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In appreciation of Ben Zobrist

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The 37-year-old utility man is doing it all

Ben Zobrist channels his inner Jason Heyward with a great catch.
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

In December 2015 Ben Zobrist signed a four year, $56 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. It was a solid deal for an above average utility player who had just won a World Series ring with the Kansas City Royals and had also been a key part of postseason runs with the Tampa Bay Rays.

I want to back up a little bit, the phrase utility man has always bugged me a little bit and I don’t think it does Zobrist justice. It definitely captures the versatility Zobrist brings to the field, but it also indicates that he’s somehow replaceable or less important. I mean, after all, Merriam Webster’s defines utility man as follow:

: a man available for service in various positions: such as

a : an actor who performs minor parts and does odd jobs in a theater

b : a member of a baseball team who plays various positions in the absence of regular players

Words like “minor” and “in the absence of” are problematic to me. This isn’t a guy off the bench. This is the 2016 World Series MVP and after a down year dealing with injuries in 2017 he is having one of the best seasons of his career in 2018. Ben Zobrist is more baseball special forces than utility man. So today, I wanted to take some time to appreciate what he’s done in 2018 on and off the field.

On the field

Ben Zobrist isn’t having the best year of his career at 37 years old (that would be ridiculous) but it’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s responded well to more rest this year. He is having an excellent year at the plate, slashing .312/.384/.452. That compares favorably to his time with the Cubs and his career numbers as you can see below:

Ben Zobrist stats

Year PA Avg OBP SLG BB% K% BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
Year PA Avg OBP SLG BB% K% BABIP wOBA wRC+ WAR
2016 631 .272 .386 .446 15.2 13.0 .290 .360 124 4.0
2017 496 .232 .318 .375 10.9 14.3 .251 .302 82 0.3
2018 475 .312 .384 .452 10.7 12.2 .339 .361 127 3.5
Career 6615 .267 .357 .430 14.6 14.6 .292 .344 117 43.7
Select stats Fangraphs

The best part about Zobrist’s performance in 2018 is that it’s built on a remarkably strong second half where he’s slashing .352/.390/.509 with a wRC+ of 141. While he’s cooled off a bit in September, if he can hit anywhere close to that for another month and a half things will look great for the Cubs.

The second best part of Zobrist’s 2018 is that if he can get enough plate appearances to qualify he’s got a chance to make a run at the batting title. I imagine a few of you are already getting fired up to tell me that batting average isn’t that important. Well, the reason this is the second best part of Zobrist’s season is that he agrees with you, as you can see from his comments below:

“Of course, I’d like to finish higher than I ever have in that category,” Zobrist said Thursday night before going 2-for-4 and raising his batting average to .314.

“But honestly I think the batting average is an outdated stat. I think we need to get rid of it at some point. The other stats we have are more telling about how your offensive season has been.”

Which brings me to the second part of this post. Zobrist is just a great guy and we should appreciate him.

Off the field

Ben Zobrist is constantly doing things off the field that make me go “awwww.” I mean, who can forget the time he belted out “Let it Go” with his daughter in 2016?

In the last week he’s added a couple more moments of “awww.” A few lucky fans caught sight of Zobrist biking to Wrigley Field in full gear during the last homestand:

And no, this wasn’t merely a continuation of Anthony Rizzo’s “stay game ready” plan during a ridiculous stretch of games. Zobrist is the original when it comes to wearing your uniform through the streets of Chicago:

Finally, there was this shout out to his wife who appeared on the Today Show promoting her new book while the Cubs started a road stand in Phoenix.

Forget Prince Charming, Ben Zobrist is obviously the most awesome guy in the universe. I mean, he also only uses his wife’s songs for walkup music. Regardless of what you think of the songs, the sentiment is adorable.

Takeaways

It’s been a season of unlikely heroes for the Cubs. Javier Baez is having more of an MVP season than Kris Bryant and Cole Hamels wound up being the ace the Cubs needed (even after he got dinged up a bit Wednesday night). I have to say, though, one of my favorite parts of 2018 has been watching Ben Zobrist have a resurgent year. He’s accumulated 3.5 fWAR while playing part time, and he manages to do it being one of the nicest guys in the game. I’m going to have a lot of fun cheering for him down the stretch and I’d love to see him add a batting title to his mantle, even if he thinks batting average is a little old fashioned.