Jemile Weeks: Cornerstone?
By Andrew Brown
A’s second baseman Jemile Weeks was sent back down to Triple-A Sacramento last week after a season that saw him struggle to keep pace with his rookie campaign. His batting average and on base percentage dipped to .220 and .305 respectively along with 15 stolen bases in the 113 games he saw action in this season. Those numbers are a stifling contrast to the 2011 numbers in which Weeks posted a .303 AVG, .340 OBP, and 22 stolen bases. He knew he was struggling offensively but mentioned his defense had gotten better. Many people around the league are wondering if Billy Beane and the A’s should move on from Jemile Weeks. Baseball is a business and sometimes one bad season by a player can see a team look elsewhere to fill the gap. This includes players considered a “cornerstone” piece to build around. I have two pieces of evidence that will defend Jemile Weeks while also arguing that the A’s should keep him. They may be simple numbers, but they are also a very important component to truly seeing whether a player is just having a down/fluke year or is forever an AAAA player.
The first piece of evidence I have is a sabermetric stat called Batting Average of Balls in Play. This stat consists of a players hits minus their home runs and then is divided by the number of at bats that player has had. A player generally has between a .290 and .300 BABIP. A player above this or below this tends to fall or move back into the average sooner rather than later. Weeks saw his BABIP jump to a .350 clip in 2011 only to fall way down to a .254 clip in 2012. (Definition and numbers found at fangraphs.com). What this stat tells me is that Weeks is struggling at the plate but is also dealing with some bad luck (either good defensive teams or hitting the ball right to players). When he comes back up, presumably on September 1, look for him to bounce back at the plate. His BABIP should rise back up into the average range thus improving his numbers drastically. If he continues to struggle he will have an entire offseason to go to work making the necessary adjustments. If he does improve at the plate either in September (and possibly October) or next season look at more than just the batting average and on base percentage stats in the box score. Look at stolen bases and runs scored as a result of being on base more and Bob Melvin finally being able to utilize his speed. This is the same type of effect Coco Crisp has. There is no reason Weeks can’t have the same effect Coco has on the lineup offensively on a day to day basis again very soon.
The second piece of evidence I collected can be found on the defensive side of the ball. Weeks said he got better defensively, and the numbers suggest he was correct. The sabremetric stat UZR stands for ultimate zone rating. UZR recognizes the amount of runs above or below the average defensive player at the position. Having a 0 UZR represents the average defensive player. A positive UZR means you are above average defensively, a negative means you are below average. Weeks posted a -4.1 UZR in 849.1 innings played in 2011 and a -3.3 UZR in over 1,000 innings played in 2012. (The definition and numbers can also be found at fangraphs.com). While he is still considered a below average defensive player he did show a dramatic improvement from 2011 to 2012. This shows me that Weeks is headed in the right direction on that side of the ball and will only continue to improve with time. Look for his UZR to improve again next season with more experience.
Weeks had an outstanding rookie season in Oakland which quickly saw him become a major face of the franchise. The 2012 season, however, has been extremely disappointing. The good news is he has time to figure out some adjustments in Triple-A Sacramento before being recalled to the big team in September. The numbers tell only part of the story as my fellow staff writer, Devin Pangaro, wrote about recently (https://whitecleatbeat.com/2012/08/23/jemile-weeks-and-the-human-element/), but I fully expect Jemile Weeks to be back to his 2011 self sooner rather than later. He still is a cornerstone piece for the A’s to build around and will continue to be for a long time to come.