The Rickie Weeks Test | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

For the last two months, I’ve Googled “Biogenesis MLB” about once daily. The MLB’s most recent labor scandal is particularly interesting because some of the names are not connected to PEDs, and allegedly had their names cleared (Gio Gonzalez was the first, and most notable, dropped from the alleged list). Further developments include false connections or allegations (most recently involving Robinson Cano), a lawsuit filed by the MLB against Biogenesis (an anti-aging specialist will apparently be deposed tomorrow), an interesting corroboration of Ryan Braun‘s claims from Anthony Bosch himself, and of course, parties from both ownership and labor purchasing documents from Biogenesis. If the lack of media heat on this story makes it feel like it’s disappeared, it hasn’t, although the progression of events certainly adds enough shady dimensions to make potential PED-use look somewhat less reprehensible than one might expect (purchasing evidence certainly is an interesting twist in MLB’s testing era). Surely, MLB fans are so hungry for PED justice that they won’t mind if some of the game’s stars are suspended on the basis of purchased documents or suspect evidence. Welcome to baseball’s testing era — if MLB fans don’t particularly care if their team’s stars use PEDs (or, at least, aren’t suspended for doing so), MLB itself desperately wants fans to flock to the game for their rigorous testing (as opposed to, say, the veracity of their umpiring calls or the pace of game). The upshot of rigorous testing is that fans can flock to the game for the character of the players.

Whenever I think about the idea of fans being drawn to the game for clean players and upright characters, I think about Rickie Weeks. Lately, collecting my thoughts on the many angles of Organized Baseball’s attack on PEDs, I devised a test: “The Rickie Weeks Test.” Since the Brewers’ franchise second baseman is lately struggling at the plate, some of the most interesting corresponding information about Weeks’s work ethic and approach to the game has come from the Brewers’ broadcasters and writers. These accounts of Weeks’s hard work and dedication to the ballclub is absolutely the type of character-based information that fans should devour (if not only to have our minds blown, “baseball players have to do THAT to prepare for games?”). Specifically, I noticed that as Weeks’s struggles continue, everyone from General Manager Doug Melvin to broadcaster Joe Block tout Weeks’s approach off the field. “The Rickie Weeks Test” is simple, and it occurred to me as a way to uphold the character of a player in the midst of a difficult stretch. I formed the test as a straightforward question: “If fans are serious about the character of their hometown players, moreso than their results, they will love and support Rickie Weeks.” This is the test that corresponds to baseball’s hardline approach against PEDs.

Weeks has always been one of my favorite Brewers. Perhaps some of it comes from writing articles defending him for years; it’s almost as though the story of Weeks’s career is the story of how others shaped expectations that Weeks could not live up to. From the start, we heard about Weeks’s position in the draft, and how that should correlate to guaranteed superstardom; from the start, we heard about how Weeks’s tools would guarantee a multi-faceted approach on the field. Despite his power potential and hitting potential we heard about, the Brewers consistently employed Weeks as their lead-off batter, and he used his disciplined, patient approach to draw walks and get on base at any cost in that role. One could argue that other roles might have helped Weeks develop as an aggressive power hitter, or accentuate his power hitting skills more than his patience and discipline, but Weeks nevertheless used the leadoff role to become a productive player at 2B. Our first hint that we should love Weeks, as fans, was his work at a specific batting order role at the organization’s request. Weeks is, in many ways, a franchise Brewer, so much so that his role as a Brewers player was tied to a specific spot in the order.

