Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Ben Zobrist: Infielder or Outfielder?

Ask a Rays fan two years ago what position Ben Zobrist plays, the answer should be shortstop and an average one. Ask that question this time and the answer would be a utility player mainly in the infield and sometimes in the outfield. But on the official Tampa Bay Rays site, their profile of Ben Zobrist lists him as an outfielder which is written by who-knows who. Zobrist only played 113.1 innings in the outfield last year, mainly in left, and 293.1 innings at shortstop. He also logged 41 innings at second and 4.2 innings in one game at third. Clearly Zobrist isn't an outfielder yet statistically or in actuality. But the question is raised, what is Zobrist's best position and is he really meant for the outfield?

Using FanGraphs and UZR, we can see how well Zobrist played at the Major League level at each position.

Year Position UZR UZR/150
2006 SS -1.3 -3.8
2007 SS -2.6 -18.7
2008 SS -2.8 -15.0
2008 2B 1.9 94.5
2008 3B 0.0 -2.2
2008 LF 1.0 14.2
2008 CF -0.7 -27.2
2008 RF 0.0 0.0
2008 OF 0.3 3.0

The UZR/150 is pretty hard to use if they played very few games, but it is a good barometer to see how well a player's UZR. At shortstop, Zobrist isn't actually guy with a whole lot of range as compared to his play at second which is UZR/150 skyrockets to 94.5 which is probably impossible to accomplish with even 50 games played. Can't judge third base too much but he won't see much time there with Longoria and Aybar playing excellent defense on the hot corner. Then we move to the outfield where I thought he played pretty well factoring in that he probably hasn't played there since freshmen year of high school. Keep in mind that Zobrist is 6'3'', which isn't seen too much in middle infielders, and that it seems his best range is in the outfield with his longer strides. He also got a couple of pretty quick jumps on some line drives in the World Series, and these line drives weren't right at him, they were sinking down about 20 feet away. Here is a link to his MLB.com video page which includes those nice catches(go to tags and click Ben Zobrist). Expect him to get much better at jumps on the ball as he works on multiple positions in spring training this year.

I think this season we will know which is best position is since he will likely stay on the Rays the whole season. The position that suits him the best is the corner outfield and second base. I'm always wondering why the Rays don't try Zobrist at first. He is tall and has a long limbs and he seems to be pretty flexible, and he has played it in spring training last year(see picture below) ,but he is again behind to other great first basemen in Pena and Aybar.

Octopus Man!

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