Position Review & Preview: Rickie Weeks, Second Base

by Nathan Petrashek

You could hear the collective moan around Brewer Nation on July 27, 2011.  As Rickie Weeks, the Brewers’ All-Star second baseman, tripped over first base and lay flat on his face, everyone knew it was serious.  Weeks, a tough-as-nails type, would usually spring right up, but these were not normal circumstances.  Weeks was placed on the DL with a severely sprained ankle the following day and would miss all of August before returning on September 10.  Even now, at the start of spring training, the sprain is just fully healed.

The injury wasn’t devastating to the Brewers – the team actually went on a tear in August – but with the offensive juggernaut Prince Fielder departing, Weeks will be key to filling the void in 2012.

The time missed in 2011 obviously affected Weeks’ counting stats, but by all other measures, Weeks was the same hitter as in 2010.  Weeks ended both years with a .269 average, and while his on base percentage was slightly higher in 2010, his slugging percentages were almost identical, too.  Pitchers tried adjusting to Weeks’ 29-HR 2010 campaign by throwing more offspeed pitches, but it didn’t matter; Weeks’ avoided the temptation to chase balls outside the zone.  In fact,Weeks’ swing percentages were virtually unchanged from 2010, though he has always been aggressive at the dish.  In essence, Weeks is a known quantity on offense; he is an average contact hitter with good power and discipline.

On defense, Weeks has been a work in progress.  After trucking along in negative UZR/150 territory for his first few years at second, Weeks finally pulled up into the positive in 2010 and 2011.  Weeks isn’t the flashiest player, but his now-average range isn’t going to hurt the team much; if anything, he’s struggled more with balls hit straight at him last year.  He continues to give up errors at an unacceptable rate, leading all second basemen with 15 last year (tied with Dan Uggla).

The biggest question isn’t what Weeks will do on the field, it’s whether he can stay there.  Weeks has, to say the least, a lengthy injury history.  While I don’t think he’ll fall below last year’s 515 plate attempts, it’s safe to say that 2010’s 754 is an outlier.

2012 Projection: 135 G, 607 PA, 532 AB, 145 H, 90 R, 29 2B, 4 3B, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 61 BB, 130 K, 12 SB, .272/.359/.477


Trouble Brewing: What A “Broken” Hart Means For Milwaukee

by Kevin Kimmes

Well, the injury bug wasted no time in buying its ticket to Arizona this year as Brewers right fielder, Corey Hart, can attest to. For the 2nd straight year, Hart looks to start regular season play on the disabled list, this time due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

The injury, which will require surgery later this week, will leave Hart sidelined for 3-4 weeks, making the timetable tight for a potential opening day start, and potentially throwing the Brewers opening day lineup (which skipper Ron Roenicke said earlier this week was set) into turmoil.

The announcement came about an hour into the Brewers first Cactus League appearance of the year, a 1-1 tie with the San Francisco Giants, which also found Rickie Weeks as a late scratch from the lineup. Weeks, who has been nursing a sore throwing shoulder, participated in throwing drills, but was scratched about 15 minutes before the first pitch along with Hart. According to Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash, the Weeks injury is not considered to be serious.

The Hart injury does bring to light several questions which the Brewers will now need to answer in the next several weeks. For one, who will start in right field on opening day? As I have mentioned in previous articles, I fully anticipate that Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki will be able to transition and will be ready in time to take a starting role if needed. If this indeed proves to be true, I see this as the better option over starting center fielder Carlos Gomez in the vacant spot. Why, you ask? The simple answer is, his bat.

Last season, Gomez hit an unimpressive .225 in 231 at bats with an on base percentage of .276. Compare this to Hart’s 2011 line of .285 in 492 at bats and an on base percentage of .356, and its obvious that this is a dip in offense that the club can not afford to make. Hart, along with new third baseman Aramis Ramirez, will be relied upon to close the offensive gap left in the wake of Prince Fielder’s departure. As such, Hart’s replacement will need to produce better than what Gomez did last season, even if it is only for a short period of time.

As a two-time batting champion in Japan, Aoki has proven himself to be a threat at the plate as a contact hitter with an ability to aim the ball to all fields. With many claiming that he is the best pure hitter to come out of Japan since Ichiro, the door has now opened wide for Aoki to prove it. Also, should Aoki find his way into the starting lineup, expect Rickie Weeks to move from the number one slot in the batting order to the number 5 spot, thus beefing up the heart of the order. This could also see Nyjer Morgan slot in at number one, with Aoki in the two hole.

The other problem that Hart’s injury has exposed is Milwaukee’s lack of depth at first base. The initial plan was to have Hart back up first base hopeful Mat Gamel, but now with the injury the Brewers may need to rely on Travis Ishikawa for the time being. Ishikawa, who saw no playing time in the majors in 2011, was acquired from the San Francisco Giants where he batted .265 over 4 seasons. While this may be doable for the short-term, it again highlights the problem mentioned earlier: the offensive drop off created by not having Hart in the lineup.

Finally, for those that believe that Roenicke will rush Hart back early like he did in 2011 after the Nyjer Morgan injury, I will warn you to not be overly optimistic. Hart has a history of meniscus issues, meaning that the team will be overly cautious as this most recent injury is the most severe that he has sustained to this point.

If there is a silver lining to the injury, it is this: A huge opportunity to prove themselves has now been issued to Aoki, Gomez, Gamel, and Ishikawa. The question is, who will stand up and take the call?