I don't share this information as an attempt to gross you out or as an attempt to use fatherhood as an excuse as to why I haven't been blogging of late. I only tell you this because I had never been puked on so thoroughly before in all my life. And because of this technicolor dream coat of vomit that I was given to wear, I became very, very ill myself. So ill, in fact, that I was unable to attend the Brewers game on Sunday. I had company seats, 7th row, behind home plate. I was taking my parents (my dad's birthday was Sunday and he retired on Friday), but I couldn't stay away from the toilet long enough to make it to my garage, much less all the way out to Miller Park. So the family went without me to a Brewers game--my wife, my dad, my mom...and of course, my daughter, who was feeling super-dee-duper by Sunday morning. I was with them in spirit, of course, and my dad did go back out of the park so he could re-enter and cash in on a Ryan Braun Bobblehead for his ailing son. And as I watched the Brewers offense come to life from the sweaty comfort of my own couch, I knew that the team's success had little to do with my absence from the game. Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same thing about Rickie Weeks absence from the line-up.
See, the thing is...just like I will always love my daughter, regardless of how many times she spews molten oatmeal upon me like my own little Mt. St. Helen's, I will always believe in the future of Rickie Weeks, even as he continues to consistently throw-up in key game situations. Hell, I'll just say it. I love that kid.
I love the way Rickie Weeks approaches the game of baseball. I loved that last year, while I was working at the park, I'd see Rickie taking infield with Dale Sveum before any other players were out there. I love the way the ball jumps off his bat (granted, when he makes contact), and I love the way he hustles out every single ground ball, just like Robin and Mollie used to. Despite the fact that he was the second overall pick and signed the largest amateur contract in Brewers history, Rickie has never displayed any arrogance or the slightest sense of entitlement. Despite his well documented struggles, the kid plays hard. And no one can deny that an abundance of talent is waiting to be tapped.
And yet...here we are again. For the past few weeks there have been another group of emails exchanged among several of my friends about when Yost is going to finally get the balls to bench Rickie. For several weeks, our friend Kelly has been admirably attempting to defend Rickie, primarily citing his ability to score runs as justification for putting up with Rickie's other apparent flaws. In the other corner of cyberspace were Jon and Darren (who, of course, still refers to Weeks as "Rick"), who each could care less about Rickie's runs scored, but merely want a lead-off hitter who can get on base for the big boppers. As these emails continued to be exchanged, I pretty much stayed out of the fray but silently cheered when Kelly would make his pro-Rickie arguments. Things turned for me a little, however, when Kelly started to rip Prince in his defense of Rickie. (However, maybe I should be thanking Kelly for apparently lighting a fire under the big man's arse.) And the debate seemed to flicker out eternally yesterday when Kelly conceded that the Brewers offense finally clicked with some legitimate table setters at the top of the order.
And although I applaud Kelly's efforts to defend Rickie, the fact is, I agree with both sides of the debate. For the record, I would never be in favor of benching Weeks this early in the season. He has offensive capabilities that no one else on the roster possesses. And as I've said before, no one has ever worked their way out of a slump on the bench. It just doesn't happen. But at the same time, I can't see how the Brewers can continue to march him up there in the lead-off spot.
And that, my friends, is the point I've tried to make about Rickie Weeks for the past three seasons--Rickie is NOT a lead-off hitter. The Brewers want him to be solely because he's fast, but that's not the approach Rickie has ever taken at the plate. And it's not how the Brewers projected him throughout his minor league career. Rickie was always projected to be a three-hole hitter, a plan that changed when the Brewers drafted arguably the greatest three hole hitter in all of baseball in the form of Ryan Braun. But that doesn't change the fact that Rickie never spent time as a lead-off hitter during his development. And it's really difficult to change your approach and make that drastic of an adjustment at the major league level.
Consider this: it was about this time of the year in 2005 when the Brewers decided to call Rickie up to the majors full time from Triple AAA. Take a look at his numbers when he left Nashville:
55G 203 AB 43 R 65H 12 HR 48RBI 28BB 51SO .320BA 10SB
Now I ask as you, as you look at these numbers from early June 2005 do you immediately think--"now there's a lead-off hitter"???? Me either. I know what I'm thinking: there's a kid who likes to swing for the fences, who probably benefited from hitting in front of Prince at triple A (Gwynn was the lead-off hitter on that team), and who doesn't get cheated when he swings...
Interestingly enough, take a look at Rickie's numbers heading into this evening's game against the Diamondbacks:
56G 217AB 41R 45H 7HR 19RBI 29BB 46SO .207BA 9SB
It's rather astonishing to me that with the exception of twenty less hits, and the 100 point drop in average because of it, the numbers are actually eerily similar. And I know, the cynics are going to say that those twenty extra hits makes it ridiculous for me to even compare the rest of the numbers--but is it really? When I look at the walks-to-strikeout totals and how close they are, I'd have to say that the Brewers have gotten everything they should have expected from Weeks back in 2005...with the exception, of course, of those missing twenty hits.
And I also believe that Rickie has failed to obtain those 20 less hits because he's not been able to take his same approach at the plate. The Brewers are asking Rickie to try to see more pitches and work the count deeper--you know, like a lead-off hitter would. But that's not something Rickie is used to doing. Like Ryan Braun, Rickie is a free swinger. Name the last time, you saw Rickie get a cheap, bloop single...He's a line drive hitter who doesn't ever shorten his stroke with two strikes--you know like a lead-off hitter would. And what's more bizarre to me, is the Brewers don't really want him to shorten his stroke with two strikes. You know why? Because they don't want to take away from his power. So they're asking him to take the approach of a lead-off hitter, but without relinquishing any of his power. What does that translate to? More hitting with two-strike counts. And more swinging and missing on that third strike...because you aren't asking him to shorten his swing.
What's more baffling to me is that Corey Hart has proven to be a terrific lead-off hitter, but because he doesn't look the part--the Brewers are resistant to put him there. Yost claims it's because he wants to protect Fielder because Corey is hitting so well with runners in scoring position...but do you know what else Corey does well--bunts for hits, sees a lot of pitches, and effectively shortens his stroke with two strikes--you know, like a lead-off hitter would.
So instead of Jon calling for the benching of Rickie Weeks or Kelly saying he should keep leading off, I say Rickie should be given the chance to swing like he did when he was called up to the big leagues. Is he going to strike out a lot? You betcha. After all, Ryan Braun has struck out 49 times this year and has only walked ten times. But you don't notice his Ks as much because he's producing those extra hits. But Ryan doesn't exactly work the count. And Rickie could really benefit from chasing a lot more first-pitch fastball strikes (something he started going after more during his seven game hitting streak a couple weeks ago) which he too often is letting go by because he's desperately trying to be a better lead-off hitter...even if he's not really built that way.
It's not easy to develop as a lead-off hitter. Tony Gwynn has had several years to try it in the minors (he and Rickie were drafted in the same year after all) and Dave Krynzel never figured it out. But if you want Rickie to start stroking the ball like he can--let him start hacking.
My suggestion: Give Rickie a shot in the two hole, with Ryan hitting behind him. After all, even Ryan Braun's numbers drastically improved when Yost flipped him and Fielder in the order and he started seeing more pitches. Give Rickie a chance to benefit from the fastballs he'll see from pitchers who don't want to pitch to Ryan and Prince. Then watch the fastball hitter go to work.
Ryan (who has the chance to be Wisconsin's next Favre, but that's another post)
This is the line-up I've been clamoring for. This is the line-up where Rickie will be able to show what he's made of. It will make Kelly proud.
And it will erase a third of a season full of constant puking...