We are reaching that time of the baseball season where this series offers more of a prospective look. What I mean by that is that the players we look at from here on out may not contain any real-time analytical value. That’s sort of of an eccentric way to say that it’s too late for me to help you now. In fact, I was thinking of arugula when I typed that sentence. But it’s never too early to begin and gather what we’ve learned from this year and apply to the next. Of course, we’ve been doing that with every single post, but the focus has been mainly on the now and soon-to-be now. The time has arrived when we can officially start laying our eggs in the proverbial futuristic basket. A robot basket, with The Matrix twins and lasers. Wait, is there a proverb that involves a futuristic basket? Virginity like bubble, one prick all gone. No, that’s not it. Man who leap off cliff jump to conclusion. Eh, close enough. Today’s focus is an interesting one — taking a player who has never really done anything great, but done a lot of things well, and when’s he’s done those things well, he’s done it with multiple positions. That’s what she said.
I speak of none other than Ben Zobrist. Now, as stated above, he brings a lot of things to a fantasy team. There’s a mediocre batting average, a sprinkle of power and speed, multi-positional eligibility, and also consistency within all of those things. The old adage that when it rains, it pours, doesn’t really describe the production you get here. Rather, you get The Drizzle.
High school yearbook picture of Ben Zobrist. He was voted most likely to destroy Japanese coastal cities.
And there’s nothing wrong with drizzle production. It’s helpful, unflinching, a rock in the wind. Something-something wax poetic. Except, this season is different. This time, we aren’t getting that drizzle. Granted, Zobrist’s batting average is along his career norms, and the steals are still kinda there. But what made Ben Zobrist into the Zorilla was the fact that he could hit 20+ home runs. Without the power, there is no longer any drizzle. There is only Daniel Murphy. Which is all well and good, but that’s not what you were paying for. If you wanted Daniel Murphy, you would have simply waited around 160 picks to go by, and then, boom, Daniel Murphy is on your roster. But, alas, barring a late season power surge, the damage has been done and we are now looking at a guy that will barely make it to double digit homers. In fact, talking about surges and homers and booms has got me reminiscing.
How Ben Zobrist hits a home run.
How I fart when home alone.
Similar? No. Relevant nonetheless.
To start things off, let’s take a look at the last five years, and I’ll choose the trusted table approach to make this summation.
Let’s get the obvious out the way. Some time, during this upcoming off-season, you might one day read a post saying that Ben Zobrist is a sleeper candidate. They might point out the fact that this year could be an outlier. And they might also state that he had a year very similar to this one, back in 2010, and did just fine the following year. Yes, both of these things might be true. But sooner or later, someone is going to look at his BABIP. Sooner I guess, since we’re looking at it now. But this is our secret, don’t tell anyone. Back in 2010, Zobrist’s BABIP was sitting at .273. Now, remember, BABIP doesn’t include home runs, but it does include all balls hit into play, both on the ground and in the air. Combined with the fact that his batted ball profile and plate discipline numbers were all well within career norms, I surmise that whatever was going on that season, luck, or in this case, bad luck, was certainly part of it.
Now, fast forward to 2013, another underachieving year, and you’ll notice a .311 BABIP. That’s not only much higher than in 2010, it’s also above his career average of .292. You might think that’s a bad sign. Afterall, at a basic level, what we are seeing here is that despite Ben Zobrist doing everything at the plate the same way he’s always done, but with a higher BABIP, he still isn’t hitting the ball out of the ballpark. When that’s the case, there are usually only two possibilities… he’s injured or he’s getting old.
I’m not convinced on either count. Why? Simply put, take a look:
If you look at his batted ball profile and fly ball average distance, there is only one number that doesn’t belong. And that’s his 2013 HR/FB rate of 5.2%. Zobrist is still hitting his balls to all the same places. And, more importantly, he’s still hitting them the same distance. No injury, no degradation of skills from getting old or otherwise, which we would see in these numbers. Rather simply, he’s been unlucky. But, but, but, the BABIP doesn’t say that! True. But that’s taking all of his BABIP values into consideration. MIND BLOWN. Look at it this way. I don’t necessarily care how much he hits the ball on the ground, or the luck associated with that. (However, it should be noted that his batting average may be a bit lofty and some regression could occur there. Not enough to change the dynamic though.) Only fly balls will turn into home runs, and in this specific case, with Zobrist, we only want to care about that one aspect. We’re here to figure out what happened to the power. And the one stat that can help show us what’s going on is his fly ball BABIP. In 2012, it stood at .118. His career number? .111. What is it this year? .084. I rest my case.
You know that sleeper post that I said someone would write on Ben Zobrist next year? I just wrote it. BAM!
Jaywrong is a 30-year old Korish writer who finds solace using Makers Mark as a vehicle to impress women, and also has an affinity for making Jennifer Lawrence GIFs. You can follow him @jaywrong, read his blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow, or, you can find his GIFs at his tumblr, named Siuijeonseo.