Ben Zobrist Is Invisible

When I wrote about Evan Longoria’s status as a five-tool player, I neglected to follow the post up with the intended sequel post. In the post, I wanted to point out how the Rays have a collection of players who excel at three or four aspects of the five-tool spectrum. Matt Joyce hits for power, fields well, runs the bases well, and (at least this season) hits for average; Sean Rodriguez hits for power, runs well, throws well, and fields well; and so on.

Ben Zobrist appears to be a four-tool player too, and one with the added wrinkle of position flexibility unlike anyone else on the team—Rodriguez can probably imitate it, but Zobrist has the trust of the coaching staff, which counts for something. I believe it was Jordi Scrubbings who wrote a piece earlier in the year saying Zobrist often goes unnoticed, and it’s true. Not many realize this, but Zobrist has nearly equaled last season’s production already. That isn’t to slam Zobrist’s 2010 either, but to empower his 2011. Just look at how the various value metrics are evaluating him:

Season FG B-R BP
2008 1.4 0.5 1.4
2009 8.6 7.1 7.5
2010 3.7 3.1 2.2
2011 3.5 2.7 2.5

The beauty of Zobrist’s extension is that he will be here through his age-35 season. The Rays took a risk when they extended Zobrist just after his big season, but the deal would only look bad if he fell back into the abyss that once landed Brendan Harris the starting shortstop position. Zobrist has not, and if anything, he is good enough that people take his contributions for granted. Perhaps the most interesting thing with Zobrist’s extension now is whether he can avoid the harsh aging curve that seems to come with playing second base. Perhaps splitting time in the outfield will curb the effect.

Regardless, Zobrist’s performance so far in 2011 might be tops amongst Rays positional players*—even if it is rarely thought of as such.

*In the interest of full disclosure, both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus value numbers have Zobrist ahead of Joyce, Baseball-Reference’s has that order flipped. I simply went with the majority vote, although there is no wrong choice.

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