Rickie Weeks: All-Star

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We know who the NL’s best second baseman is, and Chase Utley doesn’t figure to lose his title any year soon. Second in line is an open question. Brandon Phillips is an excellent defender and a solid hitter, albeit one who is miscast as a cleanup man in Cincinnati. Dan Uggla last year reached the 100-home run mark faster than any second baseman in major league history, doing so in his 502nd career game. However, he’s a liability defensively who probably belongs at the hot corner.
It’s possible we’re seeing a couple of new All-Star candidates emerge this year. Martin Prado, who overtook Kelly Johnson for a starting job in Atlanta last year, went into Thursday with a .400/.469/.545 line in 55 at-bats. Rickie Weeks has been even better. He’s batting .339/.473/.610 after Thursday’s 20-0 rout of the Pirates. In 15 games, he’s scored 16 runs and knocked in 12. Only Matt Kemp has more runs scored among National Leaguers.
Of course, Weeks has always scored runs, even when those whining about his subpar batting averages wanted him removed from the leadoff spot in the Brewers order. In 497 major league games, Weeks has scored 350 times. He’s scored 0.163 runs per plate appearance in his career. Let’s compare that to the rest of the guys who have spent the bulk of the last five years batting leadoff:
Career runs scored per plate appearance
Rickie Weeks – 0.163
Johnny Damon – 0.157
Grady Sizemore – 0.152
Rafael Furcal – 0.151
Jose Reyes – 0.150
Ichiro Suzuki – 0.147
Jimmy Rollins – 0.146
Chone Figgins – 0.146
Brian Roberts – 0.143
Juan Pierre – 0.132
If you want to throw Derek Jeter into the mix, he’s also at 0.163 in his 608 career games as a leadoff man, but much of that was achieved during a higher-scoring era. In 160 games since he returned to the leadoff spot last year, he’s at 0.151, even though he’s a better hitter than Weeks batting at the top of a better lineup.
Weeks’ knack for finding home plate really is remarkable. He hasn’t played for particularly strong offenses, and while he has more power than most leadoff men, he doesn’t match Sizemore and Rollins in the department.
What remains to be seen is whether this will be the year Weeks puts it all together. He was off to a fine .272/.340/.517 start in 37 games last year, only to be undone by the latest in a string of wrist injuries. Weeks averaged just 95 games per season from 2005-09.
Weeks also has a poor defensive reputation, though the numbers say he’s gotten a lot better and I think most scouts would agree. UZR has him at negative 24.4 runs from 2005-08, but at positive 5.1 runs in 49 games since the beginning on 2009. It’s far too early to say that he’s now an above average second baseman, but I do believe he’s a whole lot better than he was.
If Weeks stays healthy, then I fully expect him to be the NL’s second-best second baseman this year, even if he ends the year hitting .270 or so. He’ll have a nice OBP regardless, and he could well score 110-120 runs. He’s also a possibility to hit 20 homers. Maybe Phillips has more upside if he turns in a career season, but I don’t think anyone else does.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.