File this under “unlikely results”:
When the Rays acquired Ben Zobrist in the Aubrey Huff trade a few years back, the most impressive tool in his shed was his ability to reach base. Throughout the minors his career .429 on-base percentage made him a desirable stopgap if nothing else. The Rays incumbent shortstop Julio Lugo was moved shortly after and uber prospect B.J. Upton shifted to third base. Zobrist would rack up 198 plate appearances that season, posting a measly .260 OBP and barely hitting a ball out of the infield.
The Rays would persevere with the now 28-year-old Dallas Baptist University product and start him on opening day 2007. In 105 plate appearances his line was .155/.184/.206. Brendan Harris would take over at shortstop – someone with fall-down range – and Zobrist would rake in Triple-A. An injury would sideline Zobrist in 2008 but when he finally reached the majors he took off: blasting 12 home runs in 227 plate appearances.
This was a guy who had the bat knocked out of his hands during his major league stint and someone who hit 23 minor league home runs in 1,642 plate appearances. There was absolutely no way this power surge was legitimate, right? Well, I doubted him based on this information and apparently I was quite wrong. Zobrist secured a starting spot at second base once Akinori Iwamura went down to injury and could finish with 600 plate appearances this season. He’s hit 25 homers and 25 doubles to go with his .924 OPS.
Is this his true talent level? Heavens no. His UZR at second base is 16.1 runs. Former shortstops should perform better at second base, but expecting such a performance again is a bit much. Heck, odds are his power display isn’t legitimate either. Awards aren’t given out on true talent level and expected futures though. It’s all about the actual performances and for that reason Zobrist should garner some AL MVP votes and claim the Rays team MVP award as one of the best stories and best performances of 2009.