Rounding The Bases: Rickie Weeks | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

Rickie Weeks has taken one on the chin from fans in 2013.

Welcome to Rounding the Bases, a weekly column where writers Ryan Topp and Steve Garczynski participate in a discussion on one baseball topic. You can follow @RyanTopp and @SteveGarczynski on Twitter.

Steve Garczynski:

Do you know what is the worst statistic? Batting Average. We’re told as children that a .300 hitter is good and all opinions are formed from that baseline. Then later on, the Mendoza line was created and we as fans could laugh at any player who was a .200 hitter and the epitome of a bad player.

And now we sit here, six weeks into the 2013 season and Rickie Weeks is again off to a slow start with a batting average under .200. It sends fans into a tizzy because he was the number two overall draft pick in 2003 and was supposed to win batting titles.

If you read the John Sickels prospect write-up from 2003, Weeks was going to be a star.

Scouts say that Weeks is a five-tool player…Hitting for average: Weeks, Mr. Batting Title, certainly does that. Hitting for power: Although he’s not a home run monster, scouts think he’ll have the power to hit at least 20 homers in a season, with lots of doubles and triples. Controlling the strike zone: Weeks drew plenty of walks in college, with few strikeouts.

That sounds about right. For a guy just starting his career in Low-A, he was off to a good start, but still had a ways to go. Weeks was moved aggressively through the minors and went right to Double-A the next season. The Sickels scouting report was still positive, but there were some minor issues that seem familiar now.

The negative markers in Weeks’ numbers this year are slippage in his power production and an increase in his strikeout rate. On the other hand, his overall OPS of .773 was six percent better than the Southern League average, not outstanding obviously but not as bad as it may look on the surface. Positive markers include a still-decent walk rate, and the large number of doubles he hit.

His numbers for that season in Huntsville: .259/.366/.407. That should look familiar to Brewers fans. They’re good numbers for a second baseman and disappointing for a future batting champ. There had been a slow climb in Weeks’ production in the majors until a brutal start to 2012 where it looked like he couldn’t get past his ankle injury from the season before.

In the second half of 2012, he hit .261/.343/.457 and it looked like he was back on track. Then 2013 happened and Weeks again couldn’t get going at the plate. The pressure mounted as players like Yuniesky Betancourt popped eight home runs in the first six weeks of the season.

All of the issues and fan disappointment came to a head when Ron Roenicke first dropped Weeks to seventh in the order for Wednesday’s game against the Rangers, and then pulled him in a double switch after going 0-3. Former first round pick, nine year starting second baseman, and now the bench. Does Weeks really deserve this?

Ryan Topp:

Frankly, no, he doesn’t. Especially the decision to move him down for Lucroy, whose seasonal numbers are only marginally better than Weeks and who has actually been quite a bit worse over the past 10 days. The timing of that move didn’t make much sense, almost like Roenicke just got sick of being asked about it and wanted a break from hearing the questions or something. Not that lineup order it super important, but I can’t fathom a rationale behind that particular move.

Getting back to your point about Weeks and batting average, I really think that’s a big part of it. Weeks never carries high batting averages and strikes out a lot. For those who judge players with batting average as the number one data point, and those that can’t stand strikeouts, Weeks was never going to be a popular player. When he’s “good” he’s only modestly successful in those areas, and when he’s bad, those are the areas that suffer the most, at least at the plate.

It’s no coincidence that, when it comes to Weeks, the division in the fan base basically form along “new school” and “old school” lines. People for whom the book Moneyball was a wonderful revelation look at Weeks and see the walks, HBP’s, and power from a middle of the diamond position. People that didn’t have much use for the book are going to look at Weeks and see the strikeouts and low batting average.

Add it all up, and Weeks becomes a divisive figure, with people seeing in him what they what they value in a player. At this point, I’m really not sure what there is to do with Weeks but to just ride it out with him. What would you do at this point?

