A Simple Kind of Fan. Finding a Rickie Weeks in a Haystack 2.22.11
After many seasons of unfulfilled hopes and promise, Weeks put it all together and had a phenomenal 2010 season. Despite the success of Weeks, many Brewer fans continue to bemoan the impending loss of Prince Fielder. We seem to be overly concerned about what we are about to lose and as a result we have forgotten to appreciate what we have. I am here to tell you that Rickie’s season in 2010 was rare. How rare you ask? His season was rarer for second basemen than Prince’s career year in 2009 (6.9 WAR) was for first basemen. Milwaukee just locked up Weeks for five years (including the option year) and roughly $50M. Considering Prince wants $20M+ per season, I would say that we should all be rejoicing in the streets about this contract like an Egyptian coup is taking place. Jim Breen likes the deal and has a good summary. I love the deal. Before I examine how rare Rickie’s season was, I would like to take a look at how dominant it truly was.
How good was Rickie’s season in 2010 compared to his second base counterparts? I will list the statistic, along with his NL rank for 2B. 160 Games (1st), 754 Plate Appearances (1st), 175 Hits (2nd), 29 HR (2nd), 112 Runs (1st), 83 RBI’s (2nd), 11 SB’s (5th), 76 Walks (3rd), Batting Average (10th), and 184 Strikeouts (1st). Not convinced yet? Here are the advanced statistics we have been discussing in this blog and their corresponding ranks. OBP .366 (4th), Slugging .464 (3rd), OPS .830 (4th), WAR 6.1 (1st), ISO .195 (3rd), Spd 5.1 (3rd) and UZR 2.0 (6th). Wow! What a year Rickie had.
The numbers tell us exactly what we already know. Rickie had a special offensive season. He got on base, he scored runs, he drove in runs, and he hit the ball with authority. In my opinion, the offense is fueled by Rickie being on base or at the plate. Of course, the haters will point out that he has been healthy for only one full season and that he did strikeout at a prolific rate. In fact, Rickie only trailed Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn for the lead in all of baseball. A high strikeout rate is obviously not desirable out of a prototypical leadoff hitter. Of course, prototypical leadoff hitters don’t hit 29 homers and drive in 83 RBI either. Rickie is a middle of the lineup type of hitter that is filling an obvious glaring need for the Brewers at the top of the order.
Rickie was finally healthy for 2010 and he was able to put it all together. I believe he has the ability to stay healthy. One thing that has stuck with me is that Rickie had the same torn tendon sheath to each wrist. According to the doctor who performed the surgery, Weeks might be susceptible to that particular wrist injury, Caplinger said, “He has strong hands, strong wrists. The bat speed he has possibly contributed to that. There’s a lot of torque going on there.” Well, Rickie does have tremendous bat speed. He also has some of the quickest wrists in the game and can hit anyone’s fastball. Once fixed, this injury is hopefully no longer a concern for Weeks. So far that appears to be the case, as he led all players with 754 plate appearance in 2010. As with any contract, injury concerns are a risk and they have to be outweighed by the benefits to be cost effective. I simply believe Weeks entering the prime of his career represents more reward than risk.
Rickie has a mix of power and speed (h/t Brew Crew Ball) that makes him unique among second basemen. 2010 was an epic season for Weeks and he has finally arrived as an elite player. One of my favorite statistics, WAR, attempts to take all that a player contributes into account and quantify that into a number. I have discussed WAR in the past. I am a firm believer in the stat and I will prove that since 2000, Rickie’s 6.1 WAR last year, for a second baseman, was rarer than Prince’s 6.9 WAR in 2009 for a first baseman.
Since 2000, the following eleven second baseman have achieved a 6.1 WAR for an entire season: Jeff Kent (2), Edgardo Alfonso, Aaron Boone (2), Roberto Alomar, Brian Giles, Mark Loretta(!), Chase Utley (4), Brian Roberts, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, and Robinson Cano. As a comparison, since 2000, the following nine first basemen have achieved a 6.9 WAR for an entire season: Carlos Delgado, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi (3), Todd Helton (4), Derek Lee, Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols (8), and Joey Votto. Rickie’s 6.1 WAR season has been equaled or exceeded a total of sixteen times as opposed to Fielder’s 6.9 WAR season in 2009 that was equaled or topped twenty one times. Detractors may say that Pujols skews the averages. As a result, I went ahead and took out Pujols and Utley because they have achieved the mark the most times at each position. The results show that ten second basemen have achieved a 6.1WAR twelve times since 2000, as opposed to eight first basemen achieving 6.9 WAR thirteen times. Simply put, Rickie had a rarer season in 2011 than Prince did in 2009.
