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Don’t Give Up On Jemile Weeks

Jemile Weeks came into the season with a lot of promise. As a 24-year-old, Weeks just slashed .303/.340/.421 in limited action, cementing his status as Oakland’s starter at second. On top of that, Weeks had a strong pedigree. His brother, Rickie, was once a top prospect and has experienced success in the majors. Though both players offer a completely different skill set, there was still reason to believe Jemile would be a solid fantasy option. As frustrated fantasy owners know, that didn’t happen. Weeks completely collapsed, hitting just .221/.305/.304 in 511 plate appearances. His poor performance led to a demotion, and an exclusion from the postseason roster. But with the club’s recent trade of Cliff Pennington, it looks like Weeks will have another chance at a full-time role next season. After a disastrous first shot, Weeks will have a lot to prove in his second season.

Weeks will almost certainly improve next season, but it’s not clear whether he’ll be good enough to be a useful fantasy asset. At least some of his struggles can be attributed to a .256 BABIP. That figure was amongst the worst in all of baseball. And though his overall numbers fell drastically, Weeks actually showed some signs of improvement at the plate. Weeks raised his walk rate by a full 5.0%, from 4.8 to 9.8. He also managed to cut down on his strikeouts. Those are both signs of a developing hitter.

A look at Weeks’ batted ball data doesn’t help much, either. Last season, Weeks traded line drives and fly balls for grounders. Nearly 50% of all balls he put in play were on the ground. For a player like Weeks, who relies on speed rather than power, this should have aided his stats. Strangely, Weeks hit just .228 when he put the ball on the ground. The league average on ground balls was .238, for reference. But that figure also includes guys like Adam Dunn and Jim Thome, who aren’t going to beat out grounders. Weeks actually has a chance to do that, and probably should have had a higher batting average on grounders.

One thing that could help determine why Weeks’ BABIP was so bad, aside from luck, might be found in his plate discipline data. Again, though, nothing in his stats jump out as a negative. Weeks was overall slightly more selective with pitches, swinging less often than he did during his debut season. The biggest difference in Weeks’ plate discipline numbers is on his contact on pitches out of the zone. Weeks’ contact rate against pitches outside the zone dropped to 74.0% last season, down from 80.9%. His contact on pitches in the zone, however, went up. When he decided to chase pitches, he was much less successful than expected.

So, there’s really not much in his statistical profile that would suggest he would struggle this much. But it would also be foolish to attribute all of his struggles to BABIP. Admittedly, I didn’t see a lot of A’s games last season (I live on the East Coast…that’s my excuse). My guess would be that Weeks struggled to make strong contact last season. Even though his contact numbers were still solid, he probably wasn’t hitting the ball with authority. Weeks has never been a power hitter, but has managed to hit for slugging percentages over .400 all throughout the minors, so I don’t want to call him a complete slap hitter, either. If that’s what plagued Weeks last season, he’s going to have to make adjustments in order to get significantly better.

Still, there’s a good chance he’ll improve just based on the BABIP numbers. And if something mechanical was affecting his performance, an improvement in that area would go a long way toward making him fantasy player you can rely on. Weeks’ value will be pretty low next season, and because of that, you can take him as a backup late in drafts. Betting on a small improvement is probably a good idea. But even if he doesn’t completely turn around, you still have a guy who is capable of picking up steals from time to time. Like his brother, maybe he just needs some time to adjust to the league before he experiences success.