Ok, I’ll admit it, I just never saw what all the fuss was about with Ben Zobrist. To me, he was always a jack of all trades, master of none. In a good lineup, Zobrist would excel, but make him the focal point and watch his numbers slide. Moneyball and the Joe Maddon mystique made his .270/.350/.450 slash line (although as the game skews more and more to the pitcher, that line looks better and better) and ability to play more than one position look extremely valuable, but that ability is seemingly only valuable to a team like the Oakland Athletics or Tampa Bay Rays, small-market teams who are not exactly able to load up at each position and need players who can move around. If there was anyone in the game perfectly suited for that role on a cost-cutting team, it was Zobrist.
Well, please forgive me Zorilla, I finally understand what all the fuss is about.
Since being traded to Kansas City, Zobrist has delivered a .343/.429/.539 line with more walks than strikeouts. Zobrist looks comfortable hitting in a good lineup for the first time in years with Kansas City. He’s played left field, second base, and third base. With Alex Gordon out, Zobrist has mostly patrolled the outfield, but the Royals’ leader Gordon will be back soon. That’s when Zobrist’s ability to play all over the field will really become valuable.
There have been two weak spots in the Royals’ lineup all season — second base and right field. With Gordon returning and taking over left field again, Ned Yost will be able to deploy Zobrist in either of the two holes in his lineup. Omar Infante (no, not an All-Star!) will take his .217/.231/.308 line to the bench and become a defensive replacement. Should Yost need to spell Rios in right field to help keep the brittle 34-year-old fresh for the playoffs, Zobrist can play there too instead of light-hitting Paulo Orlando or one-dimensional Jarrod Dyson. Should Infante come into the game for defense, Zobrist can slide seamlessly to the outfield to prevent the team from losing his bat.
The flexibility that Zobrist provides makes the Royals much more dangerous. At the time of the trade to bring him over from Oakland, Zobrist was coming in to replace Gordon. With Gordon on the mend, the Royals will still draw value out of Zobrist by using him to turn Infante back into what he should be on a good team — a super-sub. The ways in which Zobrist helps the team are two-fold. With Gordon returning, and Infante exiting the lineup, it’s as if the Royals have improved their lineup in two spots.
While I never fully understood the SABR fueled hype behind Ben Zobrist, seeing the ways in which the Kansas City Royals have used him to address two separate needs in their lineup this season is starting to make me a believer. Positional flexibility is never a bad thing, especially when it allows the manager to remove the weakest hitter from his lineup. Entrenching Zobrist at second base would seemingly have been the long-term plan for the Kansas City Royals when they acquired him. Now that Gordon is set to return, the Royals will be able to put that plan into action and get the most value out of Ben Zobrist. This may not be the deciding factor as the Royals try to get back to the World Series, but it certainly helps their chances.