Oct 4, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second basemanBen Zobrist
(18) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during the fourth inning in game one of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Zobrist, one of the quietest but most effective Rays, may finally be receiving notice from fans and commentators. On ESPN before the Wild Card game, Doug Glanville called Zobrist “versatile” and “underrated.” During the telecast Brian Anderson talked about Zobrist’s abilities and how he was one of the most underrated players in the league. I’ve heard and and read many similar comments on the web, in newspapers, and on the air. Sometimes it seems the announcer should introduce him this way: “At second base for the Rays, Ben Zobrist, underrated.”
This appreciation may be late in coming, but it’s gratifying. After all, when Zobrist became a full time starter in 2009 and had an on base percentage of .405, I don’t remember people saying much about him. The Rays had bigger stars. In 2011, when Zobrist led the AL in Wins Above Replacement Value, I don’t remember many people saying he deserved the MVP over Justin Verlander, like many said last year Mike Trout deserved it over Miguel Cabrera because Trout led the league in WAR.
The Rays and their fans knew, of course. That’s why the Rays made him a starter in 2009 after a lackluster season as a sub in 2008, and signed him to a long term contract. The team holds an option for next year, but Andrew Friedman is smart and I’m sure will exercise the option to keep Zobrist with the Rays.
Zobrist is 32 this year and could be starting the downslope of his career. He started slowly this year after playing in the World Baseball Classic (so did Fernando Rodney. Is it possible playing in the World Baseball Classic was one of the causes?) but Zobrist had a strong second half and led the Rays on On Base Percentage while playing second, short, right and left field. His WAR declined slightly to 5.1, which still puts him as an All-Star level. He remains one of the most valuable Rays.
If he keeps performing at this level, he may even start getting noticed for his greatness as a player, and not for being underrated.