Well, it happened. To the undoubted delight of the teeming hordes, Rickie Weeks is officially a platoon player, sharing time with
Gritmaster Scrap Scooter Gennett. As a long time admirer of Weeks, this makes me sad, though even I can’t deny that his performance this year has given the Brewers reason to make a change (although I still don’t know I really agree with this particular change, but that’s a separate column). While I still hold out hope that he has a phoenix-like rebirth ahead, it does look sadly likely that Rickie’s best years are behind him. At his peak, Weeks was a second baseman with patience, power, and speed, which is an incredibly valuable thing, even taking into account the fact that defense was never his strong suit.
Weeks was also sadly unappreciated by vast swaths of the fanbase, and in particular seemed to serve as a flash point between the more sabermetrically-inclined and traditionally oriented fans. I want to explore this a little, because I think there are very real differences in how traditional and saber fans actually view and experience a game, and this becomes clear when viewed through the prism of Rickie Weeks. His approach of patience, power, and strikeouts is anathema to how traditional fans believe batters should succeed, but actually fits right in with how saber fans do.
Most baseball fans, it seems to me, view a batter’s primary goal at the plate to be making contact, hence the vilification of strikeouts. To step up to the plate and not be able to touch the ball with the bat at all is the ultimate failure. However, I, and I believe most other sabermetrically inclined fans, view a batter’s primary goal as making good contact and avoiding outs, and it appears the best way to do this is by waiting for good pitches. What raises my ire is not the lack of contact, but the swinging at bad pitches. When a batter, particularly one in a hitter’s count, swings at a pitch outside the zone and can only meekly hit it on the ground, this is when I get frustrated. All I can see in this situation is the wasted opportunity to get a better pitch, or to draw a walk and give another batter a chance. A more traditional fan, on the other hand, might think, “At least he made contact,” and view this as an at-bat that at least had a chance to make something happen, but didn’t work out. This is how I view strikeouts; I know making good contact tends to mean swinging hard, which means missing pitches sometimes. I see a strikeout as the right process, a chance to make something happen, which just didn’t work out.
The point of this is not to say that my way, the saber fan way, of viewing a game is somehow superior to the traditional fan’s point of view. I’m specifically talking about the quick judgements and emotions you feel from watching a game, which by their very definition are flawed. The way to best evaluate a player is to count what they’ve done, statistically, because even the best memory will blur the cold hard facts. But when we reflect on a player, the emotions we had while viewing them in game tends to be what floats to the surface. Because of the different ways we view the game, when it comes to Rickie, those emotions tend to be positive for saber fans, and negative for more traditional fans.
It is a common accusation against sabermetrically inclined fans that we “don’t watch the games.” Well, believe me, we do, and our love of Rickie Weeks isn’t based on something we saw in a spreadsheet, it’s based on watching him in games. We just seem to watch the games a little differently.