With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.
It isn't hyperbole to say Ben Zobrist was the missing piece to the Cubs' offense entering a 2016 season with World Series expectations.
The Cubs signed Zobrist in December 2015 after their offense dried up in the NLCS two months prior against the Mets. The Cubs' lineup was home-run-happy, hitting 10 long balls in their four-game NLDS win against the rival Cardinals - including six in Game 3 alone.
The home runs stopped coming against New York (four in four games) and the Cubs offense hit .164 with a .225 on-base percentage. Both of those figures were drastic drop-offs from the .242 and .324 figures they posted against the Cardinals.
Admittedly, the Mets 2015 rotation was comically good. They sent out four tough starters in Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz against a young Cubs lineup. Elite pitching almost always beats good hitting in October, and this series was no exception.
But while the Mets won the series on the backs of their starters, they also outscored the Cubs 21-8 overall, a whopping +13 run differential. The Mets' rotation was overwhelming, but the Cubs hitting better would obviously have made a huge difference.
The Cubs signing Zobrist was a direct response to the 2015 NLCS. While he has some pop in his bat, Zobrist is a contact-oriented hitter with strong plate discipline. He added a different element to an already good Cubs lineup, albeit one that needed the veteran approach Zobrist brought.
In four seasons with the Cubs, Zobrist has hit .269/.362/.411 with a 12.5 percent walk rate compared to 13 percent strikeout rate. He's spent most of his time defensively at second base but has provided valuable versatility, frequenting in left and right field. He's also spent some time at first base and shortstop, though much less than the other positions.
Ah, and he also came up with one of the biggest hits in Cubs history, not that anyone has forgotten.
Zobrist's best season with the Cubs was 2018, when he hit .305 (career-high) with a .378 OBP (team-high) in 139 games. Last season, he stepped away from the team for nearly four months to attend to a personal matter.
The Cubs missed Zobrist's presence dearly in 2019. Eleven Cubs led off at least once, combining to hit .212 with a .294 OBP percentage (both last in MLB). Zobrist wouldn't have led off every game for the Cubs, but he would have seen a fair amount of time atop the Cubs order.
Zobrist hit .284 with a .377 OBP after returning to the Cubs in September, proving he has something left in the tank after his long layoff. He's now a free agent and weighing whether to play in 2020. But no matter what he decides, he's a worthy inclusion on our Cubs All-Decade Team in his familiar utility man role.
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