Forget that entering 2013, Weeks boasted 4000 PA batting .251/.350/.429 with 130 HR and 116 SB. Weeks has typically been regarded as a high-character player since he entered the MLB. Stories of his workout regimen have been told throughout his career, as Weeks is known as one of the club’s “workout warriors” over the years. He’s a student of the game, specifically Negro League Baseball, and MLB.com consistently touts ties between the Weeks’ brothers and their Negro League grandfather. He’s a member of a baseball family, as his father devotes time to organizing a team in a Florida summer college league. He doesn’t shy away from issues of race and identity, and has spoken out about the negative experiences of racism on the field, as well as the positive impact of his decision to attend Southern University. Off the field, Weeks is a charitable player, and he is quite open about his faith as a ballplayer; earlier in his career, I even remember hearing that Weeks hoped to start a Gospel radio station. Furthermore, he’s close with his family, and many of his MLB.com features focus on that area of his life. Melvin’s recent praise cuts straight to the heart of the issue:

“Last April he hit .160 and .132 the month of May. But you just can’t keep saying you’re a slow starter. Guys do have streaks. You just hope he fights his way out of it. Rickie is a fighter. He’s the toughest player on our club.”

About the worst thing you can say about Weeks is that Negro League scholars have not found a record of his grandfather playing with Newark’s Negro League club. However, since he played toward the end of that franchise’s run, it is quite plausible that roster turnover, the focus on black players signing in the MLB and leaving the Negro Leagues, or changes in the franchise obscured official documentation of some of their ballgames. Certainly, this is not the type of scandal that will define a player during MLB’s testing era. (Anyway, that’s an issue suitable for a doctoral dissertation, rather than depositions, arbitration panels, and suspensions).

What’s quite interesting, during Weeks’s slump, is the urgency of articles about the “Weeks Situation.” I noticed this on my Facebook feed, for instance, where FSN Wisconsin articles pop up with specific takes on how to handle the slumping veteran. I noticed this while checking out JSOnline’s Brewers section, where news articles and commentary alike address the issue of Weeks’s production. With the club struggling overall, other storylines come to the forefront, and it’s interesting to see how vigorously the Brewers’ broadcasting and press corps defend Weeks; there’s a definitive split between fans’ attitudes about Weeks and press attitudes about Weeks. What becomes clear is that our experience of Weeks as a fanbase is not connected to the work that Weeks does everyday to prepare himself as a Brewers player; of course, we cannot possibly know what goes on in the clubhouse unless someone else tells us, and it’s quite clear that for that reason, those connected with the organization have formed different opinions of Weeks than the fans. We often forget that this is a job for ballplayers, but surely we can understand from our own experience the benefits of working with people that never quit, or maintain strong character, even during the tough times. (If any of us haven’t experienced that, we should either count our blessings for such an easy path, or note the rarity of hard work through tough times).

This outlines “The Rickie Weeks Test,” for from fan attitudes we can learn about fan expectations. We can also learn what fans want to see on the field. Ultimately, of course, the easy answer is that fans want winning. Fans don’t necessarily care about the character of their winning players so long as they’re winning. Perhaps that was the greatest shock that accompanied reports of Ryan Braun’s alleged failed test; that report didn’t invalidate our experience of winning, or our experience of Braun’s abilities and success on the field, so much as it planted uncertainty about the future. There was always a chance, in our minds, I think, that Braun might not always be the greatest player in the National League; however, the reports about his alleged failed test arguably planted doubts in our minds about how we might experience the face of the franchise’s successes and failures going forward. Make no mistakes about it, Braun is our guy; this set of labor issues involving Braun doesn’t affect our support for him as a Brewers player, which I find to be an interesting counter to MLB’s assumptions about the testing era.

In the testing era, as other eras, fan attitudes about baseball players are not cut along moral lines. Certainly, we can be presented with productive, upstanding citizens on our rosters, and still not support those players, or still uphold their flaws over their strengths, or simply ignore the good that they have done the franchise in order to uphold our own narrative (in Weeks’s case, fans write the, “he could have been so much more” narrative, or, the “he never lived up to his draft pick” narrative. This has been the case for years, even during some of Weeks’s successful seasons). Oddly enough, even when presented with what MLB so clearly defines as a villain, fans won’t outright reject those villains, even for all the labor scandals that MLB can pin on that player’s shoulders. Fan loyalty, in that regard, is connected to something else, something outside of character or individual success.

