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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Rickie Weeks

In Zach Sanders’ end-of-the-year ranks, Rickie Weeks finished as the 13th best second baseman overall, making him rosterable in any league larger than a 12-team and NL-only leagues of pretty much any depth. While that’s a fair assessment of how Weeks performed over the course of the whole season, it’s not really the best way to look at the way Weeks got there. Consider this:

Weeks from opening day to July 24 (394 PA): .190/.305/.333, 9 HR, 6 SB, 114 K
Weeks from July 25 until the end of the season (283 PA): .282/.360/.488 12 HR, 10 SB 55 K

Early season Weeks — or Bad Weeks if you must — drops at least 15 spots from 13 down into the very high twenties and if someone makes an argument that he’s in the low thirties instead, I’d certainly hear them out. Good Weeks — the one who helped give the Brewers a fighting chance at the second Wild Card toward the end of the season — was easily a top-10 option, so what happened?

When player goes through such a stark change, one of the first culprits to check is BABIP: balls that found gloves for a time suddenly finding grass. That was certainly part of Weeks’ change. His full season BABIP was 20 points lower this season than his career average and 30 points lower than it was last season. His rather extended slump saw a BABIP that was nearly 50 points below his career mark, so some regression was more than likely.

His BABIP during his hot streak was a little bit above that career mark, less than 15 points, which wasn’t unsustainably high or anything, but was 60 points above where he dwelt for most of the first half of the season. As one might expect, during his BABIP upswing, Weeks hit more line drives, but again, he wasn’t putting up completely ridiculous marks, it was merely a case of having such a huge hole to get out of that kept his overall line from being better.

It’s tempting to look at Weeks’ huge strikeout total and career-high strikeout rate and blame that for his troubles, and while he did drop that rate during the time he was hitting, there just isn’t much about Weeks’ career that indicates that a high strikeout rate is indicative of huge problems. In 2010, Weeks struck out just 0.6 percent less often than he did in 2010, but hit 29 home runs and ended with a .269/.366/.464 line. His BABIP was relatively high that season, .332 compared with his .305 career rate, but a marginal decline in both rates would have left him with a very similar line and well over 150 strikeouts. Granted, no one but Adam Dunn succeeds striking out in 34 percent of their PAs the way Weeks did in May, but that was an aberration even in the midst of struggles.

Perhaps most notably, it was Weeks’ early season attempts at selectivity that may have come back to bite him this season. His whiff rate was below his career average and well below where it was in 2011, both his O-swing and Z-swing percentages were down from previous years and in fact were below league average. Overall, his swing rate was solidly below league average, but he was done in by the fact that when he was swinging, he wasn’t making enough contact. His contact rate was close to his career average and above where it had been in prior seasons, but when combined with a much lower swing rate, he wasn’t hitting enough balls in absolute terms. Obviously having Weeks just swing out of his shoes willy-nilly isn’t going to help matters, but it is somewhat telling that when Weeks hit in the second half, his strikeout rate and walk rate both dropped substantially. Yes, making contact and not making contact are zero-sum, but it isn’t a simple case of hitting pitches instead of missing hittable ones, it was a concerted effort to put more balls in play. He succeeded and it made for a much more palatable second half.

So what are the takeaways from this season, other than that Weeks continues to be a tough player to accurately value around draft season? First, this was a healthy season for Weeks. He missed no time on the DL and was in the Brewers lineup come hell or high water, which was one of the preconditions to a successful season. It seems reasonable to conjecture that Weeks’ problematic wrist from a few seasons ago is now well and truly behind him, which is great news going forward. Second, Weeks’ end-of-season success is almost entirely repeatable and is more likely to represent his production in the future than the pits of his first few months. While drawing walks isn’t something a manager is likely to chide a player for, from the fantasy perspective, it could be a red flag if Weeks is taking a high percentage of pitches early in the season.

Looking over Weeks’ season, breaking it down into bits and trying to make sense of it, I have trouble seeing this season being repeated down the line. Like virtually every other major leaguer, Weeks has had periods of prolonged struggle in the past, but they’re almost always connected to an injury and this season doesn’t fit that criterion. While there are certainly instructive elements to this season, I just don’t see enough repeatability in the huge split to dissuade me from drafting Weeks next year as a mid-tier option after the top tier hitters are gone.