The Brewers’ Rickie Weeks has had a tough year. At the plate, he leads the National League in strikeouts and is hitting under the Mendoza line with an OPS well under .700. Weeks has also regressed defensively. DRS has never really liked him, but he is already at a career worst in that department. After posting positive UZRs in the previous 3 years, Weeks is on pace to have his worst year in his career defensively. So what is wrong with Weeks? I watched the Brewers play a 3 game series against the Astros in an attempt to find out.
First at-bat: Facing left-handed J.A. Happ: Happ, a home run prone pitcher anyway, had already given up 2 homers in the first inning. He started Weeks with a low 90 MPH fastball in the dirt that Weeks looked at. Weeks then saw a 90 MPH fastball on the outside corner, he swung at it, and fouled it off. Weeks is really noisy at the plate, and after the swing he almost corked screwed himself into the ground. The next pitch was a 84 MPH breaking ball inside and down to him and he stepped away from it. The next pitch was a 90 MPH fastball, a little low (would have been ball 3), and he swung and hit it the other way (just like his foul) almost to the warning track on the wall. The Astros park is a friendly park, but considering that was a ball, that is pretty good contact.
At-bat 2: Facing Happ again, he saw a hanging slider at 82 MPH basically down the middle. Weeks swung hard, and was late. He then saw a 89 MPH fastball that caught a lot of the plate and he pulled it on the ground foul. A slider coming in and down was swung at and Weeks missed, a 3 pitch strikeout.
At-bat 3: Happ again. Took low 85 MPH slider, before a 90 MPH fastball was right down the middle. Weeks hit it the other way for a homer just over the wall.
At-bat 4: This time he faced Rhiner Cruz, a right handed fireballer with no idea where the ball is going. The first pitch was a 95 MPH fastball that tailed in. Weeks took it and Cruz threw a 83 MPH slider way low and way away. Weeks was fooled, but was able to check his swing. Cruz then put a 96 MPH fastball on the outside corner and Cruz fouled it off. At 2-1, he got a 96 MPH fastball basically down the middle and he popped out to 2nd.
At-bat 5: Facing left-Hander Wandy Rodriquez. He took a low 88 MPH fastball on the outside corner. 86 MPH fastball basically in the same spot, hit pretty well to centerfield on what I would call a line drive for an out.
At-bat 6: Against Rodriguez he took a curve on the low inside corner for a ball, the a fastball outside to make it 1-1. He then got fooled on a 90 MPH fastball inside where he tried to check his swing to make it 1-2:
He then chased a 76 MPH curve low and in but fouled it off to stay alive. He took another curve that wasn’t as close to the strikezone at 78 MPH. Another curve made the count full and Rodriguez came with a high outside fastball at 90 MPH. It wasn’t a strike, but Weeks swung and got right on top of it, grounding out to the pitcher.
At-bat 7: Rodriguez got a called strike with a low inside curveball again to start the count. A curve way low was taken for a 1-1 count, a low 90 MPH fastball in the dirt was taken. Rodriguez had to come back over the plate with the bases loaded, but threw a quality curveball. Weeks weakly grounded it to 3rd and the 3rd baseman (Scott Moore) made an error.
At-bat 8: Against right-hander Brandon Lyon, Weeks saw a first pitch fastball that caught a lot of the plate at 87 MPH. All he was able to do was foul it off. An inside fastball at 89 MPH was basically fouled off his foot. A wild slider was taken along with a low fastball in the dirt to make it 2-2. He was then hit by an 89 MPH fastball on the calf.
At-bat 9: Facing right-hander Jordan Lyles: The first pitch was low and 86 MPH and he whiffed on it. He then fouled off a curveball to fall behind 0-2. He took a breaking ball that just missed the outside corner. Lyles came back with a 93 MPH fastball on the high outside corner and Weeks hit it the other way just over the wall for another homer.
At-bat 10: Facing Lyles again: He took a low 91 MPH fastball before a 90 MPH fastball on the middle-inside corner was hit for a weak infield pop-up. He seems to be having a ton of problems on balls inside.
At-bat 11: Against Lyles: Slider at 86 MPH taken for a low strike before a high inside fastball at 89 MPH was hit for a grounder at 2nd base for a double play.
At-bat 12: This time facing Brett Myers. The first pitch was an 83 MPH slider that stayed in the bottom of the zone. Weeks swung away and grounded the pitch in between the shortstop and 3rd baseman.
At-bat 13: Against Fernando Rodriguez who had faced 4 batters in the inning already and gotten none of them out. After a 95 MPH fastball on the outside corner was fouled back, he hit a hanging 77 MPH curve high and outside the other way for a hit.
From memory, I was having a hard time remembering if Weeks’ swing had always been this violent. So I watched a few of his old at-bats and compared them to current ones.
Then (I think all of these are from 2009):
It does appear that Weeks is more violent with his swing now. He seemed to have way more body control back before this year than he does now. This could be for several different reasons, but I am not a swing mechanics expert by any means. It does seem to be silly, since it does appear that he is swinging differently, to argue that the struggles and the swing are not causally linked. Here is Weeks’ s spray chart from the beginning of the season to July 7th in 2011:
Here is his spray chart so far this year:
One thing that jumps out is the lack of pull homers this year. There is also a lot less balls in the outfield, especially in left field. It does appear that there are just less balls in play as well. Strangely, the average fastball thrown against him has been almost a full MPH faster. It is not like he has changed teams, so this is a bit weird.
When you just look at his overall hot and cold zones (new tool courtesy of Brooks Baseball/Baseball Prospectus), it is hard to see the difference:
Against sliders, he has even been better it appears:
Against fastballs is where the big difference lies, as here is 2011:
Here is 2012:
On fastballs that have gotten in on him, or high in the zone, he has been much weaker this year. This would seem to support the idea that his swing is a little long and violent. It would also explain the lack of balls pulled with authority. For whatever reason, whether it is the increase in velocity, a mechanical thing with his swing, or an injury, he isn’t pulling the inside fastball very well. This also fits well with the sample I saw of him. He seemed to want to go the other way all the time. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with this, he hit 2 homers in the series, but it isn’t who Weeks has been in his career.
How about defense? His first play in the series he had a weak grounder hit to him and he moved a bit to the left and made the play. He had another routine play in the 9th. In the 2nd game, as the runner was going, Weeks was caught out of position as a weak grounder was hit right to where he would have been. He was able to go back and stop it and make an illadvised and poor throw to third, but it didn’t cost them any more baserunners as Aramis Ramirez blocked it at 3rd. A routine ball almost took a funny hop on Weeks but he turned it into an out. He also got a routine type ground-ball that he flipped to short and was turned into a double play. He stopped a hard grounder to the left of him in a nice showing of range, but made a bad throw to 2nd as he got up and fired it into the dirt. It was ruled his 11th error of the year. On a cut-off play, he made a strong throw from behind the 2nd base bag to home but it wasn’t in time (which obviously isn’t his fault, he made a good throw). He also turned off a good double play himself. His biggest problem seemed to be arm accuracy. Other than that, he looked fine.
Is health the reason behind Weeks’ 2012 struggles? Without being a doctor, having access to Weeks’ medical records, or even been able to talk to him, it is impossible know for sure. However, something seems a bit off. He is not the normal Rickie Weeks we are used to seeing. There is no reason for him to have regressed at this point, at age 29. It is hard to blame it on luck, as he is hitting less line drives and more infield pop-ups. However, his K/BB ratio is right on his career averages. This, along with all the evidence above, suggests that he isn’t healthy. He is just not himself right now.