Of course, it is not likely that Rickie will have many seasons in excess of 6.1 WAR. In fact, Ryan Braun has never achieved 5.0 WAR in a season, as his career high was 4.9 WAR in 2009. However, given the company Rickie keeps among the top second basemen in baseball, I feel his new contract brings a tremendous value to the Brewers. Dan Uggla (5yrs- $62M), Chase Utley (7 yrs- $85M), Brian Roberts (4 yrs- $40M), and Robinson Cano (6 yrs- 57M) all have contracts exceeding or equal to Weeks in years and dollars per season. Rickie is entering the prime of his career and the sky is the limit if healthy. Even if he were to miss some time because of injuries and still managed to produce above average in the other years, it would be a good deal. Remember, without the extension, it is a 4 year, $38.5M contract. One could argue that with a 4.0 WAR annually from Weeks, the deal would still be a tremendous bargain. Finally, if you consider the never ending inflation of salaries, having Weeks for a fifth year totaling $50M could end up being a bargain in regards to other contracts at his position five years from now.
For half of the estimated cost of Prince, the Brewers could have the best bargain, in terms of salary, at second base in all of baseball. I am not saying the Rickie is a better player than Prince. Prince is durable and has been producing for years. I am saying that if Milwaukee were to have to replace either player, Rickie would be more difficult to replace when playing at his peak. If you consider his salary and take the positions they play into account, the choice is easy. Getting a home grown player of Rickie’s caliber locked in for potentially five seasons with a sensible contract extension is truly like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
The “What the f*&# does that stat mean” stat of the week.
Speed score (Spd) is a statistic developed by Bill James. This statistic rates a player on only speed and baserunning ability. For simplicity, let’s just use the Fangraphs version that consists of Stolen Base Percentage, Frequency of Stolen Base Attempts, Percentage of Triples, and Runs Scored Percentage. This stat isn’t the cure all, and it does omit a few aspects of baserunning, but I like to have some sort of way to compare speed in combination with good baserunning for a group of players. For this purpose, Spd is as good as any. The MLB average for spd is 5.0. Predictably, Carlos Gomez led Milwaukee in 2010 with a 7.5. As we all know, if Gomez could just draw a few more walks to get on base a bit more, his baserunning and defense are more than enough to carry his below average offense. I hate to be repetitive, but 2011 is a huge opportunity for Carlos Gomez. His improved play is critical to the overall success of the Brewers. I am optimistic he will be improved in 2011, how much remains to be seen.
Throwback of the week.
This week I decided to find you a bargain. Here is a rare Seattle Pilots jersey that is up for bid for another day or two. It is hard to find Seattle Pilots gear and this is an opportunity to save some dollars in the process. I guess I like jerseys that are rare and a Seattle Pilots jersey in Milwaukee would qualify. Of course, I like old school jerseys too. Here is a 1947 Milwaukee Brewer jersey for sale. Before the Braves, Milwaukee had a minor league team and they played at old Borchardt Field. On the bottom of that 1947 jersey link, under Brewers history, it describes a stunt owner Bill Veeck pulled where he moved the fence in and out on a motor based on what team was up. Hilarious! Some people think these old time players have cool jerseys. Eh. I am a Lou Gehrig guy but I guess a Babe Ruth Jersey is old school. I suppose many people have these in the Bronx, but I haven’t seen any around the snowy Midwest.
A season you probably have forgotten about by now.
This is a new feature on the blog. My hope is to spend a paragraph each week talking about a player that had a season you probably have forgotten about by now. As a fan, baseball allows us the opportunity to peer back with context on long ago seasons. However, when you go back as far as the dead ball era, home runs were not at all common and that context loses some clarity. If someone asked me to make a list of my favorite dead ball era players, at the top would be the name Tris Speaker. The Grey Eagle was a stud during the dead ball era. Speaker’s best season came in 1912, when The Red Sox opened the newly built Fenway Park. Speaker played in all 153 games, leading the American League in doubles with 53, and home runs with 10. He set career highs with 222 hits, 136 runs, 580 at-bats, and 52 steals. He also managed a .383/.464/.567 slash line that year with an 11.2 WAR. Amazingly, Speaker set a major league record when he had three batting streaks of 20 (30, 23, 22) or more games during the season. If you ever play one of those fantasy games that allow you to use old time players, Tris Speaker should be leading off and playing CF for you.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
February 28th. Split squad action kicks off the 2011 Spring Training Schedule
March 31st. The Brewers open the regular season on the road versus the division champs.
Also, please don’t forget to follow my new Twitter account at @simplekindoffan.