The answer to this question is beyond me. I am not sure what Joe Maddon’s love affair is with the Gabes (Kapler and Gross), but in my opinion, there is no reason they should be starting over Ben Zobrist unless Joe wants to give someone a day off.
I decided to try to make some arguments as to why a Gabe would be starting, or even why it would be beneficial to have Zorilla on the bench. Every time, I land back on the fact that Ben Zobrist gives the Rays the best chance to win on an everyday basis.
I think the hitting is self explanatory. Zobrist is a switch hitter, which actually makes Joe Maddon’s life a bit easier because he no longer has to worry about righty/lefty matchups (which we all know he does to an extreme). In the event that a relief pitcher enters the game, Joe will not have to call on a pinch hitter to negate a lefty/lefty or a righty/righty matchup. Additionally, Zobrist has a higher average against lefties than Kapler (.385/.235), AND Zobrist has a higher average against righties than Gross (.263/.130). At the plate, Zobrist is the better option every time in every situation.
So the reason Ben Zobrist is not the everyday Right Fielder has to be the defense, right? Well, after a bit of research, I am not so sure this is the case. www.fangraphs.com uses a stat called “Ultimate Zone Ratings,” which stands for the number of runs above or below average a fielder is worth in terms of range, arm, double plays, and errors. Ben Zobrist posts a UZR of 1.8, a well above average rating. In comparison, Gabe Gross posts a UZR of 1.6, while Gabe Kapler posts a rating of 2.3. Based on this statistic, Ben Zobrist has fielding ability in between Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler. I am well aware that Ben Zobrist is still learning how to play the outfield, as until last year he was primarily a middle infielder, so I would have to assume his defensive ratings only stand to increase as the season goes on. Thinking logically though, he is faster than Gross and has a better arm than Kapler. Why put outfielders in the field with shortcomings when you can get an average of the two?
So after looking at fielding, there has to be a managerial advantage to having Zobrist on the bench, right? Zobrist is a very nice ace in the hole as a pinch hitter. However, who is he pinch hitting for? Down 5-2 against the White Sox with the bases loaded and 2 outs, Ben Zobrist pinch hit for…right fielder Gabe Gross. Chicago went to the bench and brought in left handed pitcher Matt Thronton to pitch to Gross, so it was an obvious pinch hit situation. However, if Zobrist were the starter, then he is hitting in this situation anyway. All of the other regular starters, Upton, CC, Longoria, Pena, Burrell, Navarro, Aki, and Bartlett would all get to take their swings with the bases loaded and 2 outs. The only position in which Maddon would situationally pinch hit is the right field platoon. Starting Zobrist in right field puts the best hitter at the plate and takes away the need for the ace in the hole. If Maddon feels the desperate need to keep a switch hitter on the bench, he only has to look one seat down and he will find Willy Aybar.
So, looking at all the facts, I just can’t fathom why Ben Zobrist is not the everyday right fielder. It seems as though Joe Maddon is trying to find more ways to get Zobrist more at bats, but it is not enough that he is playing in only 2 out of every 3 games, and has started in less than half of the games. He needs to be a staple in this lineup. Come on Joe, it’s not rocket science.
-the rocket scientist