During the All-Star break, I took a relatively deep look at the first-half struggles of four key Chicago Cubs – Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist – and tried to figure out if things would look a bit brighter after the break.
Well, lo and behold, Javy Baez and Addison Russell (when healthy) have improved tremendously since the middle of July, while Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist have both treaded water. Of course, Heyward is treading water with a wRC+ in the low 80s to go with impeccable right field defense and base running, while Zobrist has been in the mid to upper 70s (wRC+), while providing inconsistent and mediocre (at best) defense at second base.
In other words, Zobrist is still trying to get right and isn’t providing much value in the meantime. It’s a bit of a concern, to say the least.
At CSN Chicago, Patrick Mooney wonders if the pile of injuries this season may have had a lasting effect, and it’s easy to forget just how many injuries there have been for Zobrist this season: “There were questions about whether or not a stiff neck would prevent Zobrist from being ready for Opening Day. Playing a doubleheader on May 9 at Coors Field stressed his lower back and sidelined him again. An awkward swing on May 26 at Dodger Stadium would eventually put him on the disabled list with a sore left wrist and force him to miss most of June.”
Indeed, Zobrist has been in and out of the lineup for injuries all year, though it’s that last one, the wrist injury, that troubled us the most at the All-Star break.
But what’s more troubling about that injury now is just how severe it may have been. Indeed, in comments to CSN Chicago, Zobrist explained that he’s simply trying to get to the point now where he normally is in May. That’s … not good.
Later, he goes on to explain that he’s always been a “hands/wrists/forearms” hitter (which apparently allows him to let the pitch get deeper in the zone before reacting), which makes a wrist injury – one that’s likely plagued him longer and more severely than we were previously led to believe – that much more concerning.
Indeed, Zobrist conceded that in June (when he posted a 11 wRC+) it was downright “impossible” for him. Yeesh.
The best I can offer you today is that in the month of May, i.e. mostly before his wrist injury, Zobrist was hitting everything in sight (121 wRC+). And in every month since his terrible, “impossible,” June, he’s improved:
June: 11 wRC+
July: 52 wRC+
August: 73 wRC+
However, it’s not all encouraging news. Because while his overall production has trended in the right direction, his power has definitely not followed the same rebounding pattern:
June: .105 ISO, .237 SLG
July: .104 ISO, .312 SLG
August: .000 ISO, .250 SLG
As we know, wrist issues tend to really negatively affect a batter’s ability to drive the ball, so this is not only troubling, it’s expected. Now, it’s great to know what’s causing Zobrist’s issues, sure, but when that what is something we know is VERY difficult to come back from or fix without perfect health (let alone at 36 years old), my optimism goes out the window.
In other words, if it were the need for a mechanical adjustment or better pitch recognition, at least he could do something about that. But, if he’s not able to get his wrist back to 100% right now (which is mostly out of his control), there may not be a ton left in the offensive tank this season.
We’re not there yet, though, and Zobrist is a smart, hard-working, talented baseball player, and has been for a very long time. If he thinks he’ll be able to get himself back into form by the end of the season, the Cubs will give him at least some chance to prove it. Because make no mistake, this team is a whole lot better with Zobrist being his usual self and in the lineup almost every single day.