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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Poor Richard's Baseball Almanac

Have you ever read one of those “Body Snatcher” Science Fiction/Horror stories where a character is desperately trying to communicate with other people only to realize that nothing he or she says is getting through because the "people" he or she is talking to have been taken over by some sort of alien/evil force? Something along the lines of:

Barry felt himself becoming frantic as he explained to his seemingly vacant wife that they needed to leave, and NOW. He felt his voice rising to an almost feverish pitch as he began to pull at the limp hand dangling by her unyielding side. But his panic and his flailing grasp had no affect on his once vibrant wife. Known to literally run screaming into the front yard at the mere mention of a spider in the house, she seemed not at all concerned with the impending doom facing the young couple just on the other side of the door. Her eyes, once piercing and knowing, like two miniature unexplored galaxies, were now cloudy and shrouded in a smoky haze. The person he had fallen in love with was clearly not with him now, and he realized with a sinking feeling that no amount of screaming or pleading was going to bring her back. She could not hear him. She could not see him. The thing in front of him was not his wife and it was not even human. It was one of them now; and he knew must run.

That is exactly what it has been like talking with fellow Brewers fans about Rickie Weeks over the past couple of weeks (no pun int..you get the idea). Somehow, someway, somewhere along the line; Something has taken over the minds and bodies of Brewers fans and convinced them that not only is Rickie Weeks the worst player in the history of baseball. But also, a). he always has been, 2.) that he should be banished from the Brewers forever, and d). that he should be replaced by a hobbit.

Richard
If a rational person brings up that these feelings might be misplaced or slightly less than accurate, eyes glaze over, the vacancy takes hold and you think for just a second that the "body snatchers" may have arrived right here in Milwaukee after all (I've always thought that Miller Park would be a perfect alien landing dock of some sort).

In fact, it’s gotten to the point over the last week, where I don't even know why I bring it up with people since it inevitably leads to fighting and resentment with my seemingly intelligent friends. Hating on Weeks in Wisconsin has become more popular than Tebowing-to-the-Harlem-Shake-Gangnam-Style in November of 2012.

The thing of it is, is that the Weeks hating is misplaced. And it is less than accurate. The haters are wrong and the evidence backs it up. So pump your brakes, guy. This is baseball. It is soaked in fact and marinated in numbers. And the facts and the numbers just happen to say that:

1.)    Rickie Weeks is and always has been a good baseball player.
2.)    He could be just fine if management would have leave him alone.

History Lesson 
Rickie Weeks Career 162-game-average:

Runs
HR
RBI
SB
BA
OBP
OPS
105
22
65
20
.249
.348
.772

To emphasize these numbers, I would like to borrow a page from former Brewer manager, Ned Yost’s book: Condescending Ranting and the Art of Becoming Best Friends With Your Players, Chapter 1:

“I guess I’ll just run out to the Second Baseman tree and pluck me off a 20-20 guy with speed AND power who is on base ALL THE TIME. And, who also just so happens to enjoy inviting me over to his house to eat steaks and to play Metroid. Right Rickie? We're still on for tonight? Oh, you're busy? Ok, well how bout Saturday? Still busy? Alright, raincheck then. Alright!"

If a scout told you that you could have the above stat line at second base for the next 10 years, you would invariably jump all over it, right? In fact, you might use the number two overall pick in the draft to acquire those numbers. And you probably wouldn't look back over those numbers ten years later and insinuate that you wasted your number two pick on the worst second baseman of all time. It just wouldn't make sense.

Here are some other fun Rickie Weeks facts for those that claim, “he sucks and only had one-half of a good year.”
  • Was an All-Star starter in 2011.   
  • In 2010 he finished 2nd in the league in runs, 6th in total bases and 8th in hits.
  • Over the last three seasons he has averaged 23.3 Home Runs/Season – Only two other Second Baseman in baseball have averaged that many home runs during that time (Robinson Cano and Dan Uggla – pretty good company).
  • In overall offensive rankings for second baseman (both leagues-30 teams), Weeks has ranked by year:   
  • 2006 – 16th
  • 2007 – 15th
  • 2008 – 13th
  • 2009 – Injured
  • 2010 – 3rd
  • 2011 – 9th
  • 2012 – 10th
  • His Career Comparison Tracker (as created by Bill James) places his closest comparisons at second base through age 29, as Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler – I doubt very much that Reds and Rangers fans are petitioning for the expedition of these gentleman from their favorite teams.
  • Weeks beat up more nerds in his senior year of high school than any other jock in the state of Florida.
Ok, I may have made that last one up.