As for Weeks, I challenge Brewers fans to support Weeks as we support Braun. What I find rather interesting is that fans can have no problem jumping to support every potentially exonerating detail in Braun’s labor cases (which is a good thing), while not drawing from Weeks’s vast collection of personal strengths and character traits to support him during his slump. Braun’s labor issues occurred off the field, and never corresponded with declining production, so perhaps it’s easier for us to draw from his clear-cut, on-field success to support him than it is to submerge ourselves in murky, internal details of character to support a player during a slump. In a way, this whole idea is naive on my part; a slump is a slump, and we only like players so long as they are good (“support a player during a slump!? This is baseball! You must be crazy!”). This truth slices deeper than most, when defining the fan experience of baseball, and it’s remarkable that throughout MLB’s testing era, we still do not find the character of our favorite players to be the defining aspect of our support.

RESOURCES:
JSOnline. Journal Sentinel, Inc., 2013.
MLB Advanced Media, L.P., 2013.

Other sources cited as linked into article.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Bob Hale says: May 16, 2013

    OK, I get it. Ricky is a good guy. Also, Ricky is getting paid $10M + to play baseball and is hitting a buck eighty. Wouldn’t it make sense for Roenicke to give him a couple of days off each week and play Yuni or Bianchi until Ricky begins to show signs of improvement? Hey, I love Ricky but I don’t believe his current productivity warrants every day playing status.

    • Bob M says: May 16, 2013

      Rickie is not a player you can judge by his AVG. He takes a ton of walks, even when he is hitting poorly, which ultimately gives him adequate results. That sub-200 AVG comes with a 300+ OBP.

      Yuni – no. He is currently on a 2-26 streak, but the more concerning part is his sub-.200 OBP in May (1 BB in 49 AB). That hot spell is over, though it was nice while it lasted.

      Bianchi – no, because the current poor-hitting version of Rickie is still better. If you don’t like Rickie’s 187/306/299, I don’t know why you would prefer Jeff’s 188/230/348 he managed last season in equivalent playing time.

      • Ross B says: May 16, 2013

        Because some people just want someone different.

      • Bob Hale says: May 16, 2013

        Well, I might take Yuni because he has hit more home runs and has driven in more runs in fewer at bats. Also, perhaps, Yuni is in a little slump and, like Ricky, MAY play his way out of it. I might take Jeff because he MAY produce if given more at bats. Would you, at least, agree that hitting Ricky eighth might make some sense? For sure, we can’t go too far wrong by trying something different.

        • rick says: May 16, 2013

          The Bianchi comparisons don’t hold water. He has never been given extensive starting playing time to show what he can do with regular at bats.

        • Bob M says: May 16, 2013

          Given our situation at 1B until Hart comes back, Yuni should receive plenty of playing time. If he turns it back around we revisit the Yuni-vs-Weeks debate at 2B. If he doesn’t, he’s the new utility IF – which should still get him a few games per week.

          I probably wouldn’t drop Weeks to 8th. He’s still hitting better than Lucroy (now THAT is a disappointing season with relatively little discussion). Yuni-vs-Weeks at 6th? I think its a tossup.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 16, 2013

      I think overall, there’s no reason to assume that swapping playing time shouldn’t be considered. It’s just a rather difficult decision when your 2B options aren’t hitting throughout the roster.

      As for the “Rickie is a good guy” idea, I think that we need to take seriously the idea that because Weeks works hard, the organization approaches his situation a particular way. Obviously hard work doesn’t make up for lack of production, but I think it clearly helps to explain why the Brewers make specific decisions to play Weeks.

