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Late-Inning Lightning: Where is Ben Zobrist's Pop?

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We're now 21 games into the regular season and Ben Zobrist has yet to hit a home run. After putting up a .246 Isolated Power (ISO, or Slugging minus Batting Average) last season and averaging a home run every 18.7 at bats, Zobrist has started off this season slow in the power department. While he's still hitting doubles and triples at a similar rate as last season, it's been 80 ABs without a home run and he currently has a .125 ISO - half of what he produced last year. His in-season projections now expect him to hit 13 home runs this season, as opposed to the 18-20 he was predicted to hit at the beginning of the year. Should we be worried?

The short answer is no. For the long answer, keep reading.

Power is a statistic that stabilizes very slowly, with Isolated Power taking around 550 plate appearances before it is considered stable. If you look on FanGraphs at the leaderboard for ISO, you'll find some familiar names right around Zobrist:

2010 ISO

Career ISO

Prince Fielder

0.127

0.262

Ben Zobrist

0.125

0.193

Hanley Ramirez

0.123

0.212

Mark Teixeira

0.120

0.252

In other words, it's early as heck. During this small of a sample, even some of the best sluggers in either league can slump. While it would certainly be nice to see Zobrist hit a home run at this point, it's way too early to be drawing meaningful conclusions about Zorilla's power. If you were expecting him to hit 30 home runs - well, we could have told you that was unrealistic even before the season began. Fifteen to twenty home runs would be excellent production from Zobrist, and is still well within the realm of possibility.

More on Zobrist's power after the jump.

While a decrease in ISO is not troubling this early in the year, it would be concerning if Zobrist had changed his hitting profile - hitting more ground balls and less fly balls, for instance. Line drive rate stabilizes around 150 plate appearances, ground ball rate at about 200 PA, fly ball rate at 250 PA, and home runs per fly ball at 300 PA. Zobrist has only had 91 PA at this point so it's still too early to draw meaningful conclusions on his batted balls, but we can at least see if there's any reason for concern:

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

2009

20.0%

41.5%

38.5%

5.2%

2010

25.4%

40.7%

33.9%

10.0%

Zobrist has decreased his fly ball rate slightly, but he's also managed to increase his line drive rate while keeping his ground ball rate stable. It's unlikely that Zobrist continues to have an infield flyball percentage (IFFB%) of 10% or a line drive percentage of 25%, so expect to see both of those numbers regress more towards Zobrist's career norms. When this happens, I'd expect a slight up-tick in the number of fly balls hit, which should help his home run total increase.

And in case you're curious, Zobrist also hasn't turned into an extreme pull or push hitter either. His hits are well distributed around the field, so its merely his power numbers that we're waiting to catch up. Since he's a switch-hitter, here are his batted balls by handedness: 

As RH vs. LHP:

Benzor_medium

As LH vs. RHP:

Benzol_medium

Give him time; the Zorilla will emerge yet again.