Grading the Brewers: Infielders

J.J. Hardy was the most consistent performer in an infield that was in constant flux in 2008 because of platoons, injuries and poor offensive production. Check out Hardy's report card and those of his infield mates.

Milwaukee's young infield core started the season with a new member and witnessed a revolving door in two spots because of inconsistent offensive and defensive production from second baseman Rickie Weeks and third baseman Bill Hall.

Hall's willingness to move back into the infield after a one-year experiment in center field because of Ryan Braun's shift to left was supposed to solidify things. Hall understandably struggled at times but made brilliant plays at other times. The same went for Weeks.

However, unlike Braun's error-plagued 2007 campaign, neither Hall nor Weeks produced enough offensively, thus both saw their playing time curtailed in platoon situations, first with veteran utility player Craig Counsell, then call-up Russell Branyan and then the acquisition of Ray Durham before the trading deadline.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy and first baseman Prince Fielder provided more than adequate run production, but the lack of continuity and/or improvement all-around leaves a lot of question marks for 2009.

So, it's report card time, and here are the final grades:

First baseman Prince Fielder

The Brewers' big man—except for CC Sabathia--and clean-up hitter started the season in a hole, mainly because the 50 homers and 119 RBIs from 2007 heightened his and everybody else's expectations.

Prince Fielder

While neither he nor the organization would admit it, Fielder's unhappiness with Milwaukee's lack of a huge contract offer during spring training—he was signed for $670,000—contributed to his slow start and snowballed from there. Fielder didn't hit his first homer until his 15th contest, although it was a game-winner at St. Louis. So were his two dingers against Cole Hamels to beat Philly as Fielder finished April with four long balls and 20 RBIs.

His average improved to .294 in May after Fielder hit .250 in April, although his run production suffered with four HRs and only nine RBIs. His roller coaster season continued with a .268 showing in June and .298 in July, although he combined to club 14 homers and knock in 32 runs.

Fielder scuffled despite the Brewers' 20-7 showing in August, hitting only .228, although he chipped in six homers and added 20 RBIs. Then he carried the Brewers through their dismal September with a .316 mark, adding six long balls and 21 RBIs, including his big walk-off blast to beat Pittsburgh in the final home stand.

Fielder finished with 34 homers, 102 RBIs, a .372 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage, although he struck out a career-high 134 times. He accumulated a respectable .239 average against southpaws with 10 homers and batted .295 vs. righties.

He couldn't carry that hot streak into the playoffs, although he faced two left-handed starters, finishing only 1 for 14 with two RBIs and five strikeouts. Fielder's only hit was his solo blast in the season-ending setback.

Like good friend Rickie Weeks next to him, Fielder isn't a natural fielder and committed three more errors (17) than he did in 2007, thus his percentage was down a hair to .988.

Final grade: B-

Second baseman Rickie Weeks

Weeks ended up on the disabled list again after injuring cartilage in Game 3 of the NLDS, the latest in a string of nagging maladies that have haunted him, the Ben Sheets of position players.

Rickie Weeks

Weeks turned in another disappointing, frustrating campaign after many thought he had turned the corner with a hot finish in 2007. But Weeks, like several other players, started in a funk and never dug his way out. He finished with a .234 average with 14 homers and 46 RBIs and tied Braun for the team lead in triples with seven. He also contributed 19 steals, second to Corey Hart's 23.

Weeks' .342 on-base percentage was respectable because he walked 66 times, which allowed him to score 89 runs, second to Braun (92). Still, he has been miscast as a lead-off hitter, mainly because Milwaukee hasn't found one they like better. Weeks struck out 115 times, one of six Brewers who surpassed the century mark. Just think what his OBP would be if he could hit .270.

Weeks struggled out of the gate, hitting .208 in April and .211 in May. He jumped up to .250 in June but was on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left knee suffered on a late, questionable slide by Colorado's Jeff Baker. Weeks then recorded months of .250, .247 and .283 to end the season. Weeks managed a .250 average against lefties but went .227 against right-handers. He also struggled at Miller Park, batting just .209 compared to .255 on the road.

His biggest month in homers was May with four, and he added three in September, highlighted by a three-run shot that secured a big win in the final series against the Cubs. He also had two four-hit games, one each in August and September, but Weeks hasn't found consistency and thus hasn't realized the huge potential that fans are tired of waiting for and that the organization still hopes he reaches.

Weeks only batted four times in the NLDS, going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

There's no question that Weeks has improved defensively and made several outstanding athletic plays. But that's just it: He's an athlete that the organization is still trying to make into a defender after four years of growing pains.

His 15 miscues gave him a .975 fielding percentage, not bad, but not good enough considering he became a platoon player for much of the second half. He's just not natural in his technique, neither at getting in front of balls or his play around the base, especially at turning the double play. No one questions his attitude or work ethic, but the results simply haven't been there after his fourth big-league season.

