It is hard to say Ben Zobrist has flown under the radar this season considering he has already been named American League Player of the Week. But outside of his record setting doubleheader, it feels – at least to me – as if Zobrist’s start has fallen behind the shadow of others. Just in case you have not noticed, with 21 extra-base hits in 123 at-bats this year, it appears as if Zorilla is trying to resurface in the Rays lineup.
Zobrist followed his MVP-caliber campaign with a substandard performance in 2010. After posting a .297/.405/.543 slash line in 2009, Zobrist hit just .238/.346/.353 last season. Because of his willingness to walk (92 free passes in 655 plate appearances), he posted an above-average on-base percentage despite his struggles when striking the ball. Thanks to his stellar efforts in the field, he was still worth nearly three and a half wins above replacement level (WAR) in what most considered a down season.
It is early, but thus far, Zobrist is hitting a 2009-like .285/.350/.577 (coming into Sunday’s game). His OBP is a bit lower because he is walking just around 10% of the time, but the extra-base hits have been coming in bunches. Zobrist’s current Isolated Power (ISO) of .293 is above the .246 he had in 2009. Some of that can be explained by the separation in average. He is hitting fewer singles in favor of more doubles, triples, and homers.
Looking at the big “luck” category of batting average on balls in play (BABIP), his .311 BABIP does not scream fluke although it is a bit above his career .280 average. He is swinging at a normal amount of pitches; however his contact rate is down. The biggest drop off is on contact on pitches located outside of the zone, and we all know Zobrist can be had on off-speed pitches that fall out of the regulated coordinates.
Zobrist might not hit the 30-plus home runs he is on pace for. Meanwhile, his current pace is not so torrid that it could not be sustained for a longer period of time. In 2008 & 2009, he had a home run to flyball (HR/FB) rate of around 17%. His current rate of 17.9% may be a bit high, but not much. The reason his HR pace is ahead of 2009 is due to the fact that he’s hitting more flyballs this year. In terms of home runs versus balls batted in the air (line drives and flyballs), Zobrist is still pretty close to his 2008 & 2009 power surge.
There is a fair chance that Zobrist’s average ends closer to .265 than the current .285. On the other hand, that might be the biggest regression he faces this season. As time passes – and some of the hits stop falling – he should continue to get on base with his trained batting eye. In regards to power, Zobrist may seem like he is hitting above his means; however, it is not outlandish to think he can top 60 extra-base hits considering he is already one-third of the way and is not hitting well-above what we’ve seen in the past. It is too early to declare that Zorilla is back. On the other hand, as Joe Maddon said on twitter, he is officially toasty.