From Robin To Rickie

February 24, 2006

Analyzing Rickie’s Defense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jamie Herbst @ 3:17 pm

Much has been made of Rickie Weeks’ defensive shortcomings at second base. This morning in the Journal/Sentinel’s position by position preview of the Brewers, they took a look at the second basemen, and once again Rickie’s issues with the glove came up. Dale Sveum, our new third base coach, is apparently working with him and in videotape saw an error in how Weeks was fielding balls (never mind that Sveum, by any metric, was very average to below average with the leather and that he played a grand total of 53 games at second base during his career). Ned Yost went on to compare Weeks to Marcus Giles, a young second baseman he worked with in his time coaching with the Braves.

“Marcus Giles came up, and nobody thought he would ever be an everyday second baseman there,” Yost recalled. “Except for one guy, (infield coach) Glenn Hubbard. Glenn worked and worked with him, and now Marcus is an all-star second baseman. And I foresee Rickie doing the same thing.”

In contrast to Sveum, Giles’ tutor, Hubbard, was a near-Gold Glove winning second baseman in 1332 career games there, but I digress.

Coming up through the minors, no one disagreed that Rickie had a great bat and tremendous talent, a sure fire bet to hit at every level right from the start. However, the knock on him was always that he was brutal defensively at second base, his projected position. Many, including Baseball Prospectus, projected him to eventually move to the outfield. In BP’s opinion, his defense was enough of a handicap that they moved him all the way from #9 on their 2004 top prospects list to #36 in 2005.

When the Brewers picked up Corey Koskie this offseason, many including myself thought it might be a great time to trade Brady Clark, move Weeks to center, and install Bill Hall as our second baseman. After all, since Weeks is athletic he’d be able to handle the outfield, right? And Hall’s bat would be much more valuable coming from a second baseman than at third. Clark’s coming off a very good year, and his trade value right now is probably as high as it has ever been or ever will be. We could cover third base until Ryan Braun was ready with a Koskie/Cirillo platoon. However, in interviews, Brewers’ GM Doug Melvin has continually denied that this was an option or even a consideration, reiterating that Weeks is the Brewers’ second baseman of the future.

What’s the Brewers’ best move? Is Weeks really as bad as people say he is at second base? What about other young second basemen around the league? Are they that much better with the glove? Spreadsheet time!

I decided to use Clay Davenport’s FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) defensive metric to rank all second basemen who played 70 or more games there in 2005.

2BFRAA1

We can see that Weeks is pretty close to the bottom of that list, but is he really that bad? There are some big extremes here, and the range of FRAA goes from 17 on the high end all the way down to -24 on the low end. Taking that into consideration, a -5 doesn’t seem quite as bad.

Some immediate conclusions can be drawn from this list, the most obvious being that as bad as people say Weeks’ glove is, there are a lot of well regarded second basemen that are just as bad. I might’ve just missed it, but I don’t remember too many instances of anyone badmouthing Jose Vidro’s, Ray Durham’s or Tad Iguchi’s defense.

“But wait”, you say, “Rickie only played in 95 games at second; he would’ve been much worse if he played every game.”

That’s true, and is something we need to take into consideration. Here’s the same list, with a column added for each FRAA prorated to 162 games.

2BFRAA2

Here Weeks comes in at -8.5, still better than guys like Ray Durham, Todd Walker, Jorge Cantu, Tad Iguchi and Alfonso Soriano. Plus, the diffrence between Weeks and Soriano is much larger than the difference between Weeks and better defensive second basemen such as Jeff Kent, Craig Biggio, Robinson Cano and Chase Utley.

Tad Iguchi played second base for the World Champion Chicago White Sox, and was touted as a very big reason for the White Sox’ emergence. In fact, when asked what made the difference for them last year, team defense is very often cited. You don’t see too many people talking about how brutal Iguchi’s glove was at second for them.

Alfonso Soriano was unbelievably bad. While he is widely regarded as a star (some would say undeservingly), 24 runs lost to your team while you’re on the field over the course of a season is a lot, folks. The Rangers possibly would’ve improved themselves by having a light-hitting second baseman with an average glove over having Soriano. They must’ve realized this, as they dealt Soriano to Washington for Brad Wilkerson during the offseason. Now the Nationals want Soriano to move from second to the outfield, a change Soriano is balking at (nice team player).

Another consideration to make is how much younger Weeks is than most of the players on this list. Marcus Giles, mentioned by Yost, is now entering his age 28 season and has become a very above average defensive second baseman. Where was Giles at Rickie’s age? In Giles’ rookie year, 2001, at the age of 23, he put up 5 FRAA in only 62 games at second. Needless to say, Giles was and is in a different class from Weeks with the glove. But is that really a fair comparison?

Again looking at the above list, there are four other players within two years age of Weeks who played 70 or more games at second base last season- Robinson Cano (now 23 years old- the list contains their 2005 ages), Ruben Gotay (23), Jorge Cantu (24), and Jose Castillo (25). All of these except Gotay projects to be their team’s starting second baseman in 2006.

Jorge Cantu accumulated his -13 FRAA splitting time between second and third base for Tampa Bay, but I think it’s obvious he’s got some glove issues. Yet the Devil Rays are counting on him to help anchor their youth revival, and have no plans to move him off of second. Prorated to 162 games, his defense is worse than Weeks’ on the same level that Soriano’s is.

Of the second basemen similar in age to Weeks who have already gotten significant major league time, the closest comparisons we can make are Cantu, Robinson Cano of the Yankees and Jose Castillo of the Pirates. We’ve established that at this point Weeks’ glove seems further along than Cantu’s, and it doesn’t seem too far behind Cano’s and Castillo’s. Ignore the many players between them for a moment, and notice that Weeks’ prorated -8.5 is only 3.6 runs worse than Cano’s, and 8.5 worse than Castillo, who was considered league average in 2005.

What can we draw from all of this? After seeing it laid out this way, it seems like thoughts of moving Weeks to the outfield may be premature. Other teams have done very well with much lesser gloves manning second (Iguchi; Todd Walker in 2004 with the Cubs is another good example). Also, Weeks doesn’t turn 23 until September- he’s got a ton of time to get better. I don’t think anyone who’s watched Weeks play doubts that he has the range to play the position, he just seems to make stupid mistakes on routine plays. If his bat develops as expected and he makes decent improvements with his glove, we’ll have an All-Star second baseman for a long time to come in Milwaukee.

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2 Comments »

  1. I’ve been delving into this subject myself lately, and have been wondering why Rickie is so bad (what did Sveum see specifically, do we know?). Furthermore, is there any precedent for his improvement? And, if he doesn’t improve, would it be better to move him? I’ll be making some posts regarding these questions on my blog at brewhad.blogspot.com in the near future.

    Comment by Robert J. Baumann — June 6, 2006 @ 9:25 pm

  2. Here are some links that I believe will be interested

    Comment by artyutyiuio — August 8, 2006 @ 7:18 pm


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