Bearish on Ben Zobrist

In each of the past four years, Ben Zobrist has hit 20 home runs or stolen 20 bases, but it is rather doubtful that he reaches either of those marks this season. At age 32, it is reasonable to ask whether Ben Zobrist is starting to hit his decline phase, which is important to consider in dynasty and keeper leagues.

He is making more contact than he has in his career thanks to lower walk and strikeout rates, but his BABIP remains .294 which is consistent with his .296 of last season and his ISO has shot down to .114 – on par with his relatively powerless 2010 campaign. The good part about owning Zobrist that year was that he at least stole 24 bags, but he is on pace to steal just over 10 this year and he still only has five home runs.

I expect Zobrist’s home runs to improve in the second half, as his 4.6% HR/FB rate is oddly low. Even so, there is a chance that he is just losing his power as he ages and that it may not return. Getting a late start to a career hurts the longevity of one’s peak, and I am starting to believe that we may be on the tail end of Zobrist’s.

He has long been one of my favorite players for a number of reasons, but ZiPS has him hitting just .260/.356/.423 for the rest of the year with seven homers and seven steals. While you can still plug Zobrist into a number of relatively weak hitting positions and be satisfied with the results, the days of banking on production in most standard categories look like they are in the past.

At this point, the value in Zobrist is that he is contributing in R and RBI and isn’t killing you anywhere else. In the league I have him, which includes SLG, he is really starting to hurt me which I never expected in the beginning of the season. Even though I start him at SS, I am considering trading for an SS and making Zobrist more of a fill in rather than a weekly starter.

The other route is to move Zobrist, as his name value and positional flexibility may carry more weight than his actual performance going forward. It is definitely not certain that this is the case, but if you are hurting at the position you are starting Zobrist it could be wise to capitalize on his name (how did he make the All Star game?) and get some value back. At absolute worst, it seems to be time to start creating some back up plans regarding Zobrist.

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Ben Duronio writes for Capitol Avenue Club, FanGraphs, and does the Sports Illustrated Power Rankings. Follow Ben on twitter @Ben_Duronio.

14 Responses to “Bearish on Ben Zobrist”

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  1. Matt says:

    I drafted Zobrist in all 3 of my yahoo leagues thinking he was an absolute steal for where he was going and have been mildly disappointed with his season. I like you am starting to look at other options. Thinking about moving Everth Cabrera to SS and starting Gyorko (when he’s activated) over Zobrist for the foreseeable future in the one league where i currently have options.

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  2. nilbog44 says:

    I saw something earlier this year that had his WAR basically equal to Miguel Cabrera’s over the last couple years. Boy, that stat is more flawed than I thought.

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    • bdhudson says:

      Offense isn’t the only way to win games. Fielding goes into WAR as well.

      Learn more about the metric before you right it off completely.

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:


      Ben Zobrist was a .370 wOBA guy with a bunch of steals and good 2B and elite OF defense, while Miguel Cabrera was a .400 wOBA guy with bad 1B and awful 3B defense. That’s a pretty similar value, even if I would take the .400 wOBA guy every time.

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    • Benzedrine says:

      WAR is not a great metric for fantasy purposes, given the defense inclusion

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    • jdbolick says:

      Giving nilbog44 a bunch of minuses doesn’t invalidate his criticism, however shallow it was. Would anyone who clicked minus even consider taking Zobrist over Cabrera in those years? If you don’t like what he said, feel free to make a case why his comment was wrong. Defense certainly is important, as are positional differences, but they aren’t so important as to make Zobrist and Cabrera into similarly valuable players. And actually, fWAR had Zobrist as the 2nd most valuable major leaguer in 2011 and the 3rd most valuable in 2009. Who on the planet agrees with that? We all know that doesn’t pass the smell test, so a discussion as to why might have some value.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Why not take Zobrist then? He posted excellent offense via a combination of good to high AVGs, excellent walk rate, good power and steals, he played excellent run saving defense and he both plays a great position naturally and has flexibility.

        Something else to consider is that part of why Zobrist was second to Miguel Cabrera is that not everyone BELOW Zobrist played full seasons during Zobrist/Cabrera’s peak: For example, Evan Longoria has 23.8 WAR to Ben Zobrist’s 24.3 and Miggy’s 25.0…but Longoria played 101 less games than Zobrist. So on a per-season basis, Longoria was more valuable, he just didn’t play as much. Same with Votto (23.3 WAR, but 58 less games/210 less PA than Zobrist).

        Chase Utley is another excellent example: If he had been healthy, his 20.0 WAR during only 457 games means he’d probably be at or above a Zobristian level. Troy Tulowitzki would be up there if he could stay healthy when you look at the numbers.

        So it isn’t JUST the peformance, but also that Zobrist has made sure to stay healthy, which puts him ahead of some peers which failed to do so. It should also be noted that the difference between Zobrist (2nd WAR, using the 2009-2012 Miguel Cabrera/Zobrist peak) and Votto (7th WAR) is merely a single WAR: So it is easily possible random variation (For example, Votto’s ISO being almost identicaly to 2011 in 2012, but hitting much less HR. And yes, I know about the injury) during the years has simply caused some people with higher true talent levels to dip below Zobrist.

        Personally, while I wouldn’t take Zobrist first or second, he’d easily be a Top 10 and possibly Top 5 player if I was constructing a team and am back in time to his prime.

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  3. Paul says:

    would you rather Zobrist or Franklin for ROS? In a keeper league im assuming Franklin is the better guy to keep? Thanks.

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  4. stonepie says:

    “Even though I start him at SS, I am considering trading for an SS and making Zobrist more of a fill in rather than a weekly starter.”

    i just traded for cano and plan on using zobrist just as mentioned here, as a fill in. i doubt i could get much back for him anyway

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  5. sturock says:

    Would you start Uggla instead of Zobrist as an MI in a 5×5? I’m thinking about it, considering Ugg’s recent power surge.

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  6. Steve says:

    Just traded Zobrist and Donaldson for Tulo… feeling better about it now.

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  7. Mud Slide Slim says:

    Zobrist + Rendon + Reddick for Tulowitzki? Dynasty league.

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