Tag Archives: ROYALS

BEN ZOBRIST, KEY TO WORLD SERIES?

The Mets against the Royals in the World Series promises to be an interesting match up in many ways. The Mets young pitching staff may have enough power to control the Kansas City bats but the Royals bull pen may be able to shut down the Mets offense if the Royals can get a lead. So many things can happen in a short series that there is no almost no point in speculating on the eventual outcome.

Both teams have some exceptional young players who may hold the key to the series and both have some veterans with the ability to get hot and make a difference in a seven game series.

If I had to pick one player, outside of pitchers, that I think is key for either team, I’d pick Ben Zobrist, Kansas City’s Jack of All Trades and Master of All Positions. Zobrist has played second base and batted second for the Royals in every game of the ALDS and ALCS.

He hit .333 with 6 hits in 18 at bats against Houston in the ALDS and .320 with 6 hits in 25 at bats against Toronto in the ALCS for an overall post season average of .326 with 6 RBI’s and 10 runs scored.

Zobrist has played every position in the field except pitcher and catcher in his ten seasons in the Big Leagues. In addition to his versatility in the field, he is a switch hitter which adds to his value.

He began his career with the Tampa Bay Rays and played there for nine years before being traded to the Oakland Athletics on January 10th of this year. He played in 67 games for Oakland, hitting .268 before again being traded to Kansas City on July 28th..

Since coming to Kansas City, he hit .284 in 59 regular season games with seven homers and 23 RBI’s. In those 59 games, he played second base, third base, right field and left field as well as designated hitter.

At Tampa Bay, Zobrist was a fan favorite and hit .264, while doing everything except pitch and catch and sell hot dogs. I was in Tropicana Field for the last exhibition game and the start of the regular season in April and spoke with many Rays fans about losing Zobrist and long time Manager Joe Maddon in the same year. Almost invariably, the fans were more upset about losing Zobrist than Maddon although everyone said the team would not be the same without the two.

Zobrist is a Free Agent at the end of this season and is expected to be highly sought after. I am sure Maddon, now the Manager of the Chicago Cubs, would love to have this versatile player back given his belief and practice that players should play multiple positions.

Zobrist is one of those rare position players who seems to be comfortable and competent wherever he is asked to play. He has been named to two All Star teams, in 2009 and 2013 another rarity for a utility player.

He has said he would prefer to stay in Kansas City but, like every player at this stage of his career, money will probably dictate where he goes. It’s hard to imagine a team that couldn’t make good use of his offensive and defensive versatility and production.

He has been hot at the bat during the first two post season series and could be a major factor in the upcoming World Series.

CATCHERS MAKE THE BEST MANAGERS

Did anyone notice that three of the four Managers in the American and National League Championship Series’ were former catchers in their baseball careers? Joe Maddon of the Cubs, John Gibbons of the Blue Jays and Ned Yost of the Royals were all catchers during their playing careers. Only Terry Collins of the Mets was not. Collins was a shortstop during his playing career.

In the beginning of this year’s Playoffs, of the ten teams involved, including the Wild Card Teams, six of the ten were managed by former catchers, including all five American League teams.

In all of Major League Baseball, 13 of the 30 Managers were catchers during their playing career. Why are 60 per cent of the Post Season teams, 75 per cent of the teams in the LCS and 43 per cent of the Major League teams managed by former catchers?

After all, catcher is only one of nine positions on the field at any given time, yet 43 percent of the Managers come from the ranks of catchers. What special ability required to manage a baseball team does a player develop from playing at this least glamorous position that gives him the skills to be a Manager? After all, the catcher’s equipment has always been referred to as the ‘Tools of Ignorance’. One wouldn’t think that ignorance would be an asset in such a complex position.

According to Baseballreference.com, the term ‘tools of ignorance’ was ‘…meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.’

The catcher takes a position, generally more that 100 times a game, behind the batter, that puts him at severe risk. Both ball and bat are moving at a speed around 100 miles an hour and arrive at a spot directly in front of the catcher at precisely the same instant. If you have never experienced the sensation when this happens, you don’t have a true understanding of the phrase ‘in the blink of an eye’.

Until the recent rule change, the catcher was the only player on the field that it was acceptable to crash into while running at full speed into home plate. He is an advocate for the pitcher in ball and strike counts, making him a favorite target of umpires. If an opposing batter gets hit with a pitch, the catcher, who obviously must have called the bean ball, is the most logical target for the opposition pitcher’s retaliation.