Steve Garczynski:

You know what? I’m fine with Roenicke moving Weeks down in the lineup until he reestablishes his level of performance. Bat him eighth, let him draw walks in front of the pitcher and he can just work on getting on base at the bottom of the lineup. Weeks has shown that even when he gets off to a slow start, he can still put up the numbers that we expect for at least 3-4 months, and those months are really valuable.

Who do you think is going to be the better player from now to the end of the season, Rickie Weeks or Yuniesky Betancourt? I’d put my money on Weeks. ZiPS also picks Weeks, projecting him to hit .243/.338/.418 for the rest of the season versus Betancourt’s .264/.290/.447. That projection is even giving Yuni’s power spike a little staying power since he’s really a career .395 slugger.

Roenicke has every right to take advantage of the Great YuniB Power Surge of 2013. You mentioned the Lucroy fetish up above and that’s what’s odd about the current lineup experiment. Over the last 10 games, Lucroy’s hit .219/.257/.250, where Weeks has hit .242/.375/.394. I’m guessing there are some advanced analytical people, or at least a guy with the internet working for the Brewers, so why would they let something like this happen?

Ryan Topp:

Yeah, the Weeks and Lucroy thing really is a mystery. Either the don’t have that guy giving the manager recent trends to work with, or something we can’t see is going on behind the scenes. Well, or this was a one time thing and we’re wasting tons of time talking about something that was just a whim move from the beginning.

As for Yuni B and Weeks, ideally that situation will resolve itself before Hart returns and makes it an actual issue. If Weeks consolidates the gains he’s made over the last few weeks and Yuni goes back to being, well, Yuni, it’s not an issue. If Ron wants to play Yuni every once in awhile at second once Hart comes back, that’s fine. Really, though, I see him more as a defensive replacement late in games for Ramirez and a pinch hitter. If somehow, against all logic, Yuni is able to continue his hot streak another month plus then this is really a good problem to have.

More immediately, I think we need to address the Scooter Gennett issue. He is sort of the evil twin of Rickie, at least when it comes to offense. He’s currently batting .340/.378/.398 at AAA Nashville. Those numbers surely appeal to batting average aficionados, but when you look deeper into them they point to limited upside. Even if we charitably assume that he’ll hit .300 right off the bat, once you account for some slippage in walk and XBH rates you’re looking at an on base somewhere around .320 and a slugging somewhere around .330 or .340. If that’s his reasonable upside at this point, it’s not that much better than the “nightmare” .301 and .291 that Weeks has put up in those categories so far.

As JP said on our most recent podcast, making the move to Gennett would mostly be about making people feel better that a change has been made rather than actually be improving the team. I know it’s not popular on the pages of the Journal Sentinel, but I really don’t see any other option than to stick with Rickie for a good while longer.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Hunter says: May 10, 2013

    Thanks to the both of you for offering some of the only rational discussion about Rickie Weeks slow start and the gnashing of teeth over it. I have grown very tired of the local mainstream’s media coverage of Weeks. If I have to hear or read anymore commentary to banish Weeks to the bench (or even more foolishly to try and send him to the minors) and start some combination of Yuni B, Scooter or Alex Gonzalez at second, I really might lost it. I’m very thankful that Disciples of Uecker is here to provide non reactionary, intelligent Brewer fans a venue to follow their favorite team. Looking forward to the next podcast, Ryan.

    • Ryan Topp says: May 10, 2013

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Bob says: May 10, 2013

    While i agree that at times a walk is as good as a hit – it’s now been expanded to a walk is as good as a home run. Rickie Weeks simply does not hit with runners on base – but his low RBI stats are passed over. If you have runners on 2nd & 3rd and two outs we count a Weeks walk as just as valuable as a Betancourt Home Run. That’s silly. Stats don’t take into account coming through in the clutch. If Weeks strikes out twice with runners on 3rd base and one out…but then walks twice -he has a better night that Yuni who gets a hit with the runner on third and goes 0 for 3 the rest of the night. That’s a stat fact and it’s a great way to lose a lot of ball games. Give me a player who produces with runners on over the player who walks instead of delivers.

