Twitter Mailbag: Weeks, Betancourt, Winning Streak | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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

“My question. Have the Brewers ever had a worse clean up hitter than Rickie Weeks?”  —  @GeezerInSC

Many Brewers fans have complained about Rickie Weeks batting cleanup, mostly because he’s hitting 4-for-44 as the Brewers’ cleanup hitter this season. He has struck out 20 times hitting in the four-hole and has grounded into two double plays. Whatever way you slice it, Weeks has been a well below-average hitter at that spot in the batting order.

However, the question caught me a bit off-guard because it’s a wording that has been startlingly common amongst many Brewers fans. Have the Brewers ever had a worse cleanup hitter? That seems to indicate Weeks is a fundamentally poor baseball player, which is obviously not true. He’s two years removed from a six-win season and owns a career .343 wOBA — or .250/.349/.427 slash line, if that’s more your style. He clearly hasn’t been a terrible hitter throughout his career.

The question then must focus on his performance in the cleanup role. In his eleven games as a cleanup hitter this season, is he putting up the worst performance of a number-four hitter in Brewers’ history?

I didn’t make the search too granular because ten-game sample sizes don’t really say much about a player’s talent level, but I wanted to highlight a few single-season performances in the cleanup spot throughout franchise history.

Player Year PA BA OBP SLG
Franklin Stubbs 1991 130 .200 .285 .313
Greg Brock 1988 243 .189 .333 .276
Jeffrey Leonard 1988 128 .233 .273 .353
Ben Oglivie 1985 118 .238 .296 .327

While none of these performances are statistically as bad as Weeks’ current numbers hitting cleanup, it goes to show two things: (1) not every successful team must have a stud hitting cleanup all season (1991 and 1988 teams finished above .500), and (2) anything can happen in a small sample size. No one would likely venture to say Ben Oglivie is fundamentally a bad hitter — yet in only 118 plate appearances, he wasn’t effective as a cleanup hitter. The very next season, Oglivie posted a .294/.340/.384 slash line in 235 plate appearances in the number-four spot.

Rickie Weeks is really struggling at the plate right now. That’s clear. It’s not because he’s hitting cleanup, though.

“How much longer can Rickie [Weeks] bat cleanup and/or even be in the lineup? Scooter Gennett is raking.”  —  @TPanasewicz

While it’s frustrating to watch Weeks struggle at the plate in recent games, benching 30-year-old Rickie Weeks for 22-year-old Scooter Gennett wouldn’t be an upgrade for the organization for the remainder of the season. Weeks similarly struggled last spring before crushing the baseball for the vast majority of the year. From June to the end of the season, he hit .260/.344/.445 and compiled similar numbers to his career averages.

Players slip into slumps at times — and it’s uncomfortable when an extended slump comes at the beginning of the season — but players almost always emerge from the darkness and perform at career norms. Granted, it’s disconcerting that Weeks has experienced such bad slumps to start each of the past two seasons. It seems to be more coincidence than anything, though, as Weeks hasn’t historically performed worse than normal in the month of April.

As far as Scooter Gennett is concerned, it’s important to ask if he will perform better than Weeks from this point until the end of the season — not whether it would currently feel satisfying to make a change. Anytime a player is mired in a prolonged slump, it feels like anyone would be better. However, from this point through the end of the season, ZiPS projects Weeks will hit .247/.340/.433 with 19 home runs and 10 stolen bases.

Scooter Gennett wouldn’t bring that level of production, even if he did somehow hit near .300 as a 22-year-old rookie. He doesn’t walk enough or have enough power in his swing to come close to those projected numbers for Weeks.

And for those who argue Weeks cannot possibly come close to the quoted ZiPS projections, it’s important to remember what he did last season after putting together a putrid April and May. Brewers fans just need to outlast the storm and understand sunshine almost certainly lies on the other side. He has over 4000 plate appearances of proof.

“Many bloggers have treated Yuni B rather harshly. Why so much hate for someone who has done a reasonable job for the Brew Crew?”  —  @gbrilo

The distaste for Yuniesky Betancourt revolves around his poor historical performance — both at the plate and in the field. Moving him away from shortstop limits his defensive deficiencies, however, and he can provide some value to a big-league squad. He does offer occasional power, which is important in a bench bat who can also provide defensive flexibility.

