For years, Ben Zobrist was baseball's secret star, laboring in relative obscurity with the Tampa Bay Rays. He got on base, he hit for some power, he played good defense at multiple positions. While he made a couple All-Star teams with the Rays and they regularly reached the postseason, he still seemed underrated: From 2009 through 2014, he ranked third among position players in Baseball-Reference WAR, trailing only Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera, and ranked second in FanGraphs WAR, behind only Cabrera.
Then he ended up with the Kansas City Royals at the end of 2015 and hit .303 in the postseason with 15 runs in 16 games and delivered several key hits as the Royals won the World Series. Then he signed with the Chicago Cubs and won World Series MVP honors as he hit .357 and drove in the go-ahead in Game 7.
At the age of 35, Ben Zobrist was now a thing.
One thing that has never made sense to me: Why does a team's utility player have to be a shortstop who can play elsewhere in the infield but can't really hit? Why not groom a Zobrist kind of player in the minors, a guy who can provide the manager with more options while not hurting your offense at the same time. I get that most players want to focus on one position, but we've seen the value Joe Maddon extracted from Zobrist with the Rays and now with the Cubs.
Of course, we have to acknowledge that Zobrist is rare. In his career, he has started 664 games at second base, 378 at right field, 196 at shortstop and 82 in left field (plus a few more at center field, first base and third base). Here's the list of players who have played 150 games or more at shortstop, second base and right field since the 1961 expansion:
Zobrist, Tony Phillips, Bob Bailor.
Yep. Three guys.
If we change right field to left field we get Phillips and Alan Bannister.
That's the problem with finding the next Zobrist. If you can play shortstop or second base well enough and hit, they keep you in the infield. There have really been only two Ben Zobrists in the past 50 years and one of them is Ben Zobrist.