    • Steve Garczynski says: May 10, 2013

      If you like RBIs, then you have to acknowledge the flipside, and the fact is that Weeks is second on the team in runs scored behind Carlos Gomez. He may not knock every guy on base in, but when he’s on base, he comes around to score a lot. His base running tends to get overlooked when in reality it adds a lot of value.

    • Ryan Topp says: May 10, 2013

      Thanks for reading, Bob. Neither Steve nor I would dream of arguing that Weeks has been better than Betancourt to this point. Similar OBP’s and Yuni has 8 home runs to Weeks 2. Clearly, Yuni has hit better. What I would argue is that Weeks is very likely to be better from here going forward. There is quite a bit of history on both players, and nearly all of it suggests that Weeks is likely to get a lot better and Yuni is likely to not continue this pace. Not a guarantee, but if you’re betting, Weeks > Yuni from here forward is a pretty easy bet to make.

      • Bob says: May 11, 2013

        Thanks for responding. My problem with Weeks has more to do with his manager. Weeks is an ideal #8 hitter. He loves to walk and will get a lot of options batting 8th. He’ll then be on base for the top of the order. And yes, he is a good base runner so batting eight makes perfect sense. A free swinger like Yuni will slump in the 8 hole because he’ll swing at the bad pitches he’ll get…Ricky will walk. He also needs a day off once in a while. Yet Roenicki won’t do it because Ricky doesn’t want to. He did the same thing with Axford and it caused the fans to boo Axford (which I would never do) and now they are booing Weeks. Roenicki is a great bench coach, but until he grows a pair and treats all his players equally, the Brewers won’t win. Our fear in Milwaukee is that he will eventually put Weeks at 2 and drop Segura – even though in 10 years in the bigs, Weeks has never learned to bunt or even hit and run. But people who only look at on base percentage and refuse to look at other stats like hitting in the clutch will love it. thanks again

        • Scott says: May 11, 2013

          Completely agree, Bob. I cringed early on in his career when he was leading off or hitting #2. He just doesn’t fit that profile, top-of-the-order hitter.
          What really strikes me as interesting for this article on Weeks is that there is no mention of his defense… at all… It’s one thing to have your bat make up for below-average defense, it’s another when you’ve never improved defensively and now your hitting goes into the toilet. It’s been 10 years since he was drafted and called up to the big leagues. He’s approaching his 31st birthday and it seems like we’re still all channeling Cubs fans as if “This is the year! Rickie will finally break out!” And it’s just not going to happen. Now we’re just waiting for him to return to “form” and all that is is just being a .250 hitter. Makes more $$ than Braun and we’re waiting for him just to hit a few points under league average. What’s even more frustrating as a Brewers fan is that Roenicke will sit Gomez or Aoki for a day if they were slumping to think about things and regroup but Weeks will always “play out of his slump”… it’s extremely frustrating. I love Jean Segura and he’s performed beyond expectations at SS, but I really feel Buster Olney is correct when he said that Segura is more of a natural 2B and I’m hoping that in the future, the Greinke trade won’t be known for filling the hole we had at short, but for finding Rickie Weeks’ replacement…

          • Bob says: May 13, 2013

            I don’t know why any Brewers fan would hope that a SS who is currently hitting 359/406/588 and fielding his position well enough to play every day would lose that fielding ability to the point where they need to move off the position.

          • Steve Garczynski says: May 13, 2013

            Weeks has never been nor will ever be above average in the field, but I don’t think his glove has been an issue. A quick scan of his fielding numbers on Fangraphs and Baseball Reference generally support that he’s passable, though his did struggle last year, probably due to recovering from his ankle injury.

            It’s extremely unlikely that the Brewers would move Segura to 2B as a Weeks replacement. He may move their eventually, though it would probably happen because the Org. has a prospect that is ready to take over as a better defender.

  3. Nick says: May 12, 2013

    Biggest problem with Weeks: his salary. According to that interactive tool that the LA Times made and that was posted on this website, Weeks is tied with Lohse as the highest payed player in 2013 for the Brewers. That money could be used elsewhere for a team whose pitching rotation has been terrible lately.

