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%
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?
|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.
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.