  2. rick says: May 16, 2013

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. While working hard at your craft unfortunately puts you ahead of other major leaguers, I’m not sure it’s reason to laud Weeks. As Bob stated above, dude makes $10M plus to play a game and we are going to praise/admire him because he puts extra work in? I think this should be assumed.
    As for Weeks, he is in the same spot as Axford, there are very few opportunities to boo Roenicke so they take the brunt of it, ala my booing of Gagne while Yost refused to remove him from the closers role years ago.
    The fact of the matter is Weeks is not performing up the level that he has accepted pay for. How many streaks of sub major league performance should be supported?
    Lastly, with all this hard work what exactly is keeping him from being a replacement level defensive player? My answer would be concentration, which is certainly under his control.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 16, 2013

      I think that regarding Weeks’s contract, his service time should be considered; too. Given that Weeks signed an extension beyond his arbitration years, his $10 million contract is as much for service as it is for production (much the same reason free agent, low rotation pitchers can earn $10+ million, too).

      I would be interested to know how much Weeks’s injuries have affected his ability to effectively defend. I think he had some high ceilings for range when he first started at 2B, and for a while, his range made up for some of his mistakes; there’s even good record of him improving around his 3-5th years. I think there’s a whole host of issues there that could influence his fielding.

  3. Bob M says: May 16, 2013

    Much like Axford, there is a lot of over-the-top hyperbole about Weeks. For both players, I think it is because we saw what they were capable of at their peak. Now that they have fallen off that peak, people naturally assume it is time to replace them.

    With Weeks in particular, I think a lot of it stems from his style as a hitter. He accumulates a lot of walks and strikeouts due to his patient nature at the plate. He would rather not swing, than swing at a pitch he can’t drive. Because he doesn’t have the power of, say, Curtis Granderson, people aren’t willing to accept that style of player.

    Consider this: even with his sub-200 AVG, Rickie leads all second basemen in BB%. Looking at all MLB players, he ranks 13th. While it would be nice for him to get a few more hits, or drive in a few more runs, he still provides some value with how frequently he is getting on base.

    • Bob Hale says: May 16, 2013

      Come on, are you telling me that Ricky strikes out because he is so picky that he only swings at pitches he can “drive”? I’m no batting coach, but I would suggest he start swinging at some pitches he can HIT. Lucroy is hitting 40 pints higher than Ricky and has more HRs and RBIs in fewer ABs…..bat him 7th after Yuni and bat Ricky 8th until Hart returns, then drop them one spot and sit Ricky a couple times each week until he “recovers”. I love Ricky but we must have more production out of our second baseman.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 16, 2013

      I think the “don’t swing at pitches you can’t drive” is absolutely an approach in contemporary MLB. There was recently a feature somewhere (sorry, I forget where right now) on Joey Votto that noted the same issue; he takes flak for his refusal to swing at HIS pitch, too.

      Weeks’s plate approach is designed around patience / discipline, and that’s just one way of doing things; there’s not necessarily a right way to go about approaching the plate, for we can find strong and weak hitters in the contact-oriented, undisciplined, and disciplined camps.

      • Bob Hale says: May 16, 2013

        Good discussion. Let’s root for Ricky to produce and make this issue moot.

      • Keith says: May 17, 2013

        Comparing Ricky Weeks and Joey Votto….lol!

      • Nicholas Zettel says: May 17, 2013

        In terms of production, obviously Votto does not compare to Weeks. In terms of approach, he just faced exactly the same issue Brewers fans are analyzing here.

        The basic point is, regardless of production level, there are players that can have similar approaches. Vlad and Yuni are both contact hitters, for instance, but obviously that doesn’t mean Yuni is as good as Vlad. One can separate commentary on similar plate approaches from commentary on production.

        • Keith says: May 17, 2013

          Not sure i quite follow that logic. Players with his service time are paid and evaluated for production, not their approach. I guess that begs the question then, how can the same approach produce such drastically different results?

          Vlad/Yuni? Yuni is bashed on this site constantly for his overall production levels. In that regard, shouldnt Rickie be bashed for not producing as much as Votto? They have the same approach?

        • Nicholas Zettel says: May 17, 2013

          Their production isn’t the point for this comparison; the comparison was made because of the discussion of Weeks’s swinging / taking pitches approach.

