Archive for the ‘Zobrist’ Category

You Don’t Mess with the Zobrist

June 22, 2009

“Part of the payoff for Aubrey Huff, [Ben] Zobrist is less the Shortstop of the Future then [sic] the shortstop of right now. Too old to be considered a high-ceiling prospect, he’s still a solid player with great command of the strike zone. He doesn’t have much power to speak of, but if he can catch the ball and get on base, he’ll be plenty serviceable for the time being.”
Baseball Prospectus 2007

“While he’s made it pretty clear that he’s [sic] doesn’t deserve a starting shortstop job, Zobrist is still a fundamentally sound defender with good on-base skills who will likely fill Josh Wilson’s bench spot next year, but do it better.”
Baseball Prospectus 2008

“Zobrist’s miserable 2007 was the reason the Rays acquired Jason Barlett [sic] in the first place, but . . . Zobrist refashioned himself as a future super-sub able to play six positions. . . . Expecting him to deliver a home run every 16.5 at-bats again is a bit of a pipe dream, but he’s one of the more valuable reserve players around, one who can give a team reason not to panic if a starter is forced to the disabled list.”
Baseball Prospectus 2009

A switch-hitter, he stands out the most for his ability to handle the bat, but all his tools except for power are average. The Astros often compared him to former standout utilityman Bill Spiers, and Zobrist projects more in that role than as a regular.”
— Jim Callis, Baseball America, July 12, 2006

Even if you didn’t understand a word Baseball Prospectus was saying about Ben Zobrist, you can pretty much tell what they thought of him by the fact that they put a typo in his writeup every single year. That’s pretty amazing. But anyway.

If you go by traditional qualifying rules (that is, you don’t give Mauer hitless at-bats for the number of plate appearances by which he fails to qualify — if you do that, he’s still leading the world in every category ever imagined), the guy those quotes are talking about came into Sunday leading the American League in OPS and OPS+, sitting 4th in OBP and 1st in SLG. He isn’t homering every 16.5 at-bats; he’s doing it every 12.4. He barely has enough plate appearances to qualify (he’s played in all but 8 of the Rays’ games, but has frequently been used in that “supersub” role, limiting his ABs), but is still in the top ten in counting categories like Runs Created, Adjusted Batting Runs and Adjusted Batting Wins, and his 33 extra-base hits are five short of the league lead. If not for Mauer, Zobrist would be the story of the year among AL hitters. He’s also played six positions (everything but first base, catcher and pitcher) and handled them all pretty well.

But the quotes above were all totally defensible at the time. Zobrist’s overall minor league numbers looked pretty good, but he never hit more than seven home runs in a minor league season, and never slugged .500 in the minors (despite being on the old side of almost every level at which he played) until doing it for the 20 games he spent in AAA in 2008. When BP said he had “made it pretty clear” he didn’t deserve a starting job, they were referring to Zobrist’s 2007 season, which I would bet is one of the worst hitting lines a position player has ever put up in > 100 AB: .155/.184/.206, good for a 4 (yes, four) OPS+. That followed a 48 OPS+ in 2006, so looking at the first 303 plate appearances of his Major League career (.200/.234/.275, 33 OPS+), and noting that he was already 26, you could very understandably conclude that he wasn’t ever going to hit enough to play in the big leagues.

Looking at his 447 PA since then (again, through Saturday), you’d have to conclude that this guy was an MVP candidate: .276/.374/.581, 145 OPS+, 27 HR, 72 RBI, 11/2 SB/CS. In 2006, he’s a AAAA player; in 2007, he might not even be that; in 2008, he’s a very serviceable supersub; in 2009, he’s probably the second-best player in the AL. He was never a notable prospect, and he turned 28 a month ago.

This doesn’t happen, does it? And how does this happen? Is he really one of the best players in the league allasudden, or is he (as ZIPs seems to think) due for a dropoff back to his 2008 level (which is still excellent) or lower (not so much)?

I think he’s come too far along these last two years to be a total fluke. But very few players can keep up the pace he’s on right now beyond a single year, if they can make it last that long (see Bradley, Milton), and I doubt Zobrist is suddenly one of those very few players. But if back to earth for Zobrist is a 120-130 OPS+? That’s still one of the best ten or twelve players in the league. Not a bad haul for half a season of Aubrey Huff three years ago.

What do you think?

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