Rickie Weeks’ Quiet Turnaround

After a tremendous +6.5 win season in 2010, the Milwaukee Brewers signed second baseman Rickie Weeks to a four-year, $38.5M contract extension in February 2011.

He followed up his breakout campaign with a +3.7 win season in an injury-shortened 2011, in which he proved 2010 was not a fluke by hitting .269/.350/.468 with 20 home runs and a .358 wOBA. Expectations were sky-high coming into 2012, and the Brewers were relying upon his bat to soften the impact of losing Prince Fielder to Detroit over the offseason.

Instead, Weeks imploded to begin the 2012 season and has essentially been a replacement-level player on the year. He hit below the Mendoza Line from April 29 to July 13 and has the fifth-highest strikeout percentage amongst qualified hitters in the National League at 27.0%. His current .314 wOBA is almost 50-points lower than his wOBA from last season.

Though it’s difficult to categorize 2012 as anything other than a disappointment for Weeks, the 29-year-old has quietly turned his season around this summer and looks a lot more like the Rickie Weeks the baseball community has become accustomed to seeing at the plate.

Since June 16 — arbitrary endpoint, to be sure — Weeks is hitting .276/.365/.494 in 178 plate appearances. That includes seven home runs and 19 extra-base hits over that time frame, and that improved performance is one of the driving factors behind the Brewers’ .339 wOBA in the month of July, which was second-best in the National League behind the St. Louis Cardinals.

His mid-season turnaround can partially be attributed to a lower strikeout rate. Prior to June 16 this season, Weeks struck out in 29% of his plate appearances. Since June 16, however, that number has decreased to 24.16%. Much of that improvement can directly be seen in his whiff rates against four-seam fastballs and sliders.

Pitch Before 6/16 Since 6/16
FB 9.9% 6.1%
SL 15.1% 11.1%

The four-seam fastball and slider have been the two pitches Rickie Weeks has seen most frequently this season. His ability to put those in play has improved dramatically since June 16.

Weeks has also begun driving the baseball to left field with greater frequency. Aside from his four home runs, the Brewers’ second baseman did not find much success to his pull side prior to June 16.

The above graphic illustrates that Weeks had major issues getting the baseball out of the infield to the left side. Left field has traditionally been a strength for Weeks. He has a career .400 batting average to left field, and prior to June 16 this season, he was only hitting .204 to that sector of the diamond.

Since June 16, Weeks has once again found success to left field.

Far more green squares in left field in this graphic than the previous one. Weeks is hitting .383 to left field since June 16, which comes as a byproduct of his success on the inner portion of the plate. He has put 39 pitches on the inner third of the plate in play over that time frame and has collected 15 hits. That is good for a .385 batting average on those pitches.

The Rickie Weeks we have seen at the plate over the better part of the last two months is the Rickie Weeks we have grown accustomed to seeing since 2010. His dreadful start to the season has masked his recent improvements at the plate, though if he continues to produce at this pace for the last two months of the season, that dreadful start will merely be a blip on the radar, rather than a gloomy trend to be feared going forward for the Brewers.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).