Give yourself a firm pat on the back if you expected Rickie Weeks first-half to turn out the way it has, because odds are not too many did.
Fresh off a remarkable 2011 season where he was selected to start for the National League at second-base at the All-Star game in Phoenix, Arizona, Weeks came into spring training this season looking to prove two things: 1.) That his ankle sprain suffered on the final day of July last season would not in the slightest way hamper his production this season and, 2.) That his abysmal postseason performance would in no way perpetuate into his 2012 campaign.
But while Weeks has managed to stave off injury for what almost seems the first time of his nine-year stay in Milwaukee, it appears as though he has neglected the more important of his two aforementioned goals.
After posting a slash line of .260/.448/.440 while nearly walking (14) as many times as he did strikeout (18) in 22 spring training games earlier this year, Milwaukee’s 29-year-old second baseman has performed far from what any of us expected this season, and probably anything but what he himself expected.
Through the season’s first half, Weeks holds true to .199/.314/.343 line — by far and away career-worsts — in exactly 81 games, striking out (100) more than any other player in the National League and walking (45) in less than have of that same frequency. Traditionally known as a plus defender, Weeks has also garnered a .968 fielding percentage and -17 DRS (defensive runs saved) that both rank as career-worsts.
Whether it be his lack of plate discipline and subsequent poor strikeout rate (28.6%), palpable power regression at the plate or the inability to man his position at an adequate rate, it’s obvious that Weeks’ 2012 campaign has been a blunder of epic proportions. Just where have Weeks’ struggles stemmed from this season? As any fan would tell you, it all starts at the plate. More specifically, it starts out of the strike-zone.
While it’s true that Weeks’ plate discipline has looked nothing short of disastrous this season, he has, in some areas, been better at the plate compared to that of last season. FanGraphs cites that Weeks harbored a SwStr (swinging strike) rate of 11 percent last season; this year, that has decreased to 10.7%. Moreover, the site also reveals that his Z-Contact (the percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with inside the strike zone when swinging the bat) rate of 82.3 percent in 2011 is up to 82.9 percent this year. But that’s where most of the positives end.
As I alluded to earlier, Weeks’ struggles this season have in fact come outside of the strike-zone rather than in it. And they’re definitely worth breaking a sweat over.
FanGraphs states that in his 350 plate appearances this season, Weeks has harbored a career-worst contact rate of 72.4 percent, down from 74.1 percent last season and 78.4 percent in 2010, arguably his best season to-date. However, the site goes on to say that his O-Contact (the percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat) is down to a unthinkable 37.1 percent this season. Compared to his career O-Contact rate of 49.5 percent and his 2011 mark of 50.9 percent, its easy to see that Weeks just hasn’t been able to adjust to — or even make contact with — pitches out of the strike-zone.
To get a visual sense of how poorly Weeks has handled offerings out of the strike-zone this season, take a gander at the below graph (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus), which depicts his whiff (a.k.a. “swing and miss”) versus every pitch offered to him. The red blocks represent areas of the plate where Weeks has “swung and missed” the most this season.
Not surprisingly, almost every block shown to be outside of the strikezone is red, with most of them being at the bottom of the strike-zone. This usually says that a player struggles to hit breaking pitches or possibly even changeups; so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Weeks has garnered a swing-and-miss rate of 14.6 percent against sliders, 17.8 percent against changeups and 8.8 against curveballs this season, according to Texas Leaguers.
Listen — you can break down Weeks’ first-half struggles as much as you want. You can look at his decrease in productivity at the plate, his obvious inability to hit pitches out of the strike-zone and get a visual sense of where he has the most trouble hitting pitches. But the fact is, Rickie Weeks just hasn’t been himself this season. And until he rekindles his discipline at the plate, the Brewers will continue to stay out of first place in the National League Central this summer.