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Ben Zobrist: still solid, but declining

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It's a new era in Tampa Bay. Staples in the Rays organization, including Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon, David Price, and now Ben Zobrist, are gone. Zobrist had been one of the most productive players on for the Rays for years.  In just over 4,000 PA from 2008-14, Zobrist hit .269/.363/.441 with a 125 wRC+. He had three seasons with 20 or more home runs and has stolen double digit bases in every season since 2009.

However, some aspects of Zobrist's game have declined in the last two years. Specifically, he's seen a drop off in both power and speed.

Year

HR

SB

wRC+

2014

10

10

119

2013

12

11

116

2012

20

14

137

2011

20

19

130

Jason Collette pointed out a noticeable drop in fielding range last year:

Zobrist isn't moving as well as he used to earlier in his career.

The most alarming trend offensively is the drop off in hard contact. Zobrist’s hard hit% has been dropping yearly since 2012:

Season

Hard hit%

MLB avg.

2014

14.4%

17.2%

2013

19.4%

17.2%

2012

25.7%

20.8%

2011

25.6%

20.8%

Zobrist was significantly above league average in squaring the ball up in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, he was 18th best in baseball. In 2014, Zobrist fell to 143rd in hard hit%. He isn't getting the same consistent force behind his contact that he used to be able to generate.

Zobrist’s hard contact against fastballs has also alarmingly dropped. 2014 was the first season since 2007 that his hard hit% against fastball strikes was below average:

Season

Hard hit% FB str.

MLB avg.

2014

6.0%

7.1%

2013

9.5%

7.1%

2012

10.9%

8.4%

2011

11.2%

8.4%

The drop in consistent hard contact against fastballs may signal a drop in bat speed. These signs point towards an age related decline.

Positives: Plate discipline

Ben Zobrist has fantastic plate discipline. His strikeout rate (12.8%) and walk rate (11.5%) are still well above league average. Most impressively, in 2 strike counts, Zobrist finds a way to avoid the strikeout. Sometimes, hitters avoid high strikeout totals by swinging early in the count and putting the ball in play. Zobrist avoids high strikeout totals by having an excellent eye and not offering at poor pitches. He is well above average in strikeout rate with 2 strikes, swing and miss rate with 2 strikes, and on base percentage with 2 strikes:

2 strike tendency

Zobrist in 2014

MLB avg.

K% of PA’s that reach 2 strikes

28%

39%

Swing and miss % with 2 strikes

15%

22%

OBP with 2 strikes

.305

.253

Zobrist also does not chase bad pitches early in the count.

Type of chase

Zobrist in 2014

MLB avg.

Chase% before 2 strikes

15%

21%

Chase% of non competitive pitches (not near K zone)

14%

18%

Case for Zobrist in 2015

Zobrist is no longer a top 100 fantasy player, but with eligibility at SS, 2B and OF, he is still a good fantasy option. He has a good chance to have double digit HR and SB totals and combine them with solid avg., R and RBI totals, which is valuable at the SS position. If we go by what Steamer projects for him, Zobrist still has plenty of fantasy value.

Steamer projection:

HR

R

RBI

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

12

82

66

9

.266

.353

.406

119