Ben Zobrist Day: 2009 | The Process Report

Ben Zobrist Day: 2009

The 2009 season was a milestone season for Ben Zobrist for a few reasons. During spring training his first child was born, and later that season he solidified himself as an everyday player.

Zobrist closed the 2008 season with a flourish hitting .284/.381/.642 in spot duty down the stretch as the Rays surged to their first ever playoff appearance. The finish did not guarantee him any playing time to start the 2009 season as the depth chart still had Gabe Gross in right field, Jason Bartlett at shortstop, and Akinori Iwamura at second base. 

Even in spot duty, Zobrist picked up right in 2009 right where he left off in 2008 hitting .289/.360/.644 in the first month in 50 plate appearances. May was more of the same until a hard slide by Chris Coghlan tore Iwamura’s ACL and opening up a full-time spot for Zobrist in the lineup.

He finished May with a .313/.439/.625 slash line and closed the first half of the season with a .297/.414/.598 slash line in 297 plate appearances. That performance earned him his first all-star berth and the game was conveniently in St. Louis,  the team he grew up watching as a kid just three hours north in Eureka, Illinois. 

The key to Zobrist’s turnaround may have been some mechanical tweaks. As Tommy Rancel chronicled at the time:

At first, Cevallos mentions Zobrist was a little apprehensive about changing his approach. “Ben was concerned that he would not be conforming to what the hitting coaches wanted him to be, which was a “spray” hitter, a situational hitter I believe he called it, a guy that is supposed to move guys around the bases and sacrifice himself.  I told him that he could be a power hitter AND increase his consistency. He didn’t have to settle for that role, I told him, he could have his cake and eat it too.” To me that sounds very similar to the change Joe Maddon talked about when Zobrist was told to stop being a singles hitter and “swing harder”.

Heefner noticed things very similar to Cevallos, and in different ways both coaches helped change the way Zobrist swung the bat. Heffner told him “to stay connected in the swing.”  “What he meant,” Zobrist explains “was to keep all body parts moving together into the ball instead of fluid separated swing that many hitting coaches teach.  When I worked on these things in my swing, I immediately saw the power difference in BP.  Taking it into the game was tough but I made the adjustments.”

Anytime a player makes drastic changes to their mechanics they’re risking their livelihoods in the process. The gamble paid off Zobrist. Not only did he post arguably the best season in franchise history, but he positioned himself as a long-term asset. One Andrew Friedman soon locked up.

One Comment

  1. Heath Baywood wrote:

    Thanks for recognizing 08. Should have been freed then.

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