Clone Wars: Chase Utley and Ben Zobrist

Chase Utley became a boarder linefirst rounder in 2009 when he had hip surgery in the offseason. His hip was fine though this year and he even set a career high in steals. Down in Tampa Bay, though, Ben Zobrist had seen limited time in three years. This year he took off and forced himself into the lineup. He has split time between second base and outfield with one game at third and 13 at shortstop, so far. The question is can he be compared to the best second baseman in the game?

              PA   K%     BB%    AVG   OBP   SLG   HR  R   RBI SB  BABIP  HR/FB%
Chase Utley   664  19.4%  13.6%  .289  .405  .519  31  110 91  23  .310   14.6%
Ben Zobrist   565  21.3%  15.9%  .286  .399  .518  24  84  79  16  .319   16.6%

Chase Utley

I’ve tried to own Utley every season since 2004. Even as he sat behind Placido Polanco to start 2005, I stuck with him and he hasn’t let us down yet. Sure 2007 was a bit tough as his homers fell and 2008 left concerns with the hip injury, but he’s never really hard to own any season. Up until this year, there hasn’t been anyone who can claim to be his positional equal, and after this year that should still be the case.

Utley has been solid in all five categories and has averaged the stat line of 29 HR, 11 R, 107 RBI, 15 SB and .297 AVG since 2005, when he became the regular starter. This year he has continued to put up this line, but added to his speed. Put another way, the best second baseman got even better.

Even Hit Tracker thinks things are getting better as his “just enough” homers stands at 16%, which is far below the league average. Could Utley not only continue this next year, but even get better? If everything looks so nice for Utley next year then how might anyone catch him as the top second baseman?

Ben Zobrist

image
MLB: JUN 23 Phillies at Rays
23 JUN 2009: Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist lines this ball to the outfield during the game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.(Icon/SMI)

Entering 2009 Zobrist had uncertain playing time and was not expected to get any shortstop playing time. He was coming into a crowded outfield, but had made a great showing to end 2008 and was a solid sleeper. The big question was whether his newfound power was for real.

With an injury to Akinori Iwamura early this year, Zobrist found himself playing at second base. The new position eligibility completely changed his value and made him an immediate pickup. The surprising part was he got even better than his strong finish from a year ago. His walk rate was a very welcome addition this year as his OBP stayed around .400 almost all year.

His value to the Rays has been almost as much as to fantasy teams this year. Just looking at WAR right now among positional players, he ranks behind only Joe Mauer in the AL. That takes into account his very good defensive ability, but still his .397 wOBA shows how good his offense has been.

There is always an amount of skepticism when players break out like Zobrist has, but other than an addition of some power he has shown these skills before. His walk and contact rates all look good and he is currently averaging 22 homers every 162 games played for his career. This should be viewed as a basement for next year, but he has definitely improved his power and next year he looks like he could push for 30 homers.

Conclusion

Zobrist has matched Utley this year in his AVG, OBP and SLG. He hasn’t quite gotten the 30 home run power yet, but he is also 100 PA short of Utley. He will be entering 2010 with a lot more expected value than he did this year, but he still has some more to add next year. Perhaps comparing him to Utley is a bit over eager at this point, but the stat line shows how close they have been in the playing time they have gotten.

Looking over the draft done by Eriq Gardner at his site you can see Zobrist went in the 5th round while Utley was the 4th overall pick. I think it’s clear we have another case of value to be found and a solid pick in 2010.

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Comments

  1. steve said...

    What about Aaron Hill or Ian Kinsler? Both players are better than Utley because they actually play in league with good players, The AMERICAN LEAGUE!!

    Ben Zobrist still has alot to prove. He can’t even be considered top 7

    Other second basemen better than Zobrist.
    Robinson Canoe
    MVP Dustin Pedroia
    Brian Roberts
    Brandon Phillips

    Seriously, who wrote this #### article?

  2. Troy Patterson said...

    First question is why would league have anything to do with it?  Even if those two play in a better league I would want the guy in the weaker league since he’ll put up better numbers.

    Next you put the group who all rank close with Zobrist in value for 2009 yet all of them have over 100 more PA than him, except for Kinsler who is only at 608 PA. 

    It’s also very likely that Zobrist is drafted behind most or some of this list, but that’s fine by me.  He’ll be a huge steal if you can get him once this list is off the board.

  3. Andrew said...

    I think Utley, Kinsler, Roberts, Phillips, Cano, and Pedroia have to rank ahead of Zobrist going into next year due to longer track records. Hill is a tough call. That being said, Zobrist is not too far off this group. More importantly, 2B absolutely falls off a cliff after these 8.

  4. steve said...

    I forgot about Orlando Hudson, and Dan Uggla
    So there you are, your top ten 2nd basemen in order. Strictly hitting. Past seasons taken into account too.

    Aaron Hill
    Ian Kinsler
    Chase Utley
    Dustin Pedroia
    Robinson Canoe
    Brian Roberts
    Brandon Phillips
    Ben Zobrist
    Dan Uggla
    Orlando Hudson

    I totally Expect Howie Kendrick and Alexi Ramirez(if he plays 2b) to knock people off this list very soon. Especially Ramirez, who could be top 3. Freddy Sanchez Honorable mention.

  5. Troy Patterson said...

    Let’s forget Zobrist for a minute. 

    How in the world does Aaron Hill go above Utley?

    Similar in AVG, HR and RBI, but even still Utley gives way more in steals.  Then given potential lineup for 2010 makes Utley a much better option.

  6. Aaron said...

    That’s pretty hilarious, Steve.  Putting Hill and Kinsler ahead of Utley is classic.  And the intentional misspelling of Cano’s name is a nice touch.  I think it’s still a bit too subtle for some people to get it but I say keep it up; your audience will find you.

  7. Evan said...

    Hi Troy,

    Very interesting comparison.  I didn’t realize his numbers were that similar to Utley’s.  What do you make of his decrease in power over the second half?
    His 7 HR/8 2B after the All Star break compared to his 17 HR/15 2B in the first half worries me a bit.

  8. Troy Patterson said...

    He was a bit down in the second half and his OPS fell to .813 from his first half 1.012.  Both seem to be extremes, but this was part of why I think his value is solid.  In the second half he was a bit more of the 22 homer guy than the 30 homer guy he looked in the first half, but in both he had batting averages above .274 and an OBP over .380.

    It’s tough to say if he’s going to be a 30 home run hitter next year, but even if he only tops 20 or 25 his other stats should all be good enough for a top second baseman.

  9. Will Hough said...

    I know its a small sample size, but lets not forget how well Zobrist graded out with UZR as well. Obviously far from an exact science but its probably the best defensive metric right now and Zob graded out at a +24. Miles above Cano, HIll, Kinsler, Pedroia, and even Utley to name a few. Now I know this article was more on offensive/fantasy projections but just thought Id throw that out there as well.

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