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.
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?
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?
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?
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.