Am I actually MAD ONLINE over Ben Zobrist not being a finalist for NL comeback player of the year? No, not really, but the Cubs veteran does deserve some recognition and you can easily make a case why he should be a finalist for the award.
Three finalists for the AL and NL were revealed on Tuesday, as voted by the players.
2018 Players Choice Awards Comeback Player Finalists – Michael Brantley, Edwin Jackson and David Price are selected as finalists by AL players; Clay Buchholz, Matt Kemp and Miles Mikolas are NL finalists #PlayersChoiceAwards2018https://t.co/gZBRTZ4ihk pic.twitter.com/BSfh6eMlMP
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) October 16, 2018
Buchholz and Mikolas are both pitchers, so it’s kind of tough comparing their seasons to a position player, but Ben Zobrist over Matt Kemp is pretty easy to argue.
I mean, it’s as easy as looking at their stats.
Matt Kemp 2017
.276 batting average, .318 OBP, .463 SLG, 19 HR, 64 RBI, 98 wRC+, -0.7 fWAR
Matt Kemp 2018
.290 batting average, .338 OBP, .481 SLG, 21 HR, 85 RBI, 122 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR
Ben Zobrist 2017
.232 batting average, .318 OBP, .378 SLG, 12 HR, 50 RBI, 82 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR
Ben Zobrist 2018
.305 batting average, .378 OBP, .440 SLG, 9 HR, 58 RBI, 123 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR
The main difference between the two hitters is that Kemp is a power guy and Zobrist is the contact/OBP hitter, so the only thing Kemp did better than Zobrist from 2017 to 2018 was improve on home runs and more RBIs. Other than that Zobrist came back and did everything else better compared to Kemp.
Zobrist at age 37, not only improved his batting average 73 points, but for the first time in his career he batted above .300. His OBP improved 60 points, compared to only a 20-point improvement by Kemp and his slugging went up 62 points, compared to only 18 points higher by Kemp.
And the value each player brought to their respective team also points to Zobrist having a much better comeback season than Kemp.
Fangraphs had Kemp at -0.7 WAR in 2017 and that improved to 1.6 WAR in 2018, an improvement of 2.3. Zobrist improved his WAR by 3.2. Baseball Reference also has Zobrist improving his WAR by 2.8 according to its formula compared to Kemp’s 2.4 WAR improvement.
Maybe Kemp is getting more love because he was an All-Star in 2018, but looking at the stats, it’s pretty clear that Zobrist deserves the recognition for having a better comeback season than Kemp.
Oh well, we know as Cubs fans how amazing Zobrist’s turnaround was in 2018. He battled a wrist injury in 2017, that made him useless from the right side and then hit above .300 for the first time, while also leading the Cubs with a .378 OBP, which is his third highest mark during his career.
Again, all of that at age 37, when he also showed some pretty good range at second base.