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February 9, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Rickie Weeks' 2010 Breakout

by Craig Brown

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Prior to the 2010 season, PECOTA had modest expectations for Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks.  We’re talking about a player who had missed considerable time over his previous five seasons due to myriad injuries, including but not limited to, his wrist, thumb and knee.  It’s always a downer when a promising young player becomes more known for his medical history than his performance on the field, and Weeks' injuries most certainly played a role in what had been an underwhelming career through the 2009 season.  Here were his totals through his first 482 games dating to when he had a cup of coffee as a 20-year-old, just months after he was drafted second overall in the 2003 draft: 2,069 PA, 77 2B, 20 3B, 60 HR, 182 RBI, 80 SB, 16 CS, and a .247/.351/.415 line.

Based on his past, here’s a comparison of how PECOTA had him pegged between his 50th percentile, 90th percentile and his actual final numbers:

 

Pct

BA

HR

TAv

WARP

50

.247

17

.281

2.8

90

.265

27

.309

5.2

Actual

.269

29

.302

5.1

Weeks nailed his 90th percentile forecast.  Basically, it was a career year for Weeks, and it was reflected in his final value among second basemen.

Weeks bashed a career high in home runs despite hitting a lower percentage of fly balls among all balls in play in any season since 2006.  I’ve touched on this in past articles, but when a young hitter develops opposite field power, that’s an excellent sign that a corresponding sudden bump in overall long ball production is true.  If that’s the case, we have reason to be incredibly enthusiastic about Weeks.  Last summer, of his 29 home runs, seven were to the opposite field. (In this case I’m broadly defining opposite field as anything hit to the right of center.)  That breaks down to roughly a quarter of his home runs going the other way.  (Actually, it is a full quarter if we’re counting balls that actually left the yard.  Weeks hit one inside the park home run this year.) Here are his home run plots, courtesy of Hit Tracker:

 

 

This development of opposite field power is notable because in his five seasons previously, Weeks hammered 60 home runs, but only three round trippers, or just five percent, were to the opposite field.  While Weeks’ 1.4 GB/FB ratio trended heavily to the ground ball side, the simple fact he remained healthy and at the top of the order for the entire season meant he hit more fly balls than any season of his career.  The 17.3 percent HR/FB rate was elevated, but not much more than his career average of 13.7 percent HR/FB.

Apparently Miller Park is where taters go to be mashed, (According to Hit Tracker, 2.42 home runs were hit per game in Milwaukee, the second highest rate in the NL just behind Arizona’s 2.48.  Their park factor for home runs was also the second highest in the NL) but Weeks didn’t suffer much of a power outage when the Brew Crew took to the road.  Last summer he averaged a home run once every 19.9 at-bats at home, and once every 25.5 ABs on the road.  

As Weeks experienced a power surge that should continue in some form, there are still a few warning signs in his offense.  For starters, his contact rate was at 73 percent, which matched a career low.  The lack of contact meant he put fewer balls in play.  Just 58 percent of all Weeks’ plate appearances ended with the fielders doing work.  By striking out once every 3.5 ABs, he was one of the easiest hitters to punch out in the NL last summer. 

It’s not like Weeks is undisciplined at the plate.  His walk rate was 10 percent, which is low for a leadoff man, but otherwise decent.  Data shows that Weeks swings at 42.5 percent of all pitches, which is below the league average.  He obviously knows the strike zone, but it’s just that he has a hole in his swing that can be exploited by the opposition.  While the league average on swinging and missing at pitches was around 14 percent, Weeks waved at nothing but air on over 19 percent of all swings. 

The lack of contact kept his batting average depressed, despite a lusty .332 BABIP (that landed fairly close to his .321 xBABIP).  The combination of strikeouts, contact rate and type of contact leads me to believe we’ve seen his better days as far as batting average.

Since Weeks will always lag in batting average, one area where he could deliver a little more value for fantasy owners is in the stolen base department.  Last year he ran just 15 times in 328 stolen base opportunities, by far the lowest rate of his career.  He really hasn’t been the same base runner since he had knee surgery following the 2008 season.  Up to that point in his career, Weeks attempted to steal in just over 11 percent of all opportunities.  In the two seasons since the surgery, Weeks has run in just 4.6 percent of his stolen base chances. 

Part of the problem could have been the manager.  Ken Macha was never a fan of the stolen base and while Weeks may not have been 100 percent, he wasn’t the only Brewer to find himself shackled to first base with second base open.  For 2011, Milwaukee has a first time manager in Ron Roenicke, so it will be interesting to see how often the Brewers –and Weeks—have the green light. 

Despite his successes last year, PECOTA still isn’t sold on Weeks.  The newly released projections peg him for a .253/.356/.444 year with 16 HR, 58 RBI and 12 SB to go along with a .284 TAv and 2.0 WARP.  That sounds pretty swell, but I’d pump his home run total to 20.  His home ball park and opposite field power bode well for him to outpace PECOTA.  While his power surge is real, his low contact rate and injury history will conspire to keep his batting average and stolen base totals right around the projected totals.  Plus, with the injury history and the new manager, the jury is still out on the stolen base totals.  PECOTA’s estimate is conservative, but it would be wishful thinking to pencil him in for something close to 20 steals.  While Weeks will provide solid bang for your buck, be sure you don’t overreach based on power alone.  

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Rickie Weeks,  Stolen Base,  Hit Tracker

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Future Shock: Atlanta ... (02/08)
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