When I compiled this month’s second base tier rankings, one concern I had was whether I ranked Ben Zobrist too low. I placed him at the bottom of the third tier, 14th overall — was this an overreaction to a slow start? After all, Zobrist was the No. 6 fantasy second baseman in 2012.
Last year, he slipped to No. 11, but in placing him 14th in this month’s rankings, I was essentially admitting that the 33-year-old Zobrist is on the decline, and that I don’t see his 2013 as an aberration. The further we get into 2014, the more confident I am that I wasn’t selling Zobrist short.
Over the last 30 days, Zobrist is the No. 36 fantasy second baseman. By comparison, Donnie Murphy had just 38 plate appearances in that same span of time, hit .194, and provided more value than Zobrist, sitting at No. 33. That’s how bad things have gotten for Zobrist.
On the season, he’s now the No. 24 second baseman, behind the likes of Mike Aviles, Omar Infante, Gordon Beckham and DJ LeMahieu. There are many reasons for this, and I’ll try to touch on all the major factors that contribute to Zobrist’s drastically decreasing fantasy value.
One significant factor is his baserunning. He has one successful stolen-base attempt in the last eight weeks. One. He missed a couple weeks in there with a thumb injury, but still. Stealing bases is just not an impactful part of his game anymore. That’s a considerable amount of lost value from a guy who used to be money in the bank for 15 steals.
The other big problem with Zobrist is that his power decline from last season has continued. Coming into the year, it wasn’t unreasonable to point at 2010, when Zobrist had an isolated power of .115 in a season sandwiched between four years of plus-.200 ISO, and make the argument that 2013’s .127 ISO was another such single-season aberration. His .122 ISO this season indicates otherwise.
His batted-ball profile isn’t offering much promise either. His 17.1% line-drive rate is his worst since 2008. His 47.2% ground-ball rate is his highest since his rookie year, back in 2006. His infield fly-ball rate is a career-worst at 14.1%. I can’t find anything to be optimistic about. He’s even legging out infield hits at a career-worst rate (5.3%).
Another major issue is the fact that Tampa’s offense is terrible. They’re currently ranked 27th in MLB in runs scored, with just 279 through 76 games (3.67 runs per game). For Zobrist, a player whose power is in decline, the effect has been crippling, as he has just 15 RBI through 62 games so far. He’s driven in at least 70 runs in each of the last five seasons, but this year it’s questionable whether he’ll reach 50 — both ZiPS and Steamer predict he’ll fall short.
The fact that he’s eligible at 2B, SS and OF in many formats gives Zobrist enough utility to still be worth owning in the majority of leagues, but if you’re still using him as a regular, I’d advise you to seek an upgrade. He’s still started in 64% of Yahoo leagues and 78% of CBS leagues. It’s time to cut those numbers in half.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.