Final grade: D

Shortstop J.J. Hardy

Hardy didn't quite reach his All-Star power numbers from last season (26 homers and 80 RBIs), but he wasn't far behind at 24 and 74. And he improved in several categories, including doubles (30 to 31), walks (40 to 52), OBP (.323 to .343), slugging percentage (.463 to .478) and average (.277 to .283).

He was hitting .249 with two homers and 15 RBIs through May, but he heated up after that. Hardy batted .310 in June and .339 in July, which included a 16-game hitting streak. He swatted nine homers and knocked in 21 runs in carrying the team in July. He then registered a 12-game hitting string in August, finishing at .294. Hardy belted five homers and drove in 16. And despite batting .255 in the final month, he added four long balls and 10 RBIs.

Hardy batted .304 against lefties and .276 against righties and despite a couple of long droughts, he was a model of consistency, hitting .283 with 13 homers before the break and .282 with 11 long balls after. He also hit better away from Miller Park (.316 to .248), although 14 of his HRs came at home.

Hardy would have been worthy of Most Valuable Player consideration had Milwaukee bounced back to win the NLDS. He finished 6 of 14 (.429) with a double and two RBIs, walking twice with no strikeouts to finish with a .500 OBP. And he went to right field for several hits, something he did better than anybody else in the lineup with the exception of catcher Jason Kendall.

Hardy was near the top of the charts in fielding among shortstops in the first half but dropped a bit to finish with 15 errors and a .977 percentage, although he had 59 more chances than last year. He was still the glue that held the infield together considering the work-in-progress right side and Hall/platoon players manning the hot corner.

Final grade: B+

Third baseman Bill Hall

Hall started out well in power numbers, belting seven homers and knocking in 19 runs through April, including a two-homer, six-RBI performance in the home opener against San Francisco.

Bill Hall

However, he struggled average-wise and scuffled tremendously against right-handers, which eventually prompted former skipper Ned Yost to start a soft and then full platoon with Russell Branyan and later Craig Counsell. Hall let his frustrations out originally through the media, but he was a team soldier the rest of the way.

Hall hit .232, .218 and .164 before producing a .288 July in which he hit four homers and had 16 RBIs, crushing game-deciding homers in back-to-back games at Busch Stadium as Milwaukee completed a four-game sweep the week after the All-Star break.

But Hall slipped to .235 in August and .182 in September to finish at .225 with 15 round-trippers and 55 RBIs, walking only 37 times while whiffing 124 times. That gave him a miserable .293 OBP and .396 slugging percentage. He finished .306 against lefties and .174 versus righties.

He went 2 for 8 in three playoff contests, both hits coming in Milwaukee's 4-1 win in Game 3.

Defensively, he made many wonderful plays, but Hall also suffered through growing pains both fielding and throwing at his third position in three seasons. He finished with 17 errors at third for a .939 percentage. Those numbers should improve with another full camp.

Final grade: D+

Utility man Craig Counsell

This Milwaukee area native played in 110 games, many more than originally expected because of injuries, platoon opportunities and late-inning defensive chores.

Counsell didn't produce offensively with a .226 average, one homer and 14 RBIs, but his OBP of .355 was because he walked more times (46) than he struck out (42). And even though the results weren't there, he almost always worked the count and coaxed crucial walks as the Brewers won six of their final seven outings to reach the playoffs.

Counsell went 2 for 12 with an RBI in the NLDS.

But his value was predominately on defense, where he committed only three errors while filling in at second, third and shortstop.

Final grade: B-

Third baseman Russell Branyan

The Muscle provided pop and a spark upon his call-up from Nashville in late May, clubbing 10 homers in his first 20 games through June 19. However, his all-or-nothing past resurfaced on a team full of such types as he walked only 19 times and struck out 42 times in 132 at-bats.

Then an injury sidelined him around Aug. 11 and he got only one at-bat after that.

Branyan hit a dramatic homer against Minnesota closer Joe Nathan in the ninth, although the Brewers lost that game. His 12 total homers accounted for only 20 RBIs. He finished at .250 with a .342 OBP and slugging percentage of .583. He committed four errors in 35 games at third base.

Final grade: C-

Second baseman Ray Durham

The Brewers obtained the switch-hitter before the trading deadline to provide leadership, flexibility, a productive bat off the bench and another option for the struggling Weeks.

And if not for nagging hamstring trouble, Durham might have played a bigger role down the stretch.

Durham batted .280 in 41 games, including 12 doubles, three homers and 13 RBIs and a .369 OBP. He also gave the Brewers a quality double play presence, not committing an error in his 115 total chances.

Final grade: B-

Utility man Joe Dillon

Dillon accumulated only 75 at-bats in 56 games while bouncing back and forth between Milwaukee and Nashville.

Dillon didn't provide the same magic that he did while hitting .342 in 2007, although pinch hitting is a tough job and not getting regular work hindered his efforts. He finished with three doubles and his first homer since 2005 with Florida, and it came against Randy Johnson, with six RBIs for a .213 average.

He started 10 games at four positions with one error.

Final grade: D+

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