Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers ’14 – #23 Rickie Weeks

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It’s Saturday, March 8 and we’re 23 days away from Opening Day. And unless you’ve just recently come to follow the Milwaukee Brewers, I don’t have to tell you that number 23 is worn by…

Rickie Weeks.

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Rickie Darnell Weeks has been the Brewers Opening Day starting second baseman for eight seasons, but for the first time in a long time that job is in jeopardy.

The challenge comes from Scooter Gennett but what’s going to win or lose the job for Weeks is Weeks himself. That’s because despite Gennett’s defensive advantages and that he hits right-handed pitching better (in an admittedly small sample size), the offensive ceiling for Weeks is far superior still.

Weeks hasn’t had many seasons where he’s been completely healthy. In fact, Weeks has only two seasons with at least 130 games played — though both of those were at least 157. In those seasons, Weeks has an All-Star Game appearance and plenty of offensive statistics to show for the effort.

But that’s why Weeks is his own worst enemy for keeping this job all season. And the perfect microcosm? 2013.

The season saw Weeks a little farther removed from a gruesome ankle injury to start but he simply couldn’t get it going at the plate. He limped out to a .191/.296/.319 slash line in April and was not only worse, but somehow was much worse in May, slashing .173/.272/.235 in the Brewers worst month as a team.

In June, Gennett came up and the Brewers maximized the playing time of both guys. Weeks started against pitchers he matched up well against and Gennett started against right-handers who he had a better chance against on paper.

Weeks flourished.

He dominated the month of June to the tune of .355/.429/.677 and launched half of his season home run total. He didn’t walk much but also limited his strikeouts. The matchups definitely helped, but he also seemed to be coming out of the funk he’d been in over all.

Gennett was optioned back down eventually. Weeks began to scuffle again and grinded through a July to forget. He was six games into a brutal August when he tore his hamstring and would miss the rest of the year.

So there you have it:

  • Rough start
  • Demonstrated ability to still rake at times
  • Deep freeze
  • Injury

Weeks had surgery and rehabbed to health during the off-season and has, if you’ll pardon the pun, hit the ground running this spring. He’s off to a .364/.563/.636 start in Cactus League action and has faced opposing pitchers of a 9.2 quality, per the rankings on Baseball-Reference.com where 10 is if you face all MLB-caliber pitching.

That’s all in just 16 plate appearances, so make of it what you will, but the fact that he isn’t hitting .200 has to feel good for a player who certainly had his confidence tested over the past 12+ months.

Unless the Brewers get some excellent trade offers this spring, Weeks is looking strong to make his eighth consecutive Opening Day start. Whether Gennett is on the 25-man remains to be seen but chances are that Milwaukee will require his services at some point in 2014.

Milwaukee needs to hope that Weeks can produce like he’s shown he has the ability to do. It’s what’s best for the team’s chances in 2014 and that’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day.

To that end, Weeks has tweaked his batting stance slightly. He’s keeping his hands higher which helps him load more quickly and get to the ball faster. That argument was beautifully laid out by my pal Tim Muma on his Brewers Mix blog as far back as May last year. (Check that out here: http://www.brewersmix.com/2013/05/rickie-weeks-hands-are-problem.html) The results with the tweak seem to be working well so far. Time will tell if things last.

Weeks won’t ever be a .320 hitter, but his batting eye is still amazing and he continues to get on base at a clip roughly 100 points above his batting average — whatever that average is.

Bottom line: If Weeks is capable of helping, he’ll likely be back in his traditional lead-off role for field manager Ron Roenicke. He’ll set the table for Jean Segura, Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez and others. He’ll score runs because, as we know, “Rickie scores runs.”

For the Brewers’ sake, let’s hope we see a lot of that. I like Scooter as much as the next guy, but for 2014 the Brewers best chance at fame and fortune comes with Weeks producing.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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