splits. No matter how much Doug Melvin praised his work ethic and clubhouse presence, fans never seemed to like Rickie.
It is important to continually assess players’ careers in the environment of their league and team. For, although fans wonder why Weeks continues to get a chance at 2B, we can rely on Melvin’s comments and deduce that Weeks’s preparation and clubhouse presence guarantee him a job in Milwaukee (fans always have the easy job of judging players by their production, and never by what they bring to an organization). Similarly, even as fans focus on Weeks’s production, it is important to consider the role of 2B in the last decade of the National League. Frankly, Weeks kept his job in Milwaukee because 2B is one of the league’s weakest positions, and his potential (and actual production) was a strength for the Brewers.
In my last post, I made a comment about defensive determinism impacting how managers and teams construct their roster and batting order. Over the next week or so, I will investigate different areas and assumptions for this comment. Today, I will investigate fielding positions and offensive production. Hopefully this helps us grasp the front office’s vision for the club, as well as frame our judgment and understanding of production from specific positions.
Building Up the Middle
2B is the 6th best position in the National League from 2004-2013. In the first half of that decade, 2B flirted with the 5th spot and competed with CF for that spot; in general, 2B were average or better from 2004-2008.
In the last five years, this changed; 2B more solidly claimed the 6th spot, and was more frequently a below average position (2010, 2011, and 2012, specifically).
From these charts, we can see the importance of having someone like Weeks in an organization. At a relatively unproductive position, Weeks brought power potential, speed potential, and extreme plate discipline. We can also see that Melvin has aggressively maintained shortstop, catcher, and centerfield as relative positions of strength for the Brewers (this is especially true with the current core of Jean Segura, Carlos Gomez, and Jonathan Lucroy. When we’re tough on Segura’s potential and his rough finish in 2013, we need to remember that we’re judging him against the least productive position in the NL, and not the league as a whole).
It might seem counterintuitive, but I believe that “defensive determinism” can be deduced from the offensive strength of fielding positions. Specifically, that fielding positions maintain relatively stable and consistent batting production suggests that each position also serves a particular role or importance in the field. One can speak of the defensive spectrum, where the fielding positions move from the corners-to-the-middle of the diamond in terms of weak-to-strong defensive positions (or, in terms of defensive significance). Yet, if a person unfamiliar with baseball roster construction reviewed these charts, it would be easy for them to look at the place of each position on the chart and determine that each fielding position serves a specific role in the batting order and on the diamond. Simply stated, there is a reason that 1B, LF, and RF are the top offensive positions, and C, 2B, and SS are the worst offensive positions.
As an aside, judging batting order positions and their ranking in terms of OPS, managers consistently use the clean-up spot for their best or second-best hitter (the 3rd spot gets the other one, best or second-best), while a spot such as lead-off receives inconsistent attention from managers (or, the batting traits favored for that spot result in less consistent production):
|Year||Lead Off Rank||Clean Up Rank|
While considering the roles of defense in fielding positions, as well as their offensive production, Brewers fans also have a chance to re-evaluate Melvin’s performance. It’s easy to look at 2013′s first base debacle and argue that Melvin could have or should have handled first base replacements with a different strategy. However, one can also judge his trades and transactions according to production in the middle of the diamond. With Weeks, J.J. Hardy, Alcides Escobar, Gomez, Segura, Lucroy, and even Mike Cameron and (to some extent) Johnny Estrada, Melvin has consistently put the Brewers in a position to have productive bats in the middle of the diamond (and, in many cases, good defense, too). By contrast, this allows Melvin to address the corner positions on a case-by-case basis.
This is the other side of the “Brewers need a 1B” argument. While it may be frustrating that the Mariners overbid on Corey Hart and immediately knocked out a trade for another controllable 1B option, and it may be staggering to consider surrendering pitching for another 1B in a trade, one can argue that Melvin has properly constructed a roster by working from the middle outward. Furthermore, his recent roster construction shortcomings are more aligned with injury depth and suspensions, which are not necessarily in his control (for, what MLB club has the chance to withstand injuries or suspensions to their LF, 1B, and 3B starters, while also withstanding injuries to some of their top minor league depth options?). This may be a rosy judgment; someone might say, “sign Travis Ishikawa as a replacement” in response.
Given the scarcity of resources in the MLB (judging available players against payroll resources), each club needs some type of strategy to construct their roster. Given the Brewers’ situation, Melvin has consistently responded to the defensive spectrum and defensive determinism by building from the middle-to-the-corners (rather than, the corners-to-the-middle). From this point of view, the 2014 Brewers have the potential for a handful of solidly above average bats (for their position), if health and labor issues allow.
Around the Diamond and Back
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.