Defending Rickie

Argh, now Tom Haudricourt has joined in the criticism of Brewers’ second baseman Rickie Weeks. I think the criticism is overblown and unproductive (bias alert: Weeks is my favorite Brewer)…here’s why:
First, some background. Brewerfan.net reminds us that Weeks was the second pick in the 2003 June draft, after having hit over .400 for three seasons with Southern University (I believe, but may be wrong, that he led the NCAA in his final two years of college).
Weeks, played 12 games in ’03 for the parent club (as a September call-up), and then permanently joined the parent club on June 11, 2005 as a 22 year-old, and hit .239/.333/.394/.727 with 13 HR’s, 42 RBI’s and 15 SB’s in 360 AB’s, but began receiving criticism for his fielding abilities. Weeks underwent surgery for a torn ulnar collateral ligament, according to his MLB.com profile, on October 11 of that year…an injury he had sustained during the season but played through.
In 2006, Weeks improved to .279/.363/.404/.767 with 8 HR’s, 34 RBI’s and 19 SB’s in 359 AB’s; Weeks’ season was cut short on July 25 due to a right wrist tendon injury, missing the last 62 games of the season and had surgery on August 15.
In ’07, Weeks, in addition to his rehab, was asked to spend more time on his fielding. Not known at the time, Weeks’ had not fully recovered from his surgery at the start of the season, and eventually wound up on the DL for right wrist tendinitis from May 31 through June 17, but was rusty–Rickie hit a mere .156 with 3 RBI in 31 games, and was subsequently sent to AAA Nashville on July 31. Weeks returned late in August, to hit in .273 after his minor-league rehab. For the year, however, Rickie only played in 118 games and hit .235/.374/.433/.807 with 16 HR’s, 36 RBI’s and 25 SB’s–finishing with improvements in OBP, SLG, OPS, HR’s, RBI’s, and SB’s–everything but BA.
In ’08, Weeks, now 25, had played for the Brewers in four of the past six seasons, but has never played a full season in the majors. Expectations were understandably high, given his progressive improvement despite his history of injuries. Weeks, designated the Brewers’ leadoff hitter for 2008 largely due to his ability to get on base, focusing on OBP over BA, and understanding that plate discipline was needed to draw base-on-balls and continue his uncanny ability to get hit-by-pitches. Fans saw his .208 BA and .333 OBP for the month of April, and began focusing on his numbers; Weeks’ BA/OBP by month for ’08:
May: .211/.320
June: .250/.309
July: .271/.366
…plus, from July 21 through July 27: .381/.440
Weeks also has 15 SB’s on the year so far.
No doubt that Weeks had a rough start to his season; that said, he’s improved markedly since May and there is no reason to think that he won’t continue to improve as the season progresses.
Also, what are the practical alternatives? Ray Durham, a veteran switch-hiiter, has just joined the club and deserves some playing time. Weeks is 64-for-285, .225, vs. RHP and 32-for-124, .258, vs. LHP, while Durham is 64-for-205, .312, vs. RHP but 15-for-68, .221, vs. LHP–implying that a platoon of Durham versus righties and Weeks versus lefties is justifiable. But, digging a bit deeper, Weeks is hitting .295/.396/.568 in 44 AB’s against righties in July, indicating he has improved in this area, too.
Back to Haudricourt’s criticism–did Weeks struggle at the plate last night? Yes. But Weeks also had at least one pitch below the knees erroneously called a strike. This may have shaken or frustrated him, which he needs to improve upon; his attempt at a spectacular catch of a Kosuke Fukudome hit was valiant and admirable–the hit, which fell for a single, was not only 10′ or so behind second base, it was to the left of second base, which means that it was J.J. Hardy’s ball, not Weeks’ (they play I am referring to was the one behind second base…not positive if Fukudome hit that one or not).
Lastly, Haudricourt wrote:

He failed to turn a routine double play in the seventh inning — an ongoing problem for him — allowing two runs to score

While not an overly difficult play, it certainly was not routine, as the runner had begun his slide while Weeks was tagging the base…true, Weeks needs to make those plays and this was not a shining moment for him. That said, the reason the Brewers’ lost last night was poor run production early on against Ted Lilly, as well as some sloppy relief work by Salomon Torres that let the winning baserunners on base.
Weeks is going to be around next year (he enters his first year of arbitration, and the Brewers have way too much invested in him to give up on him), while Durham will not. He needs to hone his skills, true enough, but the alternative, Durham, has also blown plays–just last week, the veteran called off Prince on a foul ball hit by Lance Berkman that he wound up dropping, only to have Berkman get a hit later on in that at bat.
Gary Sheffield, Mark Loretta, Jeff Cirillo, Fernando Viña, and Ronnie Belliard are just five of the infielders that the Brewers gave up on early in their careers that went on to have greater success elsewhere. Let’s hope Doug Melvin doesn’t want to add Rickie Weeks to that list.

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