Chicago Cubs: Ben Zobrist’s patience looms large for Cubs

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 11: Ben Zobrist
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 11: Ben Zobrist /

On the surface, the numbers might appear ugly, but when you dig deeper, you realize just how important Ben Zobrist is to the Chicago Cubs’ lineup.

When you think of Chicago Cubs’ Ben Zobrist you’re probably thinking about the World Series MVP of 2016.

You might then shift your focus to Zobrist of 2017, appearing older and prone to injury. Those assertions aren’t altogether inaccurate. Yet, there’s more than meets the eye of his .229 batting average.

Just as the team had a collective first-half doldrum, Zobrist fits that same category.

Slow beginnings

The 36-year-old hit .214, with seven home runs, and missed time with wrist inflammation. As the All-Star Break wistfully approached, Zobrist was more than ready to get away and ultimately reset.

And it appears, just as the team has turned the corner, Zobrist is on quite the run himself.

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Entering Thursday, Zobrist was batting .246 for the month of July, but he’s batting .308 in the second-half. Zobrist already has nine RBI and has only struck out twice in 39 second-half at-bats.

Over the last week, he’s batting .400 with three RBI, three walks, and one strikeout in 20 at-bats.

Patient approach

One of the things you can count on from Zobrist is his ability to work counts and not strike out all that much.

His 11.3 BB% is identical to his total from last season.

While Zobrist has played nearly 20 games fewer than Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ walk leaders, Zobrist is fourth on the team with 32 free passes, and among the fewest with just 37 strikeouts.

He struck out on just 35 instances prior to the All-Star Break, and I made the case for why he works as the Cubs’ leadoff man around Memorial Day. Having spent the majority of AB leading off in 2017, he has slashed .263/.337/.525.

Easily his best among anywhere in the lineup. That leadoff element displayed itself Wednesday night as well.

While Jason Heyward and Bryant each started off the game with a one-pitch out during their AB, Zobrist exerted patience and worked a walk to begin the second inning.

Holding their own

Throughout the season it has been said the team misses Dexter Fowler, or that the team needs a leadoff man. While that may be true — the Cubs currently rank last in the league in terms of BA when hitting first — the club is top five in OPS (.768) among their top-of-the order hitters.

The Cubs take their walks. Zobrist draws his walks. Entering their game against the White Sox Thursday night, the Cubs are third in the NL in walks when batting first. As a whole, the Cubs have seen the fourth-most pitches in the league (1,924).

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So sure, the overall numbers for Zobrist don’t look great. But the second-half numbers and splits, amid the meticulous eye of Ben Zobrist, lends credence to bigger breakout potential, as the Chicago Cubs trend upward in their NL Central title pursuits.