Of course, his early season performance has been highlighted by a brief hot-streak, which has masked his overall performance at the plate. His .285 wOBA is still dreadful. He currently ranks 20th amongst qualified third basemen and 23rd amongst qualified first basemen. He’s a below-average offensive option for the Milwaukee Brewers anywhere on the diamond and especially at either infield corner.

Again, he’s being forced into a role for which he wasn’t cast. He was brought to Milwaukee to see a handful of at-bats off the bench until some of the Brewers’ players could get healthy and return from the disabled list. The massive amount of injuries, however, have thrust him into an everyday role at first and third. He’s below-average as an everyday player, which is likely where much of the anger comes from.

“What does the seven-game winning streak mean, particularly this early in the year? Can we really draw anything conclusive from it?”  —  @crichar3

Much like the Brewers weren’t as bad as they were playing through the first ten games, they’re not as good as they’ve been playing in the past seven games. They have benefited from timely errors and have also enjoyed some home cooking against a mediocre Giants club and a really bad Cubs team.

The seven-game winning streak has yielded some useful information, though:

(1) The Brewers have a bullpen that is capable of getting outs consistently against a big-league lineup. As a whole, they have surrendered just four runs in the last seven games, and Jim Henderson has a cool 12-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year. It’s a bullpen that could be very good, too, if John Axford settles down and can become a flexible bullpen ace and leave Henderson in the more rigid closer’s role.

(2) Carlos Gomez’s second half last year wasn’t a mirage. This single at-bat showed that more than his overall .300 batting average.

If the 27-year-old outfielder can do this on a regular basis, look out. Impressive opposite-field power.

(3) Brandon Kintzler may be ready to be a high-leverage reliever in the Brewers’ bullpen. Aside from the one bad outing in Chicago, he’s been lights out. The right-hander has only allowed two hits and has a 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio apart from the one appearance against the Chicago Cubs. Fans should be particularly excited about his two-inning performance on Saturday, as he could be a real weapon for Ron Roenicke if he can regularly go multiple innings and not sacrifice effectiveness.

“Does Hiram Burgos have a better (and thus more sustainable) mix of pitches than Mike Fiers?”  —  @bachlaw

From what I’ve seen, Hiram Burgos has better stuff than Mike Fiers, but Fiers benefits from the better deception in his delivery. When both are commanding their pitches well, both pitchers can be extremely effective — even against major-league hitters.

When given the choice, though, I will almost always choose the pitcher who has a better repertoire. Both pitchers can stick in a major-league rotation, if everything develops correctly, but I believe Hiram Burgos currently has the better odds of success. Looking back at his debut against the Cubs, he didn’t even have his cutter working for him, which will make him even more difficult for righties — though he will need to better locate his fastball in on lefties to be effective long-term.

“What starting pitchers (around the MLB) do you think could be available come the trade deadline?”  —  @ShaneRose2

This is extremely difficult to project because it’s so young in the season and because the second Wild Card berth should make for fewer sellers at the trade deadline. As the Brewers illustrated last summer, teams left for dead in late July can still push for a postseason spot.

With that said, expect the Chicago Cubs to make Matt Garza available — assuming he returns from the disabled list and pitches well enough to rebuild his trade value. The Houston Astros will likely listen on anyone, including right-handers Bud Norris and Lucas Harrell. The Miami Marlins will certainly make everyone available at the deadline, with Kevin Slowey and Ricky Nolasco perhaps generating interest.

Other than that, it’s a shot in the dark. It’s too early to tell who could be sellers. Seattle could make some of their arms available. They have a host of pitching prospects in the upper minors and could look to trade Joe Saunders or even Hisashi Iwakuma, if presented the right offer. Perhaps the San Diego Padres, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cleveland Indians, or Chicago White Sox make a pitcher or two available. Heck, even the Milwaukee Brewers could become sellers if the bottom drops out on their season, though they would have to be extremely far out of the postseason picture to consider trading a starting pitcher.

And even then, I don’t really see Doug Melvin pulling the trigger on that.

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