In the time leading up to the start of spring training, I’ve decided to make a countdown of the 10 Brewers that I believe are most critical to their success in the 2011 season. It continues today with number 4.
There is something about Rickie Weeks. I can’t really describe what it is. When Weeks is hitting, like he did last year and early on in 2009, I just feel like the Brewer offense clicks. What is the use of Fielder hitting all those home runs, or Ryan Braun lacing a double down the right field line, if no one is ever on base? Good leadoff hitters are hard to come by in this league, especially nowadays. When Weeks is on, he is one of the best, and certainly most exciting, leadoff hitters in the game.
Last season, the first time in which Weeks played more than 130 games (he played in 160), he delivered. He hit .269/.366/.464, he hit 29 home runs, knocked in 83 RBIs, and scored 112 runs. He led the league in HBP. He walked 76 times (although he struck out 184 times). He only stole 11 bases in 15 tries, but throughout his career Weeks has been a capable base-stealer, and with a new manager in town, the steals total should go up.
Part of what makes Weeks so important to this years Brewers is the fact that he plays second base. What would happen to Milwaukee if Weeks went down? Craig Counsell has to play every day? Currently, Eric Farris is the only other player on the 40-man roster listed as a second baseman. Eric Farris had a .311 OBP for Nashville last year. Not exactly the kind of guy you want at the top of your order. If Weeks were to go down with an injury (which is, of course, a definite possibility given his history), the Brewers have nobody to hit leadoff. Would you put Counsell there? Corey Hart? Or, god forbid, Carlos Gomez?
Weeks’ health is obviously an incredibly important thing to factor into Milwaukee’s 2011 success. But it isn’t just his health. When I watch the Brewers, I can’t help but feel like Weeks is the spark that gets the entire team going. I mean, obviously he is the leadoff hitter, but on a deeper level, Weeks just brings an intensity to his at bats and every time he gets a hit or is running the bases everyone in Miller Park seems to scoot a little closer to the edge of their seats. I’m doing a very poor job of relaying Weeks’ impact, as someone who tries to use statistical evidence to support his answers, but the point is, Weeks seems to lift the performance of his teammates.
The statistical evidence is there, though. I mentioned his season last year. Weeks poses a legitimate power threat out of the leadoff spot, which will be good – Weeks is going to be coming up with 2 out and nobody on a lot this year, I expect, with Gomez/Betancourt/pitcher hitting 8th and 9th. Weeks last season led all leadoff hitters in home runs and RBIs out of the leadoff spot, and his ability as a “power” hitter are truly unique in that position. In my head earlier this offseason, before the Brewers traded Lorenzo Cain, I even thought about the idea of batting Ryan Braun second, Weeks third, and Fielder fourth. Just the fact that Weeks could spark an idea of batting him third in a very good lineup suggests that his skills as a leadoff hitter are something special.
Weeks’ knack for scoring runs is also exceedingly valuable. Last year in the NL, Weeks was second in runs scored with 112, and had an OBP of .366. The other players around him on that list Albert Pujols (115 runs, .414 OBP), Carlos Gonzalez (111 runs, .376 OBP), Jayson Werth (106 runs, .388 OBP), and Joey Votto (106 runs, .424 OBP). Interesting that Weeks has the lowest OBP of all of them but still scored that many runs. This is, of course, due in part to the fact that Weeks led the majors in plate appearances, but it also says a lot about his baserunning ability.
Point is, I like Rickie Weeks. I’ve already gone over why I think the Brewers need to extend him – he apparently set a spring training deadline today to get a deal done, and I really hope Milwaukee finds a way to do it, even if it doesn’t look great right now. Disregarding an extension for the moment, losing Weeks to injury this year would leave a gaping hole in the Brewer offense. With so much hope resting in the arms of the new Milwaukee pitchers, the Brewers are counting on Weeks replicating his 2010 season. They need him to make sure that the offense, which starts with him, continues to be one of the better lineups in the national league, so that perhaps Milwaukee can deliver on the hype.
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