Given the dangers involved and the options available, why would any sane person choose to catch? While catching may be the most dangerous position on any sports field, it’s where the action is. The catcher is involved in every play. Every play starts with a pitch the catcher calls by signaling to the pitcher what to throw and where to throw it.

While following general directions given by sign from the dugout, the catcher must consider a myriad of things while deciding, in a few seconds, which pitch he will call for next. Among the things he must consider are the ability, condition, mental attitude and performance so far that day of his pitcher, who, by the way, is only one of 11 or 12 different pitchers he will catch this week. He must also monitor the situation on the field, including the ball and strike count, the number of outs, the score, any base runners and their locations, speed and ability and, of course, the batter, including, but not limited to, his physical ability, what he has seen in his previous at bats and what he can be expected to try to accomplish in this at bat.

I have merely scraped the surface of the things a catcher must know and anticipate in every situation. Most of us would need a computer to catalog the things we would need to consider before putting down those fingers to call for a pitch, never mind analyze those factors and come up with a decision.

Once the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand, the real action begins. The person squatting behind home plate who was just imitating a rocket scientist now becomes an amazing specimen of human agility and reaction. The pitch will come in at anywhere between 70 and 100 miles an hour, may go where it was supposed to go or somewhere else and may not even be the pitch the catcher thought he called for. If you have ever expected an 80 mile an hour slider and, instead, gotten a 100 mile per hour fastball, you’ll know where the term handcuffed came from.

Assuming the ball is not put into play, which it isn’t most of the time, and the catcher catches it, and there is no one stealing a base, the scenario starts all over again. If the ball is hit, depending upon where it is hit and whether is is caught by a fielder, or one of the dozens of other things that can happen, the catcher now has other responsibilities. These include backing up first base on grounders, directing throws within the infield, preparing to catch a ball for a play at the plate and on and on and on. After this play is over, his responsibilities begin all over again.

Considering their responsibilities and all they have to learn to play their position, is it surprising that catchers make good Managers? The catcher is like the football quarterback who must know the role of every player on every play.

That is why catchers make the best managers and why there is a good chance two former catchers will be managing against each other in the World Series this year just as Bruce Bochy and Ned Yost, two former catchers, did last year.

THE ULTIMATE UTILITY PLAYER!!

If you saw the Red Sox play the Kansas City Royals last weekend, you may have noticed that Ben Zobrist batted second in each of the four games. What you may not have noticed was that he started two of those games in left field and one each at third base and second base. The reason you may not have noticed is because of the smoothness and efficiency that he brings to every position he plays.

Zobrist is the ultimate utility player. In his ten year career, he has played every position on the field except pitch and catch and has batted in every position from first to ninth. He has played over 100 Major League games each at second base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field.

He is not a high average or power hitter, his career batting average is just
.264 and he has hit only 124 homers and batted in 557 runs.

After being drafted by Houston in the sixth round of the 2004 Amateur Draft, he spent two seasons and part of a third working his way through the minors, hitting over .300 at every stop. He was traded to Tampa Bay in 2006 and made his debut with the Rays on August 1 of that year.

He was with the Rays until January of this year when he was traded with Yunel Escobar to the Oakland Athletics. He played 67 games with the A’s, batting .268 with six homers and 33 RBI’s. In his 67 games he played every outfield position and second base.

On July 28, he was traded to the Royals for cash and two players. When he played his first game for the Royals on July 30, the Royals were in first place, nine games up. He has hit .342 in his 21 games with the Royals with four homers and thirteen RBI’s and the Royals have moved to 13 games ahead in that period. He has played third base, second base and left field so far as a Royal.

In his career, he has handled 4,037 chances at seven different positions and made just 68 errors for a .983 fielding percentage. There is no loss of defense no matter where he plays.

Joe Maddon, his Manager in Tampa Bay for nine years, made good use of his talents. Of course, he was the perfect fit for Madden’s style of play. Maddon loves ballplayers who can play multiple positions and moves his players like chess pieces.

Zobrist is a Free Agent at the end of this season. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon are building the Chicago Cubs into a powerhouse in the National League Central Division. Don’t be surprised if 34 year old Ben Zobrist is the last piece of the puzzle that is that powerhouse.