Or is he a bad player who (hopefully) has occasional hot streaks? For most if his career he’s been a good player, and occasionally a great player. I’ve been hoping that he’d snap back to that level of production and telling myself that it’s early. Thing is:
- It’s not that early anymore, and
- Given what we know of last year, we almost have the dreaded “large sample size”, and
- Rickie’s been hurt a lot, which doesn’t help you when you age, and,
- Rickie’s kinda old, and
- Rickie doesn’t have the best body type and has always been stretched at 2nd base, and
- He’s slower.
Yes, players do slump for more than a year. Yes, most players are not washed up by their 30th birthday, but the VAST majority of players never slump for a year, and some guys are essentially done when they’re 30.
I said on Twitter the other day that when I watch Weeks I’m reminded of Carlos Baerga and Jose Vidro (though they’re switch hitters, which is important for later). They were big-bodies 2nd baseman who hit for some power, and saw pretty steep declines around the age of 30. Baerga especially aged extremely poorly partially due to injuries.* A more optimistic comp who shows up in both PECOTA and on B-Ref’s comps list is Kelly Johnson, who has experienced Weeksian slumps in his age 29 and 30 seasons but who has, at least so far, bounced back this year:
2013: .275/.361/.471, (32 games)
Career until 2010: .269/.352/.447
So maybe there’s hope there, but then again, maybe not. Johnson is an interesting character in his own right. He had the same career year as Rickie Weeks in 2010 when Weeks was the most valuable 2nd baseman in baseball. Johnson had a 5.4 fWAR, 3rd among 2nd baseman only to Weeks and Cano at 5.8. He then experienced a precipitous decline. Here’s a side by side of Weeks and Johnson since 2007:
2007 3.3 3.1
2008 2.3 2.3
2009 .6 (106 games) 1.3 (37 games)
2010 5.4 5.8
2011 1.7 3.4
2012 .5 1.1
They look pretty close over the course of their careers, and Johnson is off to a nice start this year, (and read this) but there’s one huge difference between the two. Kelly Johnson bats left/throws right. This season he has feasted on RHP, hitting .288/.369/.534 in 84 Pas versus .241/.343/.310 against LHP. Johnson has not always had such extreme splits, but as players get older the difference often grows. Johnson, by virtue of his left-handedness, can probably survive this for quite a while as most pitchers (and people) are right-handed and as you can see, the Rays have been good about limiting exposure to the weaker side.
Rickie Weeks isn’t exactly raking against lefties, but he’s noticeably (over .200 points of OPS) better against them**. In 41 Pas against LHP Weeks is hitting .212/.366/.364 with 1 HR and 2 doubles. In 108 Pas against RHP he’s hitting .170/.278/.245. Looking at batted ball data the contrast is even starker for Weeks. He doesn’t have a good BABIP in general (.273 v. L, .246 v. R), but while both are lower than his career .303, there is more reason to believe that he’s been unlucky against lefties than righties. His LD% against lefties is a very solid 26.1%. 20% of his flyballs have left the yard against lefties. Against righties his GB% is four points higher, his LD% is 6.5 points lower, he hits way more infield flies, and only 6.7% of flyballs have left the yard. I’m not sure how to look up contact rate splits on Fangraphs so maybe someone can help me out there, but we have enough to conclude that Weeks has been better in almost every measure against lefties, and by a fairly substantial amount.
Let’s assume for a second that Johnson and Weeks are truly similar, or, at least were until very recently. They had similar peak seasons, similar ascents, and similar declines. They both had quick bats in their youths and hit everyone pretty well. But when you get old and your bat slows down, it suddenly starts to matter which side of the plate you stand on. The big advantage in being a lefty is simple demographics. Johnson has obviously been better than Weeks this year, but just look at the different ways they‘ve been exposed to their weaknesses.
Another common Weeks comp is Dan Uggla, a right-handed hitter. He’s hitting .197/.309/.409 in 36 games this year. He has an OPS of 1.002 in 38 PAs against LHP and a .628 OPS in 111 PAs v. RHP. If you reverse those opportunity numbers you have an All-Star, but with this breakdown in the aggregate you basically have Yuni. A low OBP guy “with some pop.”
If you want my prescription on possibly saving Weeks, put him in a strict platoon for a while. Put him in situations where he can succeed. This will limit his time for a bit, and I actually don’t even care if his platoon partner is a lefty or not, but if your goal is to build his confidence, this is a way to do it. If you want to get the most out of him, for now, this is the way to do it.
I’m not sure if Weeks is a bad player who will have occasional hot streaks, or a good player who will have occasional slumps at this point, but his comps and the side of the plate he stands on suggests that he may now be the former. That’s not a good thing, but at least there’s a way to deal with it.
*He had a minor comeback from 2002-2005, driven mostly by a crazy year for Arizona in 2003, but mostly he was washed up after 1999.
**Over his career this is truer of Weeks than of Johnson. Weeks has always hit lefties better, Johnson historically is more balanced.