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Matt Duffy Isn’t Just Similar to Ben Zobrist; He Could Be Even Better

Highlighting Matt Duffy’s incredible turnaround from a seemingly insignificant signing to a mainstay in the Cubs lineup.

Matt Duffy Cubs
Photos: Duffy - Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports | Zobrist - Brian Hill/Daily Herald

Nobody batted an eye when the Cubs signed Matt Duffy to a minor-league deal (pun intended). Teams make these kinds of under-the-radar moves all the time; a seasoned veteran with something to prove who, in the name of depth, can be stashed in the minors and brought up if someone gets injured. Sometimes, they even have a strong spring and make the Opening Day roster as Duffy ultimately did.

But, as the season progressed, he proved invaluable, not only with his defensive versatility but also his pinch-hitting prowess and approach at the plate. The more he produced, the harder it was for David Ross to ignore, and by April 21, Duffy was in the starting lineup 70% of the time. His style and overall demeanor felt familiar but, at first, it was hard to connect the dots. And then the lightbulb went off.

Ben Zobrist

Duffy’s ability to play to contact and willingness to go the other way is indeed reminiscent of 2016 World Series MVP Zobi-wan Kenobi himself. Like Zobrist, you’ll never see Duffy come out of his shoes on a swing, and he’s more than happy to take what the defense gives him. Sure, this may seem like an overly bold assertion on the surface, toeing the line of absurdity. How can you liken a Cubs legend to a player who was an offseason afterthought?

So, instead of being guided by nothing more than a feeling of déjà vu, let’s dive into the numbers to see whether or not they back such a claim. When comparing Zobrist in 2016 (his best season in Chicago) to Duffy in 2021, analyzing 14 vital statistics, the results were a bit shocking; Duffy, as a Cub, has been even better than Zobrist. Don’t believe it? Take a look for yourself:

ZOBRIST (2016)DUFFY (2021)
*Through 106 PA
BA.253.278
OBP.381.377
OPS.730.733
SLG.349.356
H2125
RBI1312
2B54
3B00
HR11
BB1811
SO1318
SB13
aLI.9461.16
POS2B, RF3B, 2B, 1B, LF

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

A juxtaposition of each player’s first 106 plate appearances, Duffy’s amount before going on the injured list, shows he outpaced Zobrist in seven categories and tied him in two others. Even more impressively, he did so while playing twice as many positions. Something else which stood out on paper was the lesser-known aLI statistic which measures how often a player comes to bat during a pressure situation (runners on, in the later innings of a tight game, etc.)

The baseline for a player’s aLI rating is 1.00, meaning not only has Duffy produced, but he’s consistently done so in the clutch. Zobrist, by contrast, and through no fault of his own, found himself having to deal with far less drama at the plate in 2016. Duffy went from a player you hoped could get the big hit to one you almost expected to. It was a drastic transformation from a guy who was considered a long shot to make it out of Spring Training.

Beyond the numbers, Duffy provides the team with the same veteran leadership in the clubhouse as Zobrist did during his tenure in Chicago. This was on full display when the Cubs visited Cleveland in May. Youngster Adbert Alzolay served up a two-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning, allowing the Indians to take the lead. Alzolay was visibly frustrated when Duffy took him into the tunnel and gave him a pep talk.

Alzolay responded with a 1-2-3 inning in the sixth to get back on track. When asked about it after the game, he gave full credit to Duffy for the assist. “I love having those kinds of guys around. When you get in a situation, you know they got your back. He came down, talked to me, got me out of that hole I was getting into at that moment, and just brought me back to go out and compete,” he told Marquee Sports Network.

Since Zobrist’s departure, the Cubs’ lineup has desperately needed a player like Duffy. Barring a disastrous ending to his season, he’s someone GM Jed Hoyer needs to re-sign for next year, especially as insurance in case Hoyer fails to extend the team’s young core. Zobrist’s go-ahead RBI double in the World Series is a moment that will forever endear him to Cubs fans around the globe.

And, who knows, if Duffy sticks around long enough, maybe he can have one just like it.


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MarkyD
MarkyD
1 year ago

Zobrist finished the 2016 season with a .386 OBP and an .830 OPS.

Duffy has never come close to either of those numbers at any point in his entire career.

Duffy’s CAREER YEAR-high was a lowly .762 OPS.

Matt Duffy is a certifiable bench bat with no position on the Cubs roster where he can start full-time. (Absolutely not ahead of Kris Bryant or Nico Hoerner, players with long careers ahead of themselves as full-timers.)

Comparing a bench player like Duffy to Zobrist…Ben Zobrist who has MULTIPLE 8 WAR SEASONS.

This is looney tunes stuff. The comparison is a reach of a reach. Duffy has no future on the Cubs as a starter, the dude is a bench bat.

MarkyD
MarkyD
1 year ago

Like…no one on this planet Earth believes Matt Duffy is close to Ben Zobrist…

But the headline actually implies that Matt freaking Duffy could be BETTER THAN BEN ZOBRIST.

Insanity.

Ryan Anthony Dreyer
Ryan Anthony Dreyer
Reply to  MarkyD
1 year ago

Not sure you actually read the article. This was simply comparing their first 106 played appearances in 2016 for Zobrist and this year for Duffy. Nobody compared their entire body work, it was simply an observation that Duffy has been better than Zobrist so far AS A CUB. But thanks for the click!

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