    • Steve Garczynski says: May 13, 2013

      Weeks isn’t making over $11.5M at any time during his contract. The Brewers haven’t really signed anyone to a sinkhole extensions since most are reasonably modest. No club will ever have a payroll that perfectly reflects the value of production on the field.

  4. Ryan Topp says: May 13, 2013

    Scott,

    I think Steve’s point up top is really good and bears repeating: Batting average is a terrible stat. The fact of the matter is that team batting average doesn’t correlate very well with how many runs they score through history. Both SLG and especially OBP are much better gauges of how many runs a team will score. Batting average is a relic, and when it’s used to judge players, it’s going to lead you astray. Weeks is a perfect example of this point. The things that actually matter, getting on base and hitting for power, Weeks is solid even when bad and well above average when good. Dismissing him as a “.250 hitter” is missing the aspects of value that actually matter.

    As for his defense, it’s factually incorrect to say it didn’t improve. It did. All the advanced metrics reflect this. As Steve said, it’s never been above average, but it’s been playable at 2B for a guy who brings what he does offensively to the table most years.

    • Scott says: May 13, 2013

      I understand batting average is not the be-all and end-all when determining the true value of a player. But Rickie Weeks is a prime example of the small “flaws” that Moneyball and sabermetrics misses on. I get that he’s taken his fair share of walks and that’s great, it shows that his OBP isn’t completely batting average-dependent like a Carlos Gomez, but when you’re batting below .200, even WITH a ton of walks, your OBP isn’t that great. We’re talking about Rickie Weeks’ ability to get on base and he has an OBP of .300 You gotta be kidding me right now. And I’m not quite up to par on my knowledge of some of the advanced fielding stats (I still don’t quite understand defensive runs saved, UZR, range factor, etc.) but what exactly HAS Weeks improved upon? The way I’ve seen it (at least this season) his glove single-handedly has cost us 2 games this year. I love sabermetrics and I do believe it is a better indicator of player value and talent, however there are just some intangibles that no statistic will be able to pick up on. There are two things about Weeks that if I was a scout would immediately make me ensure that the organization I worked for stayed away from him… every ground ball that he has to range to his left and that god-awful batting stance. I’m not even talking about the Gary Sheffield popping of the bat that he does (which is still annoying as heck) but I’m talking that hands-down-near-his-belt, back elbow lowered stance. You know, the stuff you were taught in little league NOT to do…
      And for the record, I do not wish that Segura is moved to 2B if he continues to play like he is. I’m just more of a Rickie Weeks hater that much that I’d rather the Brewers draft a solid SS and develop him so when Weeks finally no longer wears a Brewers uniform, they can just move Segura over and not have to dip into FA for a replacement. Not that it’s hard to replace Weeks at this point… ;) hehehe

    • Steve Garczynski says: May 14, 2013

      I wouldn’t say that sabermetrics miss on Weeks. Baseball Reference has his WAR at -0.9, Fangraphs -0.5 and Baseball Prospectus -1.1. He’s measured at -2.3 to -5 runs below average in the field too. We’re not arguing that Weeks hasn’t been bad so far this year, just that moving forward the Brewers are most likely better off waiting for Weeks to pull out of this funk because he can provide better than average production for a second baseman for 3-4 months.

      Now Weeks is signed for 2014, with a vesting option for 2015 if he reaches a plate appearance threshold. If he gets off to another awful start, it’s in the clubs best interest to keep him off the field enough that they don’t have to pick up that option. Weeks is right at that age where production starts to decline, and that does traditionally hit second baseman pretty hard.

      As far as batting stance is concerned, that’s a thing you teach kids to get their mechanics in sync for their swing. The stance doesn’t actually mean very much as long as you’re able to get your bat moving through the hitting zone appropriately. Anthony Rizzo is a young guy who has a similarly relaxed stance, and Robinson Cano is another guy who doesn’t have one of those rigidly locked stances either.

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