Tampa Bay Rays: Why Ben Zobrist Is the Most Underrated Player in MLB
What makes a player overrated or underrated?
Well, players who are great at a few things tend to be overrated and players who are good at everything are usually underrated. Ben Zobrist is good at everything, but great at nothing.
Batters who have high batting averages, home runs or RBI's are overrated, batters who contribute in others way such as doubles and walks are underrated. Ben Zobrist leads the league in doubles and is up there in walks. His average, home runs and RBI are all good, but they aren't spectacular.
Players in big markets on good teams are overrated, players in small markets on bad teams are underrated. The Rays are 28th in attendance this year and while they had a nice three year run, they have since slipped into mediocrity.
Stolen bases are overrated, other base running contributions are underrated. Zobrist is tied for 61st in steals even though overall he is a top 25 runner, but I'll get to that later.
Players who play in parks that are tailored for their skills are overrated, players who play in parks that mask some of their skills are underrated. Zobrist is leading the league in doubles, even though Tropicana Field is the third worst doubles park in baseball.
So what makes a player who was left off MLB Network's top 10 second basemen in favor of Neil Walker and Kelly Johnson so good?
I'm going to break down the three aspects of a position player, batting, running and fielding. If you believe that a player can only be evaluated by World Series wins, Gold Gloves, batting average and character, this is your warning.
Let's start with his hitting. Zobrist's triple crown numbers are .276/15/65. Good, but not great. However, when you look a little deeper, you see he is valuable elsewhere.
He has 62 walks, which ranks 13th in baseball. His 61 non-intentional walks rank 10th. He leads MLB in doubles with 36—21 of those on the road—which is also best in baseball. If you look at park factors Tropicana reduces doubles by 27 percent. He also has five triples, putting him at 18th in the league.
When you take all these factors into account, he is one of the 25 best hitters in baseball.
Then there's fielding. For starters, Zobrist has played every position except for pitcher and catcher. In right field—the outfield position where he spent most of his time—he held 53.2 percent of runners, while throwing out 4.3 percent. This is comparable to Jeff Francoeur's 51.6 and five and Francoeur is well known for his great arm. He also showed good range and only committed four errors in 195 games.
This year he has settled into second base. He has 53 double plays, turning 33 of them, which is about average. Where he really shines is his range. Just look at these two plays. With his amazing versatility, good range and killer outfield arm he is definitely one of the top 25 fielders in the majors.
When on the base paths, Zobrist won't steal many bases and he's good at taking an extra base. He takes an extra base 44 percent of the time, which is comparable to Michael Bourn (45), Coco Crisp (43) and Brett Gardner (40) who are top three in steals right now.
Zobrist is also great at beating out double plays. He only grounds into them in 6 percent of opportunities, which is almost half of the major league average. This is a little more bold than hitting and fielding, but I believe he is a top 25 base runner.
How many players are top 25 as a hitter, fielder and runner and have the ability to play seven positions?
Just Ben Zobrist, making him one of the most complete packages in baseball.
Even if he doesn't get the credit for it.
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