Chicago Cubs could get a big boost from resurgent Ben Zobrist

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Ben Zobrist had one of the worst years of his career last season. The Chicago Cubs need him to get back to what he does best: getting on base.

Throughout his entire big-league career, Ben Zobrist has been an on-base machine. His discipline and approach at the plate made him a consistently dangerous weapon for any team he’s played with. In 2016, his first year with the Chicago Cubs, that was no different.

Zobrist earned an All-Star nod that year, putting up a .386 on-base percentage in 147 games. He appeared defensively in five different positions and, ultimately, helped deliver the Cubs their first World Series title in 108 years, winning the MVP honors for the Fall Classic.

Last season, though, that ‘World Series hangover’ we kept hearing about seemed to affect Zo. He had a slash-line of .232/.318/.375 and, according to Baseball Reference, he had a WAR of just 0.5.  His low .318 OBP is extremely scary for a guy who’s known for getting on base.

You would think since he’s entering his age-37 season, those numbers are only going to down. However, his 2018 projections from Baseball Reference have him down for a bounceback year.

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They’re projecting him to have a slash line of .250/.343/.411 to go along with 14 homers.  Obviously these are just predictions and don’t mean that he’s guaranteed to have these numbers.

I personally don’t think he’s going to be that much better than he was last year.  That’s not the point of this article, though.  If Ben Zobrist has those numbers, what does that mean for the 2018 Cubs?

B/R also predicts that he’ll have 511 plate appearances this upcoming season.  If the team’s roster is as is right now, which it won’t be, there’s no way he gets that many at bats.

This number fluctuates if Kyle Schwarber/Ian Happ/Addison Russell go elsewhere.  Also keep in mind, he’s ancient for baseball players.

Is age catching up to the veteran?

2017 also brought on some injury for Zobrist, only playing in 128 games.  With him getting up there in age, isn’t that number only going to go down?

Let’s get back to the main idea of this piece, let’s say those predictions are exactly right, down to the thousandth decimal plate – what does that mean for the Cubs?

It would certainly give them consistency in the heart of the order, which every team likes.  The on-base and slugging percentages are considerably up, which means he’ll be getting on base more and hitting it further.

With Zobrist in the lineup more often, that means that we’ll see less playing time from one of the younger Cubs.  I’m not exactly a fan of that notion.  Guys like Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber need more at bats, not less.

On the other hand, it’s safe to say the Cubs will be a better ball club if Zobrist produces those numbers.  One thing these predictions don’t take into account is defense.

With the exception of second base, Ben Zobrist is a defensive liability.  He’s slow, has a weak arm, and you never feel uber-confident when he’s tracking down a fly ball.

Like it or not, Ben Zobrist is on the back nine of his career; more like on the 17th green of his career.

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But a bounce back season would make the Cubs a better ball club, even if that means some of the young guys have to sacrifice playing time.

The Cubs are in the middle of their championship window, so it’s time to worry about the product on the field, rather than solely focusing on development of their prospects.