Waiting on Weeks for years

So…when exactly is Rickie Weeks going to break out?

Weeks has a tremendous amount of tools and has shown flashes of brilliance during his time in the majors. However, Weeks doesn’t appear to be improving.

Weeks hit .234/.342/.398 this year, following up a 2007 in which he hit .235/.374/.433. He also added 14 homers and 19 steals (in 24 attempts).

The low batting average is a source of frustration to many fantasy owners. Both last year and this year, Weeks suffered from a bit of bad luck: according to my new-fangled BABIP model, Weeks’s expected BABIPs over the last two years have been .321 and .294, while his actual BABIPs have been .289 and .280, respectively. However, in 2006, his actual BABIP exceeded his xBABIP, so there’s no reason to think that the system is underrating Weeks.

However, even adjusting for his lost hits doesn’t bring Weeks’ batting average much above .250. He did manage to lower his strikeout rate this year – he struck out in 24.2% of his at bats this year, as compared to 28.4% last year, but the reason for this appears to be simply that he was making contact with more bad pitches, rather than becoming more choosy at the plate. He actually increased the number of pitches out of the strike zone that he swung at in 2008. Opposing pitchers took advantage of this by throwing Weeks a steady diet of offspeed pitches – just over 44% of the pitches Weeks saw were offspeed.

Although he possesses good raw power, Weeks has still not translated that power into large numbers of home runs. Part of the problem is that he hits many of his balls in play on the ground – only 38.7% of his balls in play were fly balls this year. This, combined with a high number of strikeouts, limits the amount of balls that have the chance to leave the park.

Finally, Weeks is getting to the point where he’s not young anymore. He turned 26 last September, and has yet to make good on his considerable talent. The raw talent is still there, but the chances of him capitalizing on that grow slimmer every year. He still has the chance to become an elite offensive second basemen, but there is no statistical evidence that he’s improving. Draft Weeks expecting similar numbers next season – perhaps a few more homers and a slightly higher batting average. There is a non-zero chance that Weeks could break out, but the chances are not great.




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7 Responses to “Waiting on Weeks for years”

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  1. The top of that 2003 draft doesn’t look so hot anymore. Young, Weeks, Sleeth, Stauffer, Lubanski, Harvey, ect.

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  2. Kitchener says:

    2007 was his break-out.

    He had a .374 OBP, and a 200 ISO.
    Unless you strictly care about fantasy, batting average means NOTHING.

    He hit 37 extra base hits, stole 25 bases, caught only twice,

    All that as a second basemen is good. He’s just not good at one fantasy category, and that’s the player he is.

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  3. Matt says:

    2007? Wasn’t it 2008 last year? I saw regressions everywhere, including that tidy .374 OBP. He even got worse in the field. He is a bust.

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  4. Derek Carty says:

    Peter,
    I’m not sure if I’m inferring correctly, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you don’t believe in Weeks’ improvement in strikeout rate (or believe it is less legitimate) because it was driven by an improved ability to make contact as opposed to improved selectivity. If this is correct, why do you feel this way?

    They both contribute to strikeout rate, but I’d be much more comfortable in a batter whose physical skills have improved as opposed to judgment skills. A player who is entering his prime (logically at least) is less likely to see his physical skills decline than to change his approach or lose his sense of judgment and see his stats decline that way.

    In this vein, when I introduced my take on plate discipline stats (click on my name to see the article), I found that Bat Control (physical skill) is much more stable from year-to-year than Judgment.

    Also, while you mention that he swung at more pitches out of the zone, it was actually just 19.4% as opposed to 19.1% last year – very negligible. He swung at significantly more pitches inside the zone (61.4% to 57.2%), but that’s a good thing since he was able to make contact with them at the same rate. It means he was taking fewer called balls and therefore striking out less. To put everything together, my Judgment Index stat put Weeks at 85 in 2007 and 97 in 2008. That’s a big improvement, and it can be witnessed in his strikeout rate. Another driving factor was his ability to make contact with balls out of the zone that he swung at.

