Profiling each Chicago Cubs player for 2017, we move from Anthony Rizzo to World Series MVP Ben Zobrist, and what fans can expect this season.
Last week we kicked off our Chicago Cubs Spring Training tour with first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Today we move 90 feet up the diamond to second baseman, and reigning 2016 World Series MVP, Ben Zobrist.
What an incredible ride Ben Zobrist has been on. Fresh off winning the World Series with the Kansas City Royals in 2015, Zobrist wanted to do it again, and set his sights for his hometown Chicago Cubs.
I happened to be at the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville, TN, when rumors began breaking that the Cubs and Zobrist were talking contract.
Zobrist was also at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center that week, and the eventual MVP of the Cubs historic championship addressed the media regarding the 4-year, $56 million contract he agreed to in one of the private hotel conference rooms.
Super Utility All-Star
The player and manager, previously together during their Tampa Bay Rays days which culminated in a World Series birth in 2008, perfectly compliment one another’s strengths and style.
Prior to 2016, aside from Zobrist’s postseason resumé, and the ring to prove it for a fanbase starved for success, the asset for which he provided most played right into Maddon’s use of creativity: All over the diamond, anywhere in the lineup, any given day.
It’s this type of chemistry and utilitarian approach that has allowed Maddon to flex his creative managerial juices through the years. Of course for even the best managers to be able to do this, and so effectively as Maddon has, it helps to have the right players to do it.
The Cubs knew what they were getting with their veteran player. Whether it’s playing everyday at second base, or spelling a player at third, left or right, Maddon always has the option of resting regulars, while still getting premium at-bats for his premium, super-utility, All-Star.
Said Maddon at the time of the signing via ESPN.com:
“I thought there should have been a super-U player on the All-Star team. It’s an absolute position, just like second base or left field is. A real, legitimate SU guy is a position, and it permits you to do so many different things with your lineup daily and so many different things to get progress daily.”
On top of the on-field production Ben Zobrist provides, it was a signing that gave the Cubs that type of intangible they needed perhaps most of all: A proven October winner.
2015-16 Postseason Stats (Royals & Cubs)
Among the most telling statistics from 2016 is his walk-to-strikeout ratio: 96 > 82. There’s a reason for that: Zobrist swung at 35.5 percent of his pitches in 2016, according to MLB Director of Baseball Research and Development Daren Willman. The lowest in the majors.
The 2016 All-Star was fifth in walks across NL with 96.
As Spring Training heats up, the Cubs will begin toying around with some new leadoff possibilities for 2017.
Among those figuring to vie for the spot from time to time are newly acquired outfielder Jon Jay, Kyle Schwarber and you might as well consider Zobrist, as well. Perhaps an unconventional candidate to split that load, but after all, Maddon embraces un-conventionalism.
Over the course of 138 at-bats, Zobrist led off innings with a .326 batting average in 2016. He has a .272 average in 394 AB in that spot the last three years. The reigning team-leader in walks, Zobrist came in second in on-base percentage (.386) behind the now-departed Dexter Fowler (.393).
What should you expect for 2017?
Well let’s start with what we do know. Zobrist will play all over the diamond, hitting everywhere in the order, and being the versatile MVP of the Cubs.
Furthermore, it’s this component that plays into Maddon’s trickery, including creative lineups, and game-managing intangibles, but also emphasizing the added element for Maddon’s new thought process throughout 2017.
According to Jesse Rogers of ESPN, Joe Maddon has talked up the idea of expecting more rest for his defending champs.
“I’m going to be really aware of resting people. I am. You hear me say it all the time. There are natural reasons built into rest people. I really want to be cognizant from the beginning of not stepping on anyone too hard.”
From a statistical standpoint, it will be right in line to expect a typical Ben Zobrist slash of at least .270/.360./440, with near-20 home run power.
On top of the expected on-field figures, his key component of versatility will be emphasized as much as ever in 2017.
NEXT: Addison Russell
Also published on Medium.