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Ben Zobrist Playing ‘Possum

Ben Zobrist had perhaps one of the more bizarre starts to the 2012 season. He staggered out of the gate carrying a .205 batting average in April, but walked at almost a 20% rate, giving him a .364 on base percentage. It was easy enough to chalk the batting average up to rotten luck and small sample size.

Then he spent May hitting .202/.321/.372. Concerns about the 2010 laid egg started to abound, and for good reason.

But if you were bullish on Ben Zobrist in 2011 — well, he’s acting a whole heck of a lot like the same guy with the exception of a batting average.

His hit trajectory looks almost identical to what he demonstrated over a full season in 2011:

What’s more, his batted ball data and contact rates are all either better than they were in 2011 or right in line with what we saw a year ago. Even more promising, he’s swinging at fewer balls outside the strike zone, making better overall contact, and has demonstrated fewer swinging strikes:

Oswing Zswing Swing Ocontact Zcontact Contact Zone Fstrike SwStr
2011 25.60% 59.40% 40.60% 71.80% 88.50% 82.70% 44.40% 54.20% 6.90%
2012 23.60% 55.10% 36.20% 74.00% 91.30% 84.50% 40.10% 54.20% 5.60%

There’s nothing in his hit trajectory or batted ball data that would send you running to your therapist if you targeted him in your draft in March. He’s very much resembled the same guy who was one of the more talented second basemen in the league in 2011.

Zobrist might be the victim of good old fashioned bad luck so far. His BABIP in April was .245. As if that wasn’t insult enough, it was .200 in May. In fact, based on hit trajectory, he’s well behind the American League Average in BABIP across the board:

Zobrist is currently carrying a .229/.361/427 line and it’s possible that a nervous owner in a typical 5×5 league might be willing to jettison him with concerns that he’s not going to turn things around on the batted ball front. Should that be the case, I encourage you to be very interested, whether you have needs at 2B, OF, IF, CI, or UT. Again, if you liked Ben Zobrist coming out of 2011, I’m convinced he’s about to turn into that guy, and perhaps even better.

Since June 1, Zobrist has hit .309/.424/.527 with three home runs and nine RBI. Not surprisingly, his BABIP has been a much more equitable .326 given his hit trajectory profile. And on his career, Zobrist has been at his most productive during June and July with wRC+ of 149 and 137, respectively.

The window is closing quickly should you be interested in a Zobrist buy-low opportunity. Considering his “upside” – that is, that he should probably hit .270 for the remainder of the season and provide another dozen home runs and stolen bases while hitting in the heart of the Rays order, rife with batted-in opportunity — there ought to be plenty of you interested.

Don’t fear his current batting average, take advantage of it.