The point is, in 2013 with the Internet and the information we have available to us, it is just plain lazy to say that a player “sucks” without taking a little bit of time to look into it. Just because you happened to be at the ballpark a couple of times when said player struck out in a big spot. Or that one time you had all your buddies over during the stretch run and the player made the last out in a close game. Or the time the player didn't throw you a baseball when you called out his name like you were close friends, doesn't mean a player “sucks.” If you are using memories and “feel for the game” as your baseball measuring stick, you are probably also wondering who Fabio is (and if you don’t get that joke, you can start by watching Moneyball and you may even begin to understand why Rickie’s career on-base-percentage is so valuable. Hint – the goal of baseball players is to not make outs).

Who would you rather have!?
One problem with sports is that many fans of hometown teams are just that: Fans of the team. They are not necessarily learned fans of the sport (this can be especially true of Packer fans). When evaluating players they like or dislike, very few people stop to consider the alternatives to that player simply because they know very little about any of the other teams or players in the league. Anytime somebody tells me that they want to get rid of a guy or that we shouldn't have picked up free agent x, I always impute: “Give me an alternative then. Who would you rather have?”

One good example of this is when everyone was whining about picking up Yuniesky Betancourt earlier this year. Nobody wanted him on the team because “he sucks.” Look, he’s a backup middle infielder. News flash: THEY ALL SUCK - hence the word backup. Sure it would be great if you could have Jose Reyes as your backup shortstop, but wouldn't it also be great to never have to take a crap at work. You can't just have it all.

In exploring the question of alternatives, one could legitimately make the argument that based on production throughout the entire span of 2007-2012, there are really only six other second baseman that the Brewers would have even considered as better alternatives to Rickie Weeks...

Robinson Cano
Brandon Phillips
Dan Uggla
Ian Kinsler
Dustin Pedrioa
Chase Utely

Even if you despised everything about watching Rickie Weeks play baseball, there are very few alternatives available. Second base in Major League Baseball is a shallow position. Fantasy players...err nerds...know this better than anyone. No matter how bad you THINK Rickie Weeks is, realistically he is ACTUALLY been better than 70% of the second baseman in baseball over the last half decade and he’s still only 30 years old. When you have a guy that hits 20+ home runs and steals 15 bases every year, you need to recognize that this is a good thing for your franchise. If the player is streaky or slumps from time to time, you show him patience (like Atlanta does with Uggla every year). The numbers from High Prospects-turned-Proven Veterans almost always even out by the end of the year and these proven guys should never be thrown under the bus solely based on impatient fan reaction. The problem is that fans get bored. And the backup quarterback is always the most popular kid on campus when the starter is going through a tough stretch. Which brings us to…

Him???
Now, I’ve got nothing against Scooter Gennett. If he would have been brought up in September for some spot starts and utility work like he should have, I would have been “Rudy’s” number one fan. But where we stand now, with Doug Melvin’s caving to the demands of the irrational, body-snatched fan base, all I can do is look at the collective lot of you and in my best Michael Bluth ask:

Him?”

This is the guy that you would have as your starting second baseman in the Majors? Really?

The one thing that drives me crazier than pretty much anything in the world is in-authenticity. If there is one word that describes me on my death bed, I hope it is genuine. I cannot lie, I cannot hide emotions, and I like things because I like them.

When people went absolutely wild for Scooter Gennett’s call up and Miller Park and FSN treated it like Bob Gibson’s first start in the Majors, it just about made me sick. The pomp and circumstance surrounding this verital nobody was about the most inauthentic sports showing I’d ever witnessed. No one was actually ecstatic that Scooter Gennett was finally making his Big League Debut after years of buildup and anticipation. They were just trying to stick it to Weeks in a, “are you watching buddy/we’d rather have anyone in the world playing second base but you,” kind of way.

Look I remember the first games for Rickie, Prince, and Braun. It is fun to get excited for legitimate prospects that you know are going to be the cornerstones of your club for years to come. It's exciting. This was not one of those cases. And it was wholly unnecessary to feign that excitement just to kick a vital part of your organization when he’s down (or because the pod people commanded you too).

