Ben Zobrist in 2010

By R.J. Anderson

The question most asked about a second baseman this off-season likely revolves around Ben Zobrist
and the likelihood of a repeat season. Few foresaw Zobrist blasting 27
home runs or posting a slash line of .297/.405/.543 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in
his first year as an everyday major league player.

Zobrist’s
B-Rank (Bloomberg’s proprietary ranking of all major league players)
comes in at 47, making him a potential value pick given his average
draft position of 58. The lower ADP could suggest that some see a
Zobrist regression. Certainly one factor that might be in play is his
gradual decline over the course of last season, particularly in his
slugging percentage. On June 1, Zobrist’s SLG stood at .624 – by
season’s end it had fallen 81 points. Zobrist’s season-ending mark
still led all full-time second basemen. But second-half performances
can often have a big impact on draft position the next spring.

zobrist1.jpg

The
other, more obvious concern is that Zobrist cracked 27 home runs in 599
plate appearances, after hitting 23 home runs in 1,642 minor league
plate appearances. Throughout the minors Zobrist was an on-base machine
who lacked power. Then he met up with an aspiring hitting instructor
named Jamie Cevallos – and something apparently clicked.

Perhaps
the most appealing attribute of Zobrist’s game is his versatility. He
qualifies at second and in the outfield in all leagues. Zobrist also
played 13 games last year at shortstop, making him a decent bet to
qualify at short at some point this season for leagues with five- or
10-game in-season thresholds. As demonstrated by the bold font in the
Position Eligibility chart below, Zobrist actually made starts at every
position except catcher, designated hitter, and pitcher last season -
and he did appear as a pinch-hitter in the DH slot once as well.

zobrist2.jpg

 
Zobrist
will see playing time throughout the season and should bat in the
middle of one of the better lineups in baseball. His impressive on-base
skills should create plenty of runs scores chances, and his lofty
contact rate and emerging power – even if it regresses somewhat -
should help his RBI total. Zobrist also stole a career-high 17 bases in
’09, and should get plenty of chances to run in Manager Joe Maddon’s
aggressive attack.

The influence of a hitting guru aside, the simple dynamics of regression to the mean – what Bill James called the Plexiglas Principle
– tell us that a player who sees a big jump in performance one year
should expect to pull back the following year. Expect Zobrist’s power
numbers to drop as a result. Still, his overall skill set makes him a
good get in the fifth round of your draft; especially if your
leaguemates think his ’09 breakout was really a fluke.

For more information on Ben Zobrist and hundreds of other players, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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