          There should be no question, again, that their production is not similar. The point is that we can use Weeks’s plate approach to explain why he does / does not swing; outside of his production, his type of approach is simply one of many in the MLB. In this thread, the issue was whether or not Weeks’s strike outs are due to his pickiness, for instance; one way to explain that area of his game is due to the discipline/patience approach at the plate.

  4. Nicholas Zettel says: May 16, 2013

    By the way, thank you for reading and commenting, everyone!

  5. Dan V says: May 16, 2013

    Still having one of the fastest bats in the league and still taking walks, is Ricky’s hand eye beginning to tail off or is this just a prolonged slump? He looks lost out there, I feel bad, but at what point do you begin sitting him more? I don’t have the answer, I just want to see the line drives return.

    • Dustin says: May 17, 2013

      I think the swinging at pitches he can drive argument loses credibility when you watch him take first pitch strikes down the middle and wiff on (almost every time) on the low and away breaking stuff. His footwork has gotten worse. You can’t drive the ball when your back foot is off the ground. Situational hitting he is even worse at. Not to mention his fielding, which looks like a real wart now that he mostly K’s and hits into double plays.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 17, 2013

      I think the mechanical points are important to contrast with Weeks’s approach; it should be clear, in some regard, that his mechanics help to explain why he can recognize the strike zone without turning his approach into hits.

      On the watching pitches point, I think that’s a valid criticism, but one that is suited for a sizable percentage of contemporary MLB players. I’ve noticed this watching FOX games recently, that players simply lay off fastballs all the time now. In key situations, too; instead of swinging at fastballs in the zone, they’ll watch them. I don’t know how or why to explain this.

  6. John says: May 17, 2013

    So Rickie should be praised because he doesn’t swing at balls and when he swings at strikes he misses. So, in most cases, no matter who the batter is, a ball is a ball. So essentially, if I were to go up to bat and see all of the same pitches that Rickie is seeing and not take the bat off my shoulder I would walk at the same rate as he, right? I do not work hard and lift weight everyday. Would I get praised for having a .300 OBP because I take walks because I don’t swing? What does his work ethic have to do with him not hitting the ball…….ever? The fact is this, no matter what his OBP is, his average is horrible. Imagine what his OBP would be if he managed to MAINTAIN a respectable batting average of .240-.260. His OBP would be hovering around .400.

    Rickie WAS one of my favorite ball players and I defended him thru all the injuries. Its time for his tenure as a Brewer to end. Maybe he can reignite his career wearing different colors and I will be rooting for him.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 17, 2013

      I don’t think Weeks should be praised because he doesn’t swing at balls outside the zone; I think it’s simply a matter of analyzing his approach and trying to explain what’s going on. Some guys swing at pitches outside the zone and have great success (Aramis Ramirez is one such example), some guys swing outside the zone and don’t, and there are guys like Weeks who are patient, disciplined, and still struggle (Dunn and Uggla immediately come to mind).

      As for Weeks’s hard work, the two important points there are, (a) the Brewers run an organization, and as a workplace, one has to consider that there’s seeing a different side to Weeks than the fans are; and, the more difficult (some might say naive) point is that, (b) fans should use Weeks’s character traits as a basis to continue cheering for him, rather than turning on him. I know most won’t follow (b), but I think understanding (a) is absolutely crucial to understanding why Weeks continues to play.

  7. Seth M. says: May 21, 2013

    Rickie got on base and scored last night!!! It’s a miracle!!!!

    • Nicholas Zettel says: May 21, 2013

      At the risk of being a kill-joy, scoring runs has not been Weeks’s problem; driving in runs, that’s another story.

      • Seth M. says: May 21, 2013

        Or getting the bat on the ball in general?

  8. DC says: May 27, 2013

    I am so sick of hearing what a hard worker he is. His fielding is awful and has always been awful. So if he works so hard why isn’t his defense any better. And if he is so charitable maybe he will give half of his salary back.

  9. DC says: May 27, 2013

    By the way, I’m a nice guy, hard worker, love my mother, charitable, have high morals, etc etc. That doesn’t make me qualified to play second base or to be paid $10 MM.

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