As of right now, who do you think has been the Rays' MVP?
My guess is, the vast majority of Rays fans would answer James Shields or Casey Kotchman. Both are having exceptional, career years; Shields has posted a 2.80 ERA and thrown eight complete games, and Kotchman is making a run at the batting title (.335 after Saturday's game).
Without a doubt, Shields and Kotchman deserve to have their names mentioned in any discussion about the Rays' most valuable player. But I'd like to draw your attention to another player who deserves to have his name tossed in the hat: the perpetually underrated Ben Zobrist.
After having a down 2010 season as a result of a lingering back injury, Zobrist has quietly put together an impressive bounce-back year. His triple-slash line - .277 average, .368 on-base percentage, .492 slugging percentage - is second best on the team, just behind Kotchman's .335/.394/.475. To put it another way, while Kotchman has been 45 percent above league average offensively this season, Ben Zobrist comes in at 43 percent.
And when we're trying to measure offensive value, it's important to take a player's position into account. For example, it's not fair to compare a shortstop's production to a first baseman's, as first basemen are primarily sluggers and put up lofty offensive totals. It's expected that shortstops will provide less offense, so individual expectations are lowered.
While dabbling in rightfield, Zobrist has spent the majority of this season at second base, one of the weakest offensive positions. The league-average second baseman is 4 percent below average offensively, while an average first baseman is 21 percent above average. Yet Zobrist has the third-most extra-base hits of any player in the majors (57), trailing only Curtis Granderson (60) and Justin Upton (62).
Numbers make case for Ben Zobrist as Tampa Bay Rays' MVP
Tampa Bay Times | Aug 14