If you are truly excited about Gennett becoming the Brewers second baseman (or even platooning with Weeks), then you probably know very little about baseball. And if you think that is harsh, than prove me wrong.

What excites you? 

Come On!!
Is it his 16th round draft pick pedigree? Is it the fact that he was ranked as only the 10th best prospect on a team which Baseball Prospectus ranked as the 3rd worst farm system in baseball? (Ouch). Is it his 24 home runs over 4 years in the minors? Was it his 8 steals in AAA this year? Or is it the fact that he only has to pay children's admission for movies and amusement parks tickets?

Look, I hate to tear the guy down (seriously), and I obviously cheer for him when he’s at the plate, but channeling another Bluth brother, "COME ON!!!"

We’re talking about a projected utility-man that has no business in being in The Show right now. Especially when he’s taking playing time away from a proven, legitimate, big-leaguer in a strangely power starved lineup. It’s a joke. And I can’t believe Melvin gave into the pressure. Having Scooter Gennett in a platoon makes the Brewers a worse baseball team and that is a shame.

He’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When He Comes
Based off of his rough start and strong finish just last year, Rickie would have come around regardless of the “motivational” tactic of bringing up Gennett this early:

Through June 1, 2012
Runs
RBI
HR
SB
Average
OBP
19
12
5
2
.155
.293

After June 1, 2012
Runs
RBI
HR
SB
Avg
OBP
64
51
16
14
.266
.355

Through June, 1 2013
Runs
RBI
HR
SB
Avg
OBP
22
10
3
4
.180
.285

Hmm… guess what Ricky has done in 6 starts since June 1, 2013?
Runs
RBI
HR
SB
Avg
OBP
6
3
2
0
.417
.451

And Scooter during the same time period?
Runs
RBI
HR
SB
Avg
OBP
1
3
0
0
.143
.250

The worst part about this whole thing is the question of where it leaves you as a franchise? Now you’ve committed to this “platoon” situation. You’re hurting the team by not playing an on-fire Weeks every day, not because it is the correct baseball move, but because you said you were going to do it and now you have to.

At what point then do you say enough is enough? Does Rickie have to hit 5 home runs next week? Does Scooter have to hit below .150 for the next 10 games in a row?

Where does it put you as an organization when you prematurely promote and commit to a guy that doesn't belong in the majors, solely so you can proverbially rub the dog’s face in his own feces after he shit on the floor for two months? And how does that affect the organization going forward when your dog is signed for this year and possibly two more years after? And finally where does that leave Scooter, seeing as the utility positions on the team are already filled with overweight donkeys playing out of position?

Melvin and Roenicke are going to have to clean this thing up and clean it up quickly if they want to move forward with any semblance of future success for either one of these guys.

Speaking of Going Forward
I suppose you could say that none of this really matters. This season is pretty much lost and what is the difference if you play Rickie, Scooter, Skeeter, Fozzy, or Nanny (she’s already got the baseball socks)?

But it does matter.

Sure, I just spent 2000 words praising Rickie Weeks, but that is not to say he doesn't have problems as a player. His two miserable starts to this year and last certainly haven’t helped the Brewers record over that time. He is a downright awful defender. And despite making highlight real plays from time to time, has led National League second baseman in errors basically his whole career. He is also certainly injury prone, hitting the DL at least once in all but two of his MLB seasons.

Rickie's always safe in my book
But he is a cornerstone of our generation’s Brewers. The first “Baby Brewer” to get called up and make an impact. He is still on all of the promotional posters and the FSN commercials. In 10 years with the team he has never said a bad word about the city or the organization. He never complains. He always plays as hard as he can and he always ends up with really solid numbers at the end of the year. From all I can tell, the guy’s biggest sin is that he is streaky. All of this adds up to a truly perplexing observation as to why the fervor and glee in which the fans of Milwaukee hate on him seems so unreasonable to me. I just don’t get it. Baseball is a long season that requires patience. You don’t give up on a franchise guy after two months (especially when he snapped out of it last year at just about the same time). You don’t embarrass him by benching him for a non-prospect. You don’t make your team worse...to make a point.

But we did those things. And everyone else in Milwaukee seems to be on board. And I can't understand why.

Well…I do have a guess.

It's the Body Snatchers.

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