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Ben Zobrist: King of Pain

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Full disclosure: I am a mark for Ben Zobrist. Dismiss this as conjecture if you will, but I have speculated for some time that Zorilla is playing through pain. On July 28th, Zobrist left a game against the Detroit Tigers and did not return to the lineup until August 5th. At the time, Zobrist claimed he tweaked his back over-swinging in the batting cage. Below are Zobrist's stats prior to the injury and after:

 

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

BB%

K%

Pre-Injury

427

0.272

0.361

0.384

0.112

13.3%

15.9%

Post-Return

228

0.174

0.294

0.293

0.120

15.4%

17.1%

 

Zobrist didn't see a power decline according to his ISO (Insert he didn't see power period joke here). However his batting average fell almost 100 points following his return. He also saw his walks and strikeouts increase. Could his back injury have been affecting his swing, lessening his room for error? Its guessing sure, but the timing makes you wonder. On its own, I would be unconvinced (ok, given the subject maybe not). However one more thing jumped out in my mind. Early in the season Zobrist was a stolen base machine. My eyes told me his base-stealing was non-existent after the injury. This could be bias due to the .068 drop in OBP resulting in less opportunities so I decided to dig deeper. Using baseball-reference's play-index tool and some manual filtering, I isolated each appearance where Zobrist reached first base without another runner occupying second base:

 

SB Opp

SB

CS

%Attempts

Pre-Injury

99

21

2

23.2%

Post-Return

36

2

1

8.3%

 

So even after adjusting for being on-base less, Zobrist was still running almost 2/3 less often than he did before the injury. This leads me to believe that Ben Zobrist is just soldiering up and playing through his back or some injury without making excuses. Sound familiar? B.J. Upton did the same thing with his labrum during the 2008 season before undergoing surgery. So what are the two takeaways? First, tread carefully when looking at Zobrist's season line. Second, pray the Upton comparison extends through the post-season with an onslaught of home runs.