Ben Zobrist: Atlanta Braves’ Future Utility Player?


Ben Zobrist is set to become a free agent after the conclusion of the 2015 season, so could the Atlanta Braves pursue his services for 2016 and beyond?

The Oakland Athletics traded Ben Zobrist to Kansas City near the trade deadline this season. In the last year of his 5-year deal, the Kansas City Royals were desperate to find a capable player that could replace their All-Star outfielder Alex Gordon after he went down with a groin injury. Zobrist provides Kansas City with much needed flexibility, able to man the corner outfield position as well as nearly every infield position.

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The Tampa Bay Rays signed Zobrist to a 5-year, $30M deal in 2010, but they decided to trade the former All-Star to Oakland after the 2014 season. From 2010 to 2015, split between three teams, Ben Zobrist averaged a stellar 4.75 WAR (wins above replacement). Fangraphs considers a player with a WAR between 4 and 5 to be an All-Star caliber player, so that shows the type of value Zobrist brings to a club. Just as a reference, Freddie Freeman‘s average WAR during that same stretch is a respectable 2.47.

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In addition to Ben Zobrist’s impressive WAR over the past six seasons, he owns a respectable career-WRC+ (weighted runs created plus) of 118. Since 2008, Zobrist’s WRC+ never dipped below 100 (considered average per Fangraphs), but Fangraphs considers Zobrist’s career-WRC+ of 118 to be above-average. Another impressive aspect of Zobrist’s game is his innate ability to put the bat on the ball. He rarely strikes out, posting a career-worst strikeout percentage of 19 in 2011 and a career-best of 10.3 in 2013.

Ben Zobrist’s keen eye at the plate allows him to work the count. He possesses an advanced understanding of the strike zone, and his walk rate paints the bigger picture, owning a career walk rate of 12 percent. By rarely striking out and walking at a high rate, Zobrist provides quality at-bats nearly every time he steps up to the plate. The Atlanta Braves desperately need some offense, ranking last in nearly every major hitting statistical category.

The Atlanta Braves struggled to find production out of their right fielders and second basemen this past season; however, Ben Zobrist played both of those positions this year with the Kansas City Royals. He filled in for Alex Gordon when he went down with a groin injury, and he shifted over to second base for Omar Infante when Gordon returned. If the Braves decided to sign Zobrist, he provides the type of utility player similar to the Pittsburg Pirates’ Josh Harrison.

Outside of 2015, Zobrist never played less than 146 games, demonstrating his durability year-in, year-out. The Atlanta Braves suffered multiple key injuries this season (i.e. Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Cameron Maybin); thus, Ben Zobrist provides a more-than-capable fill-in if need be. Zobrist makes for a nice addition in Atlanta.

By signing Zobrist, he brings a veteran mentality to the team, and he also possesses post-season experience that could benefit a young Atlanta Braves team. Ben Zobrist owns a career slash-line of .265/.355/.431, while being able to man multiple positions. Look for Zobrist to garner attention from multiple teams this offseason, but hopefully, the Braves see what value he could bring to the team. Zobrist is one of the most overlooked players in baseball.

Next: Atlanta Braves to Focus on Rebuilding Pen for 2016

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