True Blue: Deconstructing Brewers X-Factor Rickie Weeks
The 2002 Milwaukee Brewers were the worst team in franchise history. The season’s lone bright spot happened in early June, when the Brewers drafted Prince Fielder with the seventh overall pick. A serious rebuilding process was finally underway, and the Crew hit the offseason with a new GM, Doug Melvin, and a new manager, Ned Yost.
The 2003 team was almost as disastrous, but did improve from 56-106 to 68-94. But the team also had the second pick in the 2003 MLB Draft, and selected Southern University second baseman Rickie Weeks. Weeks, the Baseball America College Player of the Year, posted a .473 batting average his collegiate career, good for two straight batting titles and the highest average in NCAA history.
A big bopper like Prince? That we’d seen. Richie Sexson was in the midst of a three-year stretch for the Brewers where he topped 100 RBIs each year, and hit 45, 29, and 45 home runs. Geoff Jenkins, Jeromy Burnitz, John Jaha, Greg Vaughn, Rob Deer – the Brewers had seen guys with power lead them to the middle of the pack (or worse) for a decade.
But a hit machine with speed and power, playing second base no less? Not since Yount and Molitor did the Brewers have anyone like that. The youth movement had legs. On August 14, 2003, the Crew showed off their minor leaguers at Miller Park, hosting a Midwest League game between the Beloit Snappers (then of the Brewers minor league system) and the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (then of the Seattle Mariners’ system). More than 14,000 fans attended. It was a single-A game with no stakes. People just wanted to see the young guns.
The energy in Miller Park that day was something to behold. It was the beginning of a new era. Mark Attanasio purchased the franchise a year later, and with the fifth pick in the 2005 Draft, the Brewers selected Ryan Braun. While Braun and Fielder have each surpassed the lofty heights of their draft-day expectations, Weeks isn’t quite in the same conversation.
For one, there’s only been one season when Weeks played more than 130 games. That would be the lost season in 2010 that was over before it started (See: Trevor Hoffman, Ken Macha). Weeks hit .269 with a .366 OBP, .830 OPS, 29 home runs, 83 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and 112 runs scored (2nd in NL). A strong season, sure, but not exactly setting the world on fire. Weeks also struck out 184 times, third most in the majors in 2010 and 22nd most in MLB history (single season).
Wrist injuries landed him on the DL in 2006 (95 total games played), and 2007 (118 games), and caused him to miss all but 37 games in 2009. In the 2008 Wild Card series against the eventual champion Philadelphia Phillies, he had more errors than hits, injured his knee in Game 3, and missed the deciding Game 4 (Ray Durham went 0-4 filling in). Last year, his first as an All-Star, Weeks suffered an ankle injury on July 27, and did not return until Sept. 10. When he did come back, he wasn’t even close to full health.
Rickie Weeks has a .255 career batting average. He’s never hit more than 30 home runs, never had a batting average over .280, never had more than 85 RBIs, has a career .OPS of .791, and only stole more than 20 bases once in his career (25 steals in 2007). He’s struck out more than 100 times in four different seasons (and had two more 90+ K seasons). The only category in which he’s led the league in a season is hit by pitch (25 in 2010).
So why do I continue think he’s among the best players in Major League Baseball?
I’ll admit I do not think rationally when it comes to Rickie Weeks. Every year, I think he’ll rip 30+ home runs, play dazzling defense, spray line drives all over the field at a rate we’ve never seen, run the bases like Jackie Robinson 2.0, cut down on the strikeouts and play all 162 games at full health. Every year I think he’ll push the Brewers potent lineup into rarified air, becoming the X-Factor that carries the Crew to a World Series.
“Just wait until he plays a full season,” I’ll say, “His wrist is finally healthy, look out this year” or “He’s just unlucky, things will even out,” or “Macha/Yost is screwing him up, he just needs a real manager,” or “He shouldn’t be batting leadoff, he should be up with guys on base,” or “Look at him, he’s built like a tank! He could hit 40 bombs this year!” The list goes on.
The breakout season hasn’t happened — but he’s due. Weeks is in the prime of his career, in his eighth season at age 29. He’s in the second of a four-year, $38 million contract. He had all offseason to rehab his injured ankle. All of the ingredients for a career-altering season are there, including karma.
Weeks is the soft-spoken heart and soul of the Brewers. In a preseason interview, manager Ron Roenicke said, “Rickie is not very vocal to the team, but when Rickie is vocal, the guys respond. When he tells somebody that’s enough, that’s it. That‘s enough. It’s different when it comes from a guy who’s respected as much as Rickie.”
Weeks never complains about his contract, manager or teammates — he’s all business. He rarely complains about questionable calls. He doesn’t even get angry when he gets plunked or complain about his spot in the lineup. In an age of gratuitous self promotion, his twitter account has a single post that simply says, “playing baseball.” He had nothing but positive things to say about his best friend Prince Fielder leaving for Detroit (Weeks is godfather to Prince’s two sons). He’s hosted charity dinners and sponsored events to help fight diabetes.
He’s a consummate professional in everything he does. If he has the breakout he’s capable of, there’s no limit to how far this team can go.