I understand some players choose not to swing at the first pitch (habitually), but it seems Rickie Weeks takes this to the extreme. Nearly every at-bat for Weeks begins with a meatball right in the middle of the strike zone and he just watches it go. Does this concern hitting coach Jim Skaalen at all? You would think Weeks may do better than .191 if he took advantage of the opportunity nearly every pitcher he has faced has given him on the first pitch, and if nothing else, may allow him to start off ahead in the count.
-- Dave M., Menomonee Falls, Wis.
There are instances in which Weeks -- and any other leadoff hitter, for that matter -- goes to the plate looking for a first-pitch fastball (according to STATS, Inc., Weeks is 3-for-7 including a home run this season when he puts first pitches in play). But it is also a leadoff man's job to work the count, especially early in games, so the hitters behind him can get a good look at the opposing pitcher, and to get on base by any means necessary.
Weeks' .191 batting average is unacceptable, but at least he's getting on base at a .333 clip. You'd like your leadoff man to be getting on base a bit more than that, but he's close to the league averages; National League leadoff men averaged a .342 on-base percentage through Sunday and in the American League, the average OBP was .339.
Does Weeks sometimes "force" at-bats to fit the profile of a leadoff man? Probably. He is more natural in the middle of the order, but need dictates that he bats leadoff for Milwaukee. If you lift Weeks from the leadoff hole, you probably go with Corey Hart instead, and you would face some of the same free-swinging tendencies while taking away Hart's RBI potential from the No. 5 hole. I suppose you could also use Jason Kendall there, but every indication from Skaalen and manager Ned Yost is that they are happy with Kendall hitting ninth.
Way more likely is that the Brewers wait for Weeks to get hot. How many times have you heard Yost talk over the last week or so about how many "hard outs" Weeks is making? Seems to me that he brings that up every day. I think the feeling in the clubhouse is that the worm is about to turn.
One more stat. Through Sunday, only seven Major Leaguers had scored more runs than Weeks (21), and he was only two behind league leaders Lance Berkman, Carl Crawford and Chase Utley, all of whom were batting at least .300 and two of whom (Berkman and Utley) had on-base percentages of better than .400. Given Weeks' low batting average and the relative team-wide Brewers slump, it doesn't make sense.
I suppose the counter argument is that if Weeks could reach base at even the league-average clip, the Brewers would be way better off because they are capitalizing when he's on base. But it still seems impressive that Weeks ranks so high on that leaderboard.
Despite our abundance of outfielders, I was a bit surprised by the Gabe Gross move. I suppose most of that surprise is from what we got in return. Can you tell me more about Josh Butler? Is he a highly rated prospect, or was this more of a trade that effectively was a DFA for Gross?
-- B.K., San Diego
Look for more deals like this in the coming months. GM Doug Melvin points out that over the last year or two, the Brewers have parted with a lot of younger pitchers via trades or other roster moves, from Dana Eveland in the November 2006 trade with Arizona, Dennis Sarfate to waivers and then last summer the deal with San Diego for Scott Linebrink that cost three pitching prospects, including highly regarded Will Inman.
Melvin recognizes a need to re-stock the farm system with arms, and he will do so via trades like the Gross deal and with the team's extra picks in June's First-Year Player Draft.
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Club officials did not say much about Butler other than he is a big guy and a former second-round draft pick. His numbers in the Minors are not great (0-2 with a 6.35 ERA at advanced Class A at the time of the deal), so Butler, 23, appears to be a long-term project.
Typically, Yost rests multiple regulars on day games (Thursdays and/or Sundays). Would the team be in a better situation if rests were rotated around like Spring Training? As a full season-ticket holder, it is frustrating coming to the ballpark and seeing the "B Squad" penciled in the lineup. I know we have an above-average bench, but if we truly have a win-now attitude, should we put a better lineup out there continuously?
-- Jason R., Muskego, Wis.
I think Yost does, to some extent, try to rotate days off so only one or two regulars are out of the lineup at a time. That said, day games after night games (usually Thursdays and/or Sundays) present the perfect opportunities to give guys a break, and Yost almost always has an additional reason for it aside from getting Craig Counsell some extra at-bats. He'll sit a guy who has poor numbers against the opposing team's starter, for example.
The manager stresses over this. On one hand, he wants to play his best options, and this season, more than any other, because the Brewers have so many 140-plus-games players, that will be the case. But Counsell, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Gabe Kapler are going to be far less effective off the bench if they never get any four-at-bat days.
What kind of presence has Kapler been in the clubhouse thus far? Being as he had a year of coaching last season, has he brought any of that coaching mentality to the clubhouse?
-- Kyle S., Green Bay, Wis.
From what I have seen -- and that's not very much, because our time in the clubhouse is limited to about three of the 10-12 hours a day the players spend together -- Kapler is a reserved, calm guy, soaking up the experience. He's not forcing anything on his teammates.
Prince Fielder is the leader of this club, and if something needs to be said, it's Fielder or Yost who will say it.
First off, I'm not a stalker, but I was curious as to what happens to players that are called up like Hernan Iribarren (earlier this month). Do they stay with teammates, a hotel or does the team have a place for them? With Ryan Braun last year, when it was obvious his stay in the Majors would be long term, it was different. But when Mike Rivera made the team the last week of Spring Training, he didn't have much time to find something.
-- Dan M., Milwaukee
If the team knows a player is in for a short stint, he is put up in a hotel, even when the team is at home. Sometimes, though, guys will stay with teammates who have a spare bedroom at their apartment.
The Brewers and director of team travel Dan Larrea assist players with housing, but you are correct that sometimes it gets tense. Rivera was a perfect example of a guy who didn't know what to tell his family with a week to go in Spring Training. Should his wife and son go to Nashville, Tenn., to look for a place? To Milwaukee? Just wait at home and see what happens? It happens to guys every year, and it's just part of the game. Often, it is the families who feel the most stress.
We have the CITGO home-run board, why don't we add something similar for stolen bases?
-- Stacey K., Milwaukee
More flashy video boards at Miller Park? No thanks.
I have heard a rumor that the organization wants to be back in the American League. Is this true or is it a complete lie or rumor?
-- Tim B., Anaheim
This came up early in Spring Training with principal owner Mark Attanasio, who said there is absolutely nothing to that rumor. The Brewers have built a National League team and that's where it appears they will stay. If you owned a franchise, would you want to play more games against the Red Sox, Yankees and Angels?
Me and my friends were talking about the Brewers pitchers' hitting this year and about how good of a hitter Yovani Gallardo is. And we were wondering if when the Brewers get back to full strength with Mike Cameron and back down to 12 pitchers, why they don't start Gallardo for every away game. Not so that he could pitch, but in case the pitcher's spot would come up in the first inning, he would be able to hit. And if Gallardo doesn't get up, then they could just substitute the actual starting pitcher in there where he would normally be. I mean, what's the worst thing that happens? The Brewers go 1-2-3 in the first and Gallardo isn't available to pinch-hit later in the game?
-- Ben E., Valders, Wis.
Give Ben and his buddies extra credit for thinking outside the box. Melvin, who proposes starting a reliever, then bringing in your starting pitcher in the third inning and letting him finish the game, would love this line of thinking.
Someone needs to go through box scores to see how many times the pitcher hits in the first inning. I am guessing that the argument against this plan is that you never know when you'll need a guy like Gallardo off the bench in a more crucial late-game situation, and that you increase the chance of injury to one of your more valuable players by putting him in more games.
Interesting thought, though.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.