Ben Zobrist: The Perpetually Under-Appreciated Fantasy Baseball Asset
Each day when I show up to work, my Ben Zobrist Wisconsin Woodchucks bobblehead doll is sitting at the corner of my desk. He stands there, strikes a pose, and smiles. He's a consistent, reliable asset to my desk's feng shui.
This same consistency (of the bobblehead, not the baseball player) is what made him a trade target for the Oakland Athletics, and it should make you target him in fantasy baseball, as well. Okay, maybe that last part was about the player. The two are indifferentiable at this point.
Despite this consistency, Zobrist can't get any love when it comes to pre-season rankings. He's the 202nd overall player in Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 250 on ESPN. I'm here to tell you that you can get some sweet value from this puppy late in your drafts.
Let's start off by looking at Zobrist's 2014 before transitioning to his outlook for 2015. This all, by the end, should show that Zobrist is a great fantasy value pick for the upcoming season.
Another Year, Another Solid Performance
Zobrist's statistics, outside of his 27-home-run 2009 season, have never been the type to blow you out of the water, but he always finds ways to post respectable aggregate and rate statistics year after year. Last year was no different.
In 654 plate appearances, Zobrist posted a .272/.354/.395 slash with a .333 Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA). For composite stats, he had 10 home runs, 34 doubles, and 10 stolen bases. Not bad for a 33-year-old.
The crazy part about Zobrist is that these totals are the norm. He has hit at least 10 home runs seven straight years. He has stolen at lest 10 bases the past six years. His on-base percentage has never been below .346 in a season in which he has recorded at least 300 plate appearances.
That leads to another point about Zobrist: his durability. The utility guy has recorded at least 599 plate appearances and played in 146 games every season since his rookie campaign. That is not something many players can boast, especially ones that play both middle infield spots and the outfield.
As far as the fantasy realm, Zobrist was solid there, too. Based on ESPN standard scoring, Zobrist was ranked eighth at second base, a position with a relatively high scoring output and depth aplenty. He was third among shortstops in scoring and 19th among outfielders. He takes flexibility to a whole new, gorgeous level.
Despite these high finishing ranks, Zobrist comes nowhere near these slots in the pre-season rankings. Why is this? And can he out-pace his pre-season slots again? Let's take a look-see.
All About That Floor
Entering this year, Zobrist's fantasy ranks are in the realm of potentially going undrafted in a 10-team league, depending on roster size. He is the 202nd ranked player overall on ESPN's aforementioned top 250. He is the 15th-ranked second baseman, 14th at shortstop, and 51st in the outfield. You may notice that's well short of where he finished last year.
While it's bad practice to draft someone solely based on their previous-year rankings, it would take a fairly precipitous drop-off for Zobrist not to outpace his ADP. Steamer projects Zobrist to finish with a .266/.353/.406 slash, a .337 wOBA, and 12 home runs. These are all at or near the numbers he posted last year in his age-33 season.
If he were to post his exact Steamer numbers, Zobrist would finish with 372 fantasy points. That would have ranked sixth among second baseman last year, third among shortstops, and 18th among outfielders. Again, this isn't a practice I'd recommend, but it should show that, even with the move to Oakland and his being one step closer to an AARP membership, Zobrist isn't going to suddenly wash up and die. He's still a viable option.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections, which were done prior to the Oakland trade, weren't quite as optimistic, but they also had Zobrist maintaining a good chunk of his prowess. They have Zobrist as a .260/.345/.405 hitter with a .330 wOBA. But they also projected him to hit 14 home runs and steal 11 bases, both more than what Steamer had.
If you're worried about the move to Oakland, you shouldn't be. The A's palace ranked 10th in ESPN's Park Factor, while Tropicana Field was 15th. This is a wash.
Another potential concern could be about Zobrist entering the A's anemic offense. They very nearly missed the playoffs because they simply could not score runs the second half of the season, and now they're without Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Derek Norris. Not a whole lot about which to be giddy.
But, at the same time, the Rays finished 2014 last in the American League in runs scored. Their 612 runs were 17 behind the Astros in 14th. Could it really get much worse? Isn't there only upward mobility for the stats that are dependent on others?
The final reason to plop Zobrist so low on the standings is that he has a relatively low ceiling. Some of the guys you can get in that same range have breakout potential if they see an increase in their usage. That's what you should usually be looking for in later rounds.
But Zobrist provides something those other guys cannot: a high floor. Considering you most likely won't be drafting him to be your top guy, there are worse options you could have on your fantasy bench than a veteran that's eligible at three separate positions and has the potential to post starting-caliber numbers at each. That's not a bad thing to snag late in the draft.
Zobrist may not be the most exciting option. He may not have the highest ceiling, and he may not be the youngest pup on the board. But at his price, you're not going to find somebody more consistent with more position flexibility (or a more mesmerizing bobblehead smile) than good ol' Mr. Zobrist.