Last week, Prediction Machine released their forecasts of the 2013 baseball season. After running 50,000 season simulations, they predict the LA Angels will defeat the Washington Nationals in the World Series. Specifically, the Angels won the World Series 12% of the time. The Tigers and Nationals each won 10%. The Milwaukee Brewers won the World Series in 1% of their 50,000 simulations, putting them on the same statistical rung as the Red Sox, Orioles, and Indians.
Yet, as Doug Melvin suggested, no amount of statistical data paints the entire baseball picture. In 2012, Prediction Machine foresaw the Texas Rangers defeating the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series. Their 2012 simulations also projected a 90-72 record for the Crew. Somewhere, in all those simulations, had to be a few seasons where John Axford blew nine saves and the bullpen collectively blew 29. Even though the data told them it was not likely to happen, that’s exactly what we got.
For 2013, their data suggests that the Brewers will most likely finish around 78-84 and only made the playoffs in 16% of their simulations. They also named what two players had the biggest impact on the success of the Brewers’ 2013 season. Not surprisingly, the position player picked was Rickie Weeks. Which got me thinking, was Weeks’ painfully slow start to the 2012 season an anomaly or a harbinger of what’s to come?
Last year, the most common question I got from other baseball fans was, “What happened to Rickie Weeks?” After a first half that saw Weeks strike out 100 times in 350 plate appearances and post a slash line of .199/.314/.658, some fans felt this best summarized Weeks’ season. Yet, as we noted in last year’s round up, Weeks’ second half numbers lifted him to a league-average season at the plate. While Brewers fans expect more than “league-average” from Weeks, there’s no denying that his second half resurgence coincided with the Brewers. So I poured through Weeks’ stats to see what could account for such a disparity. And if it’s something a Brewers fan should worry about in 2013.
What first caught my eye was Weeks’ month of May. In 109 plate appearances, he struck out 37 times and sported a slash line of .132/.266/.497. Striking out 33.9% of the time will destroy anyone’s average. Just ask Russell Branyan and Mark Reynolds, both of whom have career strikeout rates just below 33% and are career .230 hitters. Luckily, Weeks’ strikeout rate declined during the season and even reached 19.2% over his final 135 PAs. He finished the 2013 season striking out in 25% of his PAs, which was 4% more than 2011 but only 2% higher than his career average. But, if Branyan and Reynolds could strike out at 33% clip and still hit .230, how did Weeks only hit .132?
Part of the answer is bad luck. Last May, Weeks’ BABIP was .189, a dramatic drop from his career .305 average. Now, BABIP can fluctuate wildly and for a variety of reasons, like the dramatic defensive shifts against Mark Teixeira that have kept his BABIP hovering around .250 the last three years. But, unlike Teixeira, Weeks sprays the ball to all fields and his monthly splits are much more volatile. For example, the month after Weeks staggeringly low .189 BABIP, it almost doubled to .323. So did Weeks’ luck also suddenly double? Maybe not…
BABIP is a stat that some contend hitters have more control over than pitchers. Normally, pitchers’ luck falls back to the league average. In contrast, hitters’ numbers fall back into a personal pattern. So does Weeks have one? If Weeks’ career BABIP is .305, is that what we can expect in 2013? Well, not exactly.
Typically, Weeks’ BABIP ends up in one of two areas —
- 2007 – .287
- 2008 – .277
- 2009 – .313
- 2010 – .332
- 2011 – .310
- 2012 – .285
If Weeks’ pattern holds true, and we average both extremes, his 2013 BABIP will either be around .283 or .318.
The factors responsible for each extreme, or as Dan Wade calls it “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Rickie Weeks”, can be endlessly analyzed and speculated upon. But through the BABIP spectrum, his monthly splits show that, if he has two unlucky months (.250 or >) over the course of a season, he’ll land around .283 but, if Weeks’ line drives find less gloves and more grass during the first few months of the season, he could be primed for a strong campaign.
Of course, that is if Weeks stays healthy. His monthly BABIP splits are more consistent in the second half of the season. With the only outliers below .250 being July of 2011, the month Weeks gruesomely twisted his left ankle at first base, and July of 2007, in which a May wrist injury messed with Weeks’ swing and required a rehab trip to Nashville.
Of course, last year, when my friends asked me, “What happened to Rickie Week?” I didn’t mention BABIP at all. I mentioned how the ankle injury seemed to be lingering. How he wasn’t driving the ball with the authority. How he struck out way too much.
And then I would tell my friends something about Weeks that most didn’t know. Weeks and Fielder where best friends. They started playing baseball together while growing up in Florida. In the minors, they were roommates and Prince a notorious snorer. The Brewers even punched both their tickets to the show in June of 2005. So, no matter, how tender the ankle was or how unlucky his BABIP, it also had to feel a little weird for Weeks to hold down the right side of an infield without Prince.
Considering all the factors above, some quantifiable and some not, it would seem that the first few months of 2013 are important to Weeks. Will he strike the ball with authority? Can he find enough holes in the defense to keep his BABIP above .250? If so, we could see a very strong season from a player, who at 29, is in his prime. According to Prediction Machine, Milwaukee’s playoff chances could hinge on it.
Check back Friday for Part 2. Focusing on Prediction Machine’s selection for the Brewers’ “Most Important Pitcher of 2013” – Mike Fiers.