Going on four seasons now, Ben Zobrist has been Mr. Everything to the Rays. He’s played every position besides pitcher and catcher in his tenure in Tampa Bay. This season his responsibilities have remained pretty constant, rarely straying away from second base or right field. Lately, though, that has changed as Joe Maddon has begun starting him at shortstop, his original position.
Last night marked the fourth time in five games Zobrist has started at short. That means he needs just one more start, or six more appearances, to gain that position eligibility. Reading quotes from Maddon makes it look like this may last the rest of the season.
From the Tampa Bay Times:
As well as Zobrist has played, as much as he has enjoyed the move back to his original position and as improved as it makes the Rays’ overall lineup, why wouldn’t manager Joe Maddon keep putting him out there on at least a semi-regular basis?
“There’s no reason to not,” Maddon said.
That’s certainly good news for the Rays, considering what little productive they’ve gotten from shortstop this season. Elliot Johnson, after an early season hot streak is hitting .247/.314/.342 overall and had a .493 OPS in July and is working on a .421 August. Their other shortstop, Sean Rodriguez, a two win player the past two seasons, has taken a step backwards and is hitting .209/.275/.325. He’s in danger of being sent down to the minors when Luke Scott comes off the disabled list.
The move of Zobirst to shortstop is made in conjunction with shifting Jeff Keppinger to third and Ryan Roberts to second. The moves were a necessity if Maddon wanted to keep all three bats in the lineup upon Evan Longoria’s return. Keppinger has had an outstanding season and Roberts has really picked up his play this month after a rough transition to a new league.
Getting back to Zobrist, he’s never really excelled in one specific category over an extended period but has steadily contributed in other areas across the board. In 2009 he had a legitimate argument for MVP, htting 27 home runs, driving in 91 and posting a .405 on base percentage. He managed to steal 24 bases in an otherwise down year in 2010. Last season he was able to combine the power and speed a bit, belting 20 homers and stealing 19 bases to go along with scoring and driving in 90+ runs.
Our ZiPS projections have him hitting five more home runs and stealing five more bases while driving in twenty-two and scoring twenty-five over the final month and a half. Solid numbers made to look even better with the SS next to his name. Currently he’s the ninth ranked second basemen, and falls way farther down when looking at outfielders. He’d be the 8th ranked shortstop when you remove the injured Ian Desmond from the equation. However, the Rays offense has been clicking of late and the return of Longoria, and soon Scott, will only help matters.
If you’re like me and have a black hole at shortstop, Zobrist at second and someone like Ian Kinsler at utility then Zobrist’s next start at short will be a glorious day.
Erik writes for DraysBay and has also written for Bloomberg Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ehahmann.