Welcome to another edition of Mortal Kombat, where we take two potentially evenly matched players and pit them against each other to see who the better man is. This weeks matchup is between the veterans Ben Zobrist and Erick Aybar. Zobrist is currently ranked 7th on our early 2015 rankings while Aybar is ranked at #11 and considered a last resort. At the start of the 2014 season, we had Zobrist ranked at #12 while Aybar was an afterthought coming in at #21. Is Zobrist that much better than Aybar and does Aybar deserve a little more respect than he is currently getting (or has gotten in the past)?
Let’s go to the tale of the tape to see how these two stack up against each other.
|Ben Zobrist||Erick Aybar|
|Age||34 (May 26th)||31 (January 14th)|
|Height||6′ 3″||5′ 10″|
|Bats/Throws||S / R||S / R|
|First Year in Majors||2006||2006|
|ML At Bats||3850||3830|
This one is pretty cut and dry. Aybar has hit over 8 home runs in a season just once. His average ISO for the past two seasons is .103 and only .107 for his career. The average flyball distance in 2014 was 259 feet with 275 guys besting him in that category. With a HR/FB% under 5 don’t expect more than 7 home runs, and he’ll need the wind to blow just right to get to 7.
Zobrist has been good for power in the past, but those power numbers have dwindled the past few years. His ISO in 2013 was .127 and that fell a few points to .123 in 2014. That’s a far cry from the .200 plus ISO he posted in previous seasons. His average flyball distance in 2014 was 274 feet, that is just 1.5 feet shy of what he posted in 2013. Surprisingly it was only 278 feet in 2012 when he knocked in 20. There is enough power there to suggest he should at least repeat what he has done the past 2 seasons. His HR/FB% the past two seasons is 6.2, nearly half of what it was in 2011 and 2012, yet his FB% has barely moved.
Bottom line, Aybar will be lucky to get 7 while Zobrist is good for 10, possibly a few more than that comparing his past two seasons to his previous 20 home run campaigns. At best the advantage is minimal, but if things go right for Zobrist you could see 12-15 out of him.
Stolen bases are just the opposite of Home Runs. Zobrist had 11 stolen bases in 2013 and 10 in 2014. It’s not like he’s getting caught more, he’s just not trying as much and at age 34, you really can’t blame him. He is still capable of stealing 10 bases, but I can’t see anymore than that. Just like Zobrist, Aybar doesn’t have the best success rate and has lost a step from previous years, but he still can run. In 2014, Aybar swiped 16 bases. He managed only 12 in 2013, but he missed about a month’s time so we’ll let that year slide. At this stage of his career I can’t see another 20 stolen base campaign, but 15 should be an easily attainable number. There really isn’t much more to discuss here.
Zobrist has been very consistent the past 4 years with batting averages of .269, .270, .275 and .272. Normally as a player ages his swinging strikeout percentage goes up, but Zobrist’s numbers have been going the other way. His contact% has also improved with age, and while neither of these things have improved his batting average, they have helped it remain constant. The rest of his underlying stats have remained consistent so expect his batting average to remain in the .270 range. He may lose a few points with age, but given his contact skills it won’t be much if he does regress some.
Aybar has been very consistent himself the past 4 years with batting averages of .279, .290, .271 and .278. His strikeout percentage has slowly ticked down and have been below his 11.3% career rate for 4 straight years. Swing% and contact% fluctuate a point or two from year to year, but overall have remained steady. Aybar is a solid hitter and is a few years away from an age that we have to worry about a decline. I can see a batting average between .278 and .280 in 2015.
While the two men are close, 8-10 points of average can mean a lot (especially in roto leagues). Zobrist will hit .270 while Aybar will hit .270 if he has a down year. There is no real upside to Zobrist; none really for Aybar either, but Aybar is capable of hitting .280 (or more if things click right).
Scoring runs is something Zobrist is good at. In the past 6 years, he has scored at least 77 runs and has had 83 or more in two of the past three years. Hitting in one of the top 3 spots in the order the past 3 years I’m sure helped. Looking at the potential free agent pool, I don’t see anyone that Tampa could bring in combined with their current roster that would change where Zobrist will be hitting in the lineup. Expecting another 80 runs scored in 2015 should be a lock and it could be more if Will Myers steps up and improves and Longoria can improve upon his 2014 campaign. The Rays were 27th in the league in 2014 for scoring runs and Zobrist still scored 83 times, imagine what he could do with an offence behind him.
With the exception of a slightly higher total in 2014, Aybar’s run totals the past 6 years are almost identical. Take a look starting in 2009, 70, 69, 71, 67. 68. 77. That’s a nice run of consistency for a guy taken last in most drafts. On most any other team he could be a top of the order guy, but unfortunately for Aybar he plays for
the Angels Mike Scioscia. There are few players that get a set spot in the lineup while playing Scioscia ball, so Aybar bounces all over the lineup hitting anywhere on any given night. You can’t expect a rise in his run total when he record half of his at bats in the six through nine spot, and that isn’t going to change while the team is under its current management.
Aybar could score 80 or more runs if were placed in one of the top spots in the order and quite possibly outpace Zobrist. That isn’t going to happen. Aybar edged Zobrist by 10 points of batting average, and now Zobrist has bested Aybar by 10 runs.
Runs Batted In
Here is where we find the main big difference between these two players. Aybar’s highest RBI total to date was the 68 he drove in this season. Prior to 2014, Aybar had never posted an RBI total above 60 and his numbers usually hover in the mid-50’s. With runners in scoring position Aybar is a career .270 hitter. He hit .281 with RISP in 2013 but only .266 last season. That .270 average isn’t that far off his career .277 mark so the only thing that is really preventing him from driving in more runs is his spot in the order. We already determined that isn’t going to change and until it does, expect another mediocre 55 (plus or minus) RBI season from Aybar.
Zobrist doesn’t have a set spot, but he does spend a majority of the time in prime spots. His RBI totals slipped to 52 in 2014 as the team was, well, horrible. In the five years prior to 2014, Zobrist’s lowest RBI total was 71 which is a safe number to predict when looking ahead. The Rays were 10th in the league in RBIs in 2013 and 11th in scoring runs and little has changed there. Even a modest bounce back by a few of their players (Desmond Jennings was a disappointment) will increase the RBI opportunities for Zobrist. Considering he hasn’t change much as a hitter (other than the lower power numbers), you can give him a mulligan for 2014.
Aybar will drive in 55 or so runs, the only way Zobrist has a total that low is if the Rays completely suck again. Expect a minimum of 65 RBIs out of Zobrist, but odds are he’ll return to his normal 70 range.
ADVANTAGE and Winner: Zobrist
I have to say, before I did this player comparison, I didn’t think much of Aybar. Like most of you, I saw the average run totals, low power numbers, limited RBI opportunities and moved on. The fact is, the only thing that separates him from Ben Zobrist is 15 or so RBIs. Zobrist will score a few more runs and hit a handful more homers. Aybar will steal more bases and hit for a slightly better average. Yet, Zobrist is seen as one of the better options for shortstop while Aybar is viewed as a last resort. On average, Zobrist was drafted in round 8 in 2014. Aybar was taken, are you ready for this, in round 23. If I would have realized how productive Aybar was, I probably would have waited on the SS position, used that higher pick for something better and grabbed Aybar in the later rounds. Zobrist deserves his high-ranking and is a very good player to own at short, but Aybar should be taken only a few rounds later and not at the end of the draft. Remember this fact when draft day comes next year and you start to panic thinking all the good shortstops are going off the board. Just take a deep breath, relax, and remember, Erick Aybar is still there.
The Mortal Kombat Series