>Compare these two second basemen in 2009:
Player A: .282/.397/.508, 31 HR, 28 2B, 4 3B, 93 RBI, 88 BB, 23 SB, 0 CS
Player B: .297/.405/.543, 27 HR, 28 2B, 7 3B, 91 RBI, 91 BB, 17 SB, 6 CS
Player A is, of course, Philadelphia’s under-appreciated and often-beaned Chase Utley. Player B is Tampa Bay’s even more unknown utility-man extraordinaire, Ben Zobrist.
I’d briefly like to point out that Ben Zobrist quietly had a better season than any other major league position player. Again, Zobrist hit .297/.405/.543, 27 home runs, 28 doubles, 7 triples, walked 91 times, and stole 17 bases while registering time at every position on the diamond except pitcher and catcher. He spent the most time in RF and at 2B and was well above average defensively at those two positions. According to Fangraphs’ WAR (Wins Above Replacement, a metric for putting a player’s value in terms of wins), he was the most valuable position player in the majors this year – even more than god of WAR himself, Albert Pujols – yet the highest MVP vote he received was a single sixth place vote, which indicates that a lot of people missed his special year. My best guesses as to why Mr. Zobrist went unnoticed:
A.) He plays in Tampa Bay, and the Rays became old news this year, overshadowed by the Yankees and Red Sox.
B.) He didn’t have his own position, and I think utility guys often get looked over for that very reason.
C.) He’s on the older side (28) for someone establishing themselves in the Majors, yet somehow still looks like he’s twelve.
D.) A lot of his value comes from his defense, the most undervalued tool in the Major Leagues. Few pay attention to it at all, and those who do readily admit that their measurement systems for it are flawed. However, the Mariners won 87 games this year with a terrible lineup and a revolving door rotation (nine different pitchers made at least ten starts) because their defense was spectacular, the best in the Majors. The Seattle front office apparently figured out the secret of defense.
So again, look out for Ben Zobrist. Maybe this year was a just an aberration, but he was always a good on-base guy in the minors, and if he can maintain his defense, be ready to be hearing a lot more from Mr. Zobrist.