In a lineup full of youngsters, Ben Zobrist is slated to be the only starting position player over 30 for the majority of the season. However, any sings of deterioration hasn’t happened yet, as the soon-to-be-36-year-old batted .272/.386/.446 with 18 HR and 76 RBI last season. More importantly, Zobrist once again was Joe Maddon’s swiss army knife, appearing in 20+ games at 2B, LF and RF, while even logging some time at 1B and SS. An invaluable part of the team, Zobrist will be counted on to provide veteran leadership as well as production from the cleanup spot, which he is poised to do now that he’ll be hitting there for most of the season.
Zobrist may not be your typical 4-hole hitter, but his placement there makes sense. He protects Anthony Rizzo by being a reliable hitter, keeping pitcher’s earnest when facing Rizzo. He also provides a consistent on-base presence in the middle of the lineup, which should bode well for players such as Addison Russell and Willson Contreras hitting behind him. He walks more than he strikes out, and his patient approach at the plate is among the game’s best. Check out his key plate discipline stats, courtesy of Fangraphs.
By looking at the numbers, we can see that not only is Zobrist not swinging at bad pitches at an elite rate, he’s also making contact at an elite rate as well. Furthermore, his SwStr percentage (the rate at which he swings and misses) is a miniscule 4.1 percent. Combine that with his 4.15 pitches seen per plate appearance and very rarely is he going to give the team a negative at-bat. That’s the type of cleanup hitter Maddon wants in his lineup, and Zobrist fits the bill perfectly.
Zobrist’s versatility has been his calling card, and he’ll once again be called upon to play multiple positions this season. Maddon stated this spring that he’ll keep a close eye on Zobrist’s usage throughout the season, and may rest him periodically. The 11-year veteran said that him and the coaching staff will “play it by ear.”
“Some of those will have to do with whether I’m a little tired and the matchup is right,” Zobrist told the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzalez about his potential days off. “Maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days, but there are other times I know last year where whether you’re tired or not, you’ve got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club.”
While Zobrist is a player you want in the lineup everyday, the toll of a 162-game season could hinder him come playoff time if he doesn’t receive proper rest, especially since he’ll be 36 for the majority of the season and he’s played in the last two World Series. It’s a good plan to have taken care of now rather than later, and it’s not like the Cubs will miss a beat, as Javier Baez can slide in and play an even better defensive 2B, although offensively the edge is to Zobrist.
Whether or not Zobrist receives an extensive amount of rest, he’ll be an important part of the Cubs’ success in 2017. Having averaged 149 games played since 2009, he’s as dependable as they come, and rest assured, even with limited playing time his impact on the season will be as pronounced as ever.
Our 2017 season projections: .270/.385/.435, 15 HR, 80 RBI, 90 runs
*Image via Arturo Pardavila III