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Ben Zobrist: Power Hitter... Maybe Not.

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Now, it's not to say that the Tampa Bay right fielder/center fielder/left fielder/second baseman/third baseman/first baseman had a bad season. He put up a solid .346 OBP, stole 24 bases in 27 opportunities, and played strong defense at six different positions. His 92 walks were the fourth-most among all AL players and his 3.0 WAR on the year was still above-average.

Basically, Zobrist is still flashing the exceptional plate discipline and defensive skills that helped to make him arguably the most valuable position player in the American League. But the power that pushed him from a good player to an elite player was totally absent in 2010, and you have to wonder now where Zobrist's true talent really lies: Is he the guy that put up a .250 isolated power in 214 games with Tampa over 2008 and 2009, or the guy who put up a .141 isolated power in his minor league career and had an even lower mark in the majors coming into the 2008 season?

Really, it's entirely reasonable to say, at the very least, that we'll probably never see the Ben Zobrist of 2009 again. That man was sustaining a 17.5% HR/FB, the kind of mark that you generally see from power hitters like Prince Fielder and Dan Uggla. While Zobrist hit a very similar number of fly balls in both 2009 and 2010, the results were VERY different between the two seasons. His HR/FB dropped from 17.5% in 2009 to just 6.0% in 2010, and that's also a function of popping the ball up more often- his infield fly rate more than doubled, from 5.2% to 10.8%. So we can safely say that Zobrist isn't hitting the ball with the same authority, but the same time, I think it's safe to say that his HR/FB is a tad lower than you'd reasonably expect, too. The league average is pretty close to 10%, and given the power that Zobrist flashed in the past, it's fair to expect him to at least put up a HR/FB near that mark.

Going into more detail, let's take a look at his home runs individually, with the use of the incredible Hit Tracker Online. Here's a breakdown of Zobrist's home runs for both 2009 and 2010:

2009:

Just enough: 7

Plenty: 14

No doubt: 6

Average distance: 384.4 feet

Ball-off-bat speed: 102.0 MPH

2010:

Just enough: 4

Plenty: 6

No doubt: 0

Average distance: 375.8 feet

Ball-off-bat speed: 99.7 MPH

Okay, so we clearly get some useful data here from Greg Rybarczyk's awesome website. Beyond simply looking at Zobrist's batted ball data, we get some clear indications that Zobrist is no longer hitting the ball as hard or as far as he did a year ago. After hitting 20 home runs in 2009 that easily made it over the fence and 7 that had just enough to get over, he hit just 6 in 2010 that easily made it over and 4 that had just enough.

So while you'd initially think that Zobrist was just incredibly lucky in 2009, the reality is that Zobrist was really hitting the ball quite well last year, even if he got lucky on a few homers. But whatever made Zobrist so great in 2009 doesn't appear to be there anymore, as he's simply not hitting the ball as hard or as far this year. His ball-off-bat speed, or the speed of the ball as it leaves the bat, and average home run distance were never excellent, something that people could've pointed to as a negative omen before the season. But they're downright poor now, and it doesn't bode well for his future. His homers go an average distance of 375.8 feet, which pale in comparison to the league average of 396.5, and it's a similar situation with his ball-off-bat speed.

There just doesn't really seem to be anything that would make one think that the Zorilla will return. The power might tick back up a little, but realistically we're not going to see another 27-homer season from the 29-year-old. It appears that he's simply regressed into a player that only offers a strong OBP, a solid number of steals and the ability to play multiple defensive positions at a really high level...   what a loser, right? I'm sure I won't be alone in saying that I'm going to miss the Zobrist of 2009, but Tampa Bay should still be happy that they have such a versatile and well-rounded player on their team...    and hey, maybe he'll blow up and start hitting homers like Matt Holliday again.