I don't know what to make of Ben Zobrist. In 2009 and 2011, he was one of the premier players in baseball. When Zobrist burst onto the scene in 2006, he posted a .243 wOBA with a .247 BAbip over 198 PA. Over just over 100 PA in '07, he hit to the tune of a .180 wOBA. Between 2006 and 2007 he posted a total UZR of -4.7. UZR rated him as a below-average fielder once again in 2008, but his .364 wOBA allowed him to play at a level above replacement level.
Zobrist had a fascinating 2009 season. He hit .297/.405/.543 for a .408 wOBA. That elite offensive production combined with +22.8 UZR gave Zobrist an 8.7-win season. Zobrist has posted the following WARs in his career:
He has accrued 19.2 wins since 2009. Among all second baseman since 2009, Zobrist ranks first in WAR, ahead of Pedroia, Kinsler, Utley, Cano, Phillips, Weeks, Uggla, Polanco, Hudson, Kendrick, Prado, Johnson, Figgins, and Callaspo.
So what gives? Why is Zobrist underappreciated? He has been the best second baseman in baseball since 2009, yet is rarely talked about as such. He does things people doesn't notice and plays in a city with minimal fans. He plays phenomenal defense. He hits lots of doubles- 102 in the last three season- and hits double digit home run totals, 10, 20, and 27 since '09. He walks a ton- 15.2, 14.0, and 11.4 walk rates the last three seasons. He plays a premier position and doesn't strike out at obscene rates.
I'm wondering what can be expected out of Zobrist going forward? He obviously will give you at least ten defensive runs. He can probably give you, conservatively, 20 runs above average with the stick. Factoring in about 600 PA, and 20 replacement runs, and 3 or 4 positional runs, and Zobrist comes out looking like a 5.3-win player, conservatively. If he gets 690 PA, that becomes 5.6. If he hits better and ends up with 30 park-adjusted wRAA, then he's a ~6.5 win player. I'm willing to bet Zobrist gets roughly 20-22 wins between 2012 and 2015, in 6-7, 5.5-6.5, 4.5, 4 fashion. That would give him about 40 career WAR entering his age 35 season in 2016.
All I can say is I hope Zobrist keeps up this excellent level of play for about two more seasons and gets appreciated in Tampa Bay as Matt Moore, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Jeremy Hellickson, and David Price improve and create a great team going forward.
Here's a link to a WAR grid of all second basemen between 2009 and 2011. The second link is a WAR graph of Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, Howie Kendrick and Dan Uggla.
WAR Grid: http://www.fangraphs.com/graphswd.aspx?teamid=0&pos=2B&season=2011&season1=2009&grid=25
WAR Graph: http://www.fangraphs.com/graphsw.aspx?players=7435,8370,6195,4229,3442