Ben Zobrist can play second base and right field and shortstop. He can play left and center fields, too. He can play first base in a pinch and third base in a real pinch. Zobrist can bat high in the order or in the middle of the order. He can hit ahead of Evan Longoria or behind him, give Longoria a better chance of seeing fastball if he’s on base and a better chance of seeing fastballs if he’s on deck. Right now, Zobrist leads the Rays in batting average (.364), hits (12), RBIs (7), slugging percentage (.545) and being on the wrong end of controversial umpire calls (2). How valuable is Zobrist to the Rays? In a word: Very. “It’s difficult to quantify, I think, because of what he allows us to do in the offseason in terms of how we put our roster together, in terms of what he provides to (manager Joe Maddon) for in-game moves,” executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “It’s incredibly difficult to quantify, but I feel like Ben is one of the most underrated players of the last decade, or as long as I can remember back.” According to the formula used by baseball-reference.com to figure out a player’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement), Zobrist is tops in the major leagues during the period dating to 2009. Zobrist doesn’t understand WAR, but he understands his value to the club. “I have enough people in my life who remind me of how valuable I am to the team as a player,” he said. “I’m aware of the value that I can bring to the team, but at the same time I don’t think it would change if I played one position. My perspective, my drive as a player, doesn’t change based on where I think my worth is on my team and my value to the team. It’s the way I go about my business, and I just try and go out and do the best I can on a daily basis. Wherever they put me is where they put me, and I’m good with that, because that’s my job.” Zobrist is one of the pioneers of the super utility position, a role he took over full time in 2009. That season, he was named to his first All-Star Game. But Zobrist’s worth to the team goes deeper than his ability to play seven positions (he refuses to catch) and excel at two — second base and shortstop. Friedman’s offseason plan was built around Zobrist. Friedman wanted to add a major league-caliber shortstop, but if he couldn’t get one, fine. He had Zobrist. Friedman also wanted to add an outfielder during the winter. But if he couldn’t find one, fine. He had Zobrist. “Instead of looking for a certain player in the offseason, they can look for the best player or the best value out there, instead of saying, we’re looking for the best second baseman out there,” Rays outfielder Sam Fuld said. “It broadens the scope of who they can go after. That’s another huge, huge benefit.” One reason why Maddon was able to use 151 different lineups in 2012: The switch-hitting, play everywhere Zobrist.
Zobrist tying it all together for Rays
Tampa Tribune | Apr 13