The Rays offense is ranked second in WAR (17.2), third in wRC+ (110), and fourth in on base percentage (.330), according to Fangraphs. Yet among all those hitters, only one stood out among the fray: Ben Zobrist.
This is Zobrist's second naming to the All-Star Game, and a curious one. His previous selection was in 2009, when he was en route to an 8.5 WAR season. Right now, Zobrist owns a 1.9, less than half of his totals in 2011 or 2012. WAR is not the end-all, be-all statistic for the All-Star Game, but it provides perspective.
Zobrist has not been himself at the plate this season. He's on pace for a similar performance to his paltry 2010, but with a slightly better batting average (.262 this season, .238 in '10), and far fewer stolen bases (just 6 thus far).
On such a stacked offense, he doesn't lead the Rays in a single category. His 45 RBIs are the second most on the team, but the reasoned mind might call that happenstance. His walk rate is a respectable 10.6% which has floated his OBP to .348, but his wRC+ is a more telling 106.
The addition of Wil Myers and Yunel Escobar relegated Zobrist back to his natural position at second this season, though he is certainly prized for his versatility in the field, with an ability to play right field and short stop when needed. On the American League roster, Zobrist's position is listed as Utility.
But for simplicity, if we're comparing Zorilla among American League second basemen, his numbers are a bit more stark than the comparison against the other Rays hitters. That 106 wRC+ currently ranks 10th among AL 2B's, his 85 hits ranks 13th on average, and his OBP is only 8th (despite his 40 walks, 4th most).
To his credit, Zobrist does own versatility at the plate as a switch hitter, and considering the importance of pinch hitting when you're on the All-Star roster, that is an advantage.
But that doesn't make his roster selection any less of a surprise.
Per Marc Topkin:
[Zobrist] said he was confused when summoned to manager Joe Maddon's office before the game against the White Sox and then honored by his second All-Star selection.
"I'm shocked," he said. "I really didn't expect it. It feels great. It's a huge honor to be selected. ... I really think of other guys before myself on this team that I feel like are more deserving, but I feel like this is probably one of those cases where my versatility is giving me an opportunity here."
Maddon said he could see why Zobrist was chosen, given the numerous ways he can help a team win, and was pleased with the pick, as much because Zobrist didn't have the obvious stats. "I really love the fact from the perspective that here's a complete ballplayer making the All-Star team; it's not about his batting average," Maddon said.
Yes, it's nice to see defense and character honored in the game. In that regard, Zorilla is an example athlete for other players in the league.
You have to wonder if that is what AL Manager Jim Leyland had in mind...
Leyland earned his weekly press coverage last week by criticizing Fernando Rodney for pitching high and inside to Miguel Cabrera in an extra innings loss for his team. He claimed there would be a price to pay for intimidating Cabrera like that... The following game, Leyland was likely the one responsible for starting pitcher Rick Porcello's plunking Ben Zobrist in the first inning.
Our manager Joe Maddon responded with incredible cunning, completely psyching out Cabrera later that game, which the Rays would win, by playing mind games and utilizing the strengths of his bullpen. What's more, Porcello would then be suspended six games and fined by Major League Baseball.
So perhaps this is Leyland's way of responding in turn. There are many worthy players on this roster of reaching the All-Star Game this season, and Zobrist -- the one hit in the shoulder, the kindly clubhouse leader -- was a shock.
The truth of the matter should see other Rays players named to the roster as replacements are made throughout the week -- something we hope to detail shortly. This is purely a snub by Jim Leyland, in my opinion. It will be water under the bridge come July 16th.
In the mean time, I'm just sorry the Rays don't get another try at the Tigers until 2014.
Congratulations Zobrist. I'm excited for you, it's nice to see your caliber of player honored with an All-Star selection, even if the intentions seem a bit off.