Here's the short version: Rickie Weeks was way better than you think this past year. Sure, most of his value was concentrated in the second half of the season, but I take that as a good sign. He's healthier, and even if he never gets his batting average over .250 (which he will), he's be a very valuable offensive contributor in the next few years.
You might have noticed that I'm already hedging a bit, slipping in the word "offensive." The only thing keeping Rickie's defense from being more of an issue this year was that other things took center stage. We had his bat to worry about, and there was no question that he wasn't the worst defender on the infield. I'll get to that in a bit.
Taking the good (August and September, mostly) with the bad (first half, mostly), Rickie had a solid year at the plate. His overall line was 235/374/433, which puts him above league average in OPS, and even further above league average for a second baseman.
His second-half numbers are eye-popping: the OBP was over .420, and the OPS crept above .900. For reference, that's better than Corey Hart managed. His power has continued to develop, too. We've been hearing about the potential since the day he was drafted, and he set career-highs in doubles, home runs, and slugging percentage.
My worry is that, while he continues to progress, his growth is being stunted. He's been on and off the DL with a deceptively serious wrist problem that was probably affecting his performance earlier in the season and last year. Apparently it's the sort of thing that used to be career-ending, and there still isn't a magic pill to cure it.
That means that, to some extent, Rickie is learning to play hurt. I don't know how hurt, and I don't know how much it affects his production. (While the Brewers staff likely have a good answer to the first question, they are probably less clear on the second.) There isn't a solution to this problem; the Brewers usually err on the cautious side, so my guess is that Rickie is either going to play through it or not play at all.
The point here is that, for all the years we've had stratospheric hopes for Weeks, it may be time to ratchet down those hopes for good. That doesn't mean he won't be a solid player, but we're probably looking at something more like Tadahito Iguchi and less like Chase Utley.
Of course, I could be wrong. If Rickie gives us 150 games in 2008 just like his last 50 in 2007, a sometimes lead-gloved Utley it is. I hope so, but I don't think so.
The upside is that he's getting better. By John Dewan's Revised Zone Rating, Weeks has crept from .721 (ugly) to .765 (still pretty bad) to .785 (at least he can hit) over the last three years. Average for second base is .839. By my rough calculations, that means he gave back a win (maybe a run or two less) with the glove this year.
Since I like my reference points, let me give you a clearer example. Adjusting his VORP by that amount turns him from, well, Rickie Weeks into Mark Grudzielanek. If he gave us an entire season like his second half, the glove would turn him from Robinson Cano into Kelly Johnson. Or something like that.
Getting to the crux of the issue, Rickie is pretty bad, among the worst at his position, but not so bad to demand a position switch. He might even be one of the best two defenders in our young infield. Whoopee.
My system isn't all that optimistic. His 2007 median forecast is 259/361/429, which shouldn't be all that surprising. My spreadsheets don't know he was playing hurt, or have an opinion about whether he can play better now that he's either recovered or used to it. And anyway, second-half splits aren't typically all that predictive, setting aside the possibility that it was a health issue.
I'm willing to be a bit more rosy. My 80th percentile forecast sounds a little better to me, and has him at 264/373/453. That includes 18 homers and 26 doubles in about 550 plate appearances, all of which are certainly within the realm of possibility.
But at the same time, it's the fanboy in me that likes the 80th percentile, and the analyst in me that sticks with the spreadsheets. We'll be hearing plenty of stories come spring training about how Weeks is feeling better than ever, that he's over his wrist problems, and that he's ready to build on his strong August and September. Those stories and six bucks will get you a beer at the ballpark.
The nice thing here is that the skeptical view isn't so bad. If Rickie gives us exactly what he did in 2007 and stays healthy (okay, this isn't the entirely skeptical view), we'll have above-average performance from second base, and we'll be getting it quite inexpensively. That isn't easy to come by, and there aren't many players who can give it to you with the same amount of upside that Rickie has to offer.