    Anyway, just wanted to see why you felt the way you did, if I indeed am functioning under the correct assumption.

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  5. Peter says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for your comment, and I apologize for taking so long to get back to you.

    You make some very good points – I should have pointed out that Weeks’s increase in O-Swing % was negligible. However, I think that much of his “improved” strikeout rate also stems from the fact that he was making more contact with pitches OUT of the strike zone. He wasn’t necessarily swinging at them more, but he was making more contact. And I’m not so sure that this is a good thing – it’s hard to hit pitches out of the strike zone well.

    Furthermore, this is worrisome when accompanied by a rather large drop in walk rate. Yes, Weeks was striking out less, but that’s because he was making contact with bad pitches, which probably hurt his walk rate as well.

    It’s very possible that Weeks will be able to up his walk rate while maintaining his lower strikeout rate. But I’m not terribly optimistic about this, as he didn’t display better judgment on which pitches to swing at, he was simply better at putting them in play. Unfortunately, his LD% was the lowest of his career, and his GB% was very high.

    So it seems that Weeks’s K rate went down because he was putting the wrong balls in play more often, and not hitting them hard. It’s very possible that his judgment can become even more refined, but it doesn’t appear that it was in 2008.

    What do you think?

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  6. Derek Carty says:

    Hey Peter,
    No worries. We’re all busy. I think this is an interesting topic, though.

    I definitely agree that making more contact on out of zone pitches can have a negative affect on BABIP if they aren’t hit well, but looking at strikeout rate in a vacuum, I don’t think it’s anything but a good thing. Once the batter decides to swing, there is a 0% chance that pitch is called as a ball. The two outcomes then are a swinging strike or a ball in play (or a foul ball). While making contact could result in an easy out, it still limits the number of strikeouts.

    Again, it might hurt him overall (which I think is where you were going with the LD%/GB% comment, and there could very well be a connection there), but the strikeout rate improvement is definitely legitimate, in my opinion.

    PITCHf/x would be very useful here in seeing how Weeks’s OOZ BABIP changed from 2007 to 2008 and how his OOZ batted ball distribution changed (in terms of LD and GB and IF FB). That’s something I might take a look at at some point.

    Also, I tend to disagree a bit on the ‘judgement’ issue. I think Weeks’ judgement actually *did* improve based on his in-zone swing %. If a hitter swings at more balls in the zone, he is limiting the number of called strikes against him. Fewer strikes = fewer strikeouts. We again could run into a BABIP issue, but in terms of strikeout rate, it’s a positive.

    As I think I noted in my previous comment, my Judgment Index stat put Weeks at 85 in 2007 and 97 in 2008. Most of that increase is derived from the fewer number of called balls he took. Granted, we’re looking at things from a macro level and can’t say with absolute certainty that swinging at all of those additional pitches was a good thing (some in-zone pitches a batter just can’t do much with), but generally speaking, in-zone balls are pretty hittable and letting too many go by is a bad thing.

    Anyway, that’s sort of how I’m seeing the issue. Does that make sense or do you see it differently?

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  7. Peter says:

    Hey Derek,

    You make some very good points. I think it’s impossible to address this specifically without some kind of hit f/x – I’d love to know what kind of contact Weeks is making. Is he hitting the ball with the same authority as previous seasons? My guess would be no, as his line-drive percentage was lower than previous years, but this could be a small sample size fluke.

    You make an excellent point that striking out less – regardless of how it comes about – is almost always a good thing, especially for a speedy guy like Weeks. I am, as I mentioned, somewhat skeptical, as I’m not convinced that Weeks’s lower K rate is a good thing for his overall game, since it appears to come with a lower BB rate and less hard-hit balls.

    However, your point is well taken that his swinging at more pitches in the zone is probably a good thing. Thank you for bringing up the point about his Judgment Index improving – after reading your comments, I am a lot more optimistic about Weeks than I was originally.

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