Quick, Who is Leading the AL in OPS?

Kevin Youkilis? Evan Longoria? Mark Teixeira? All fair guesses and all up there, but the top spot belongs to Ben Zobrist. Ben Zobrist? What? Yeah Zobrist is riding a 15% walk rate and 0.351 ISO to the top of the list.

The walk rate is not totally unexpected. Last year it was over 11% and he has always had great walk numbers in the minors. His O-swing, Z-swing and contact numbers are all very good, but about where they were last year. So why the 4% jump in walk rate? Well he is seeing about 4% fewer pitches in the zone. Since he is so good at not swinging at those pitches his walk rate has jumped.

Why fewer pitches in the zone you ask? It probably has something to do with last year’s power surge, which has carried over to this year. The power is a surprise. He never hit over 10 HRs in any year in the minors, but then last year he hit 12 HRs in 227 PAs with a 17.4% HR/FB. This year he has hit 15 in 225 PAs with a 24.2% HR/FB.

The gameday fly ball distances back up the change, as his average fly ball went from 252 ft. and 253 ft. in 2006 and 2007 to 278 ft. and 290 ft. in 2008 and 2009. Zobrist is a switch hitter and although he has slightly more power as a lefty, he gets considerable power from both sides of the plate; his HR/FB rate this year is above 20% from both sides of the plate. His GB% and IFFB% have both decreased every year since 2006 adding to his power.

Zobrist isn’t the best hitter in the AL going forward, and he might not continue to hit just under a quarter of his fly balls for home runs. Still he is a very good hitter and one of a number great young players on the Rays.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


26 Responses to “Quick, Who is Leading the AL in OPS?”

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  1. Davidceisen says:

    Zorbrist has a career BABIP of only .255, this year it is .300. Granted he doesn’t seem to hit a lot of line drives, he does have a decent speed score, so maybe his BABIP has regressed toward the mean? This would help explain why his BA is so much higher this year.

    Of course turning fly balls into home runs helps out too.

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  2. Double06 says:

    The guy isn’t even on the All-Star ballot despite being tied with Albert Pujols in WAR. Good thing for him Joe Maddon is the AL’s manager.

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  3. thrylos98 says:

    Last time I checked, Joe Mauer has 1.170 OPS. He needs 24 PA to qualify. Even if he went 0 for 24, he would still lead the AL in BA and OPS.

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  4. John says:

    I hope his ZiPS RoS are underestimating him since he’s my starting shortstop.

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  5. Alireza says:

    Texiera isn’t even in the top 5. Also, anyone notice the quiet MVP performance Torii Hunter is putting up?

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  6. WY says:

    I wonder if the Astros regret giving him up for half a season of Aubrey Huff?

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  7. R M says:

    Was he ever expected to hit for power as a prospect, or is this a complete surprise?

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    • Alireza says:

      Well, he never hit for a ton of power in the minors, rather he put up huge AVG and OBP numbers and showed gap power and decent speed. Remember though that Zobrist is 28 now and has filled out a lot more, which means some of those LDs into the gap have turned into HRs.

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  8. JC says:

    His ZiPS RoS are a bit decieving as they only account for him having 205 ABs from here on out. What do the projections look like if he continues to start for the rest of the season (which I can only assume that he will).

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  9. Bill B. says:

    “Quick, Who is Leading the AL in OPS?”

    My guess was Russell Branyan.

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  10. Alex JN says:

    The frequently missing commas and overuse of rhetorical questions felt very grating – it seems as though this post could have used a couple read-throughs.

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    • kris says:

      I prefer to look at true-outcomes in baseball and corresponding articles. Who cares how the article got the point across, as long as it did. I’ll consider this the Adam Dunn of baseball analysis: It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

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  11. Jason B says:

    Nah, Kris did a fair job with it. *Snicker*

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    • kris says:

      You guys are blowing this way out of proportion. I was simply saying that you were a tall, muscular, southern boy that hates Toronto.

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  12. JohnF says:

    Also, the other thing about ZiPS projections, as many often point out, is that it doesn’t account greatly for a breakout season since it relies a bit on past performance and Zobrist has never been an everyday player before.

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    • cptspandex says:

      This is a good point and one that I was going to bring up. I would go so far as to say that we can throw ZiPS out the window entirely on guys like Zobrist. He’s clearly having a breakout season that nobody — even the most optimistic prognosticators — could have foreseen.

      Truth be told, nobody really knows what to expect from him for the rest of the season. This could be a true breakout or just an extended hot streak.

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  13. cptspandex says:

    I think it’s important to point out that Zobrist turned 28 today. That places him squarely in his prime as a Major League Ballplayer. While age is a relative term, I don’t know if he qualifies as a great “young” player.

    I just wanted to mention this for all you fantasy baseball keeper types, like myself. He has a bright future, but he’s more of a late bloomer and less of a Justin Upton young stud type.

    But that’s really a minor quibble. Overall, a great article!

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    • cptspandex says:

      What am I talking about, “today”? I meant this year. Looks like I even the critics aren’t infallible!

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  14. Jack's Son says:

    Not impressed with his swing at all. Good power though.

    I bet he doesn’t finish with an OPS above .850 (I’d predict lower but with such a HR surge to start it would be hard to fall below .800), which will still be good.

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