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Ryan Zimmerman Is Better Than You Think He Is


How good do you think Ryan Zimmerman is?

Wrong. He’s even better.

The Washington Nationals’ star third baseman is one of the most complete and talented players in Major League Baseball. And, he’s only 27 years-old. At third, at bat, in the clubhouse, and with the media, he is an absolute gem.

Gems are rare. Once you find one, you need to guard it, care for it, cherish it, hold on to it.

Lerner family, are you listening?

In his weekly on-line chat this past Tuesday, the esteemed Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell strongly hinted that the Lerner family, not General Manager Mike Rizzo, not Zimmerman’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen is the final obstacle to a six or seven-year contract extension for one’s of baseball’s best players.

If the Lerner’s fail to follow the lead of their baseball people on this, they are fools. Signing Ryan Zimmerman is a no-brainer. Just get it done. Now.

Boswell gives numerous non-numbers related reasons why this is a smart — and obvious — move for the entire Nationals organization:

— “(Stephen) Strasburg, (Danny) Espinosa, (Wilson) Ramos, JZ (Jordan Zimmermann), (Bryce) Harper and others (my additions — Drew Storen and Michael Morse) will be watching to see how a “model player” is treated”

— Failure to sign Zimmerman means he is likely — as unthinkable as this may be to Nats’ fans — to be traded on or before July 31 this season. As Boswell writes, “even with 1 1/2 seasons left (on his contract) you don’t get 100 cents on the dollar or anywhere near it.”

— Assuming a highly rated, but unproven draft pick like Anthony Rendon can step in and match Zimmerman’s production at a lower cost is — these are my words: Bowdenesque and fraught with peril. Boswell says, “Those are NOT the kinds of assumptions on which winning franchises do their business.”

Those are good reasons. I would add that, given the Nationals history, ownership needs to get this done to reinforce to the Washington fan base that they are committed to building a strong team for the long term. But the numbers tell an equally strong case.

His career OPS of .834 is good, but it could get even better. At 27, Zimmerman is in the early stages of his prime years. While Nationals Park slightly favors pitchers, with better hitters around him, Zimmerman could boost his OPS to .900. It would be a shame for him to have his best seasons for a team other than Washington.

In the field, Zimmerman’s range is beyond belief — unless you have seen him play. His Ultimate Zone Ratings in 2009-2010, averaged 13.8. He has some issues with errant throws, but, other than that, he mans the hot corner flawlessly. He is likely not done winning gold glove awards.

The only other drawbacks Zimmerman has is a fairly high strikeout rate and two seasons in the past five where he has missed 60 games. None of his injuries appear to be issues that become chronic. His knees, back, shoulder, and elbow appear strong. Injuries are a risk in any large contract. The Nationals should — and Rizzo probably already has — factor that into their negotiating strategy, but it should not be a deal-breaker.

Taken together, his performance on offense and defense closely resembles that of Tampa Bay Rays’ star Evan Longoria. In fact, over the past six years, Zimmerman has the 11th best Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value in Major League Baseball, according to Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs. As she points out, that’s better than Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. Baseball-Reference ranks him 38th in their WAR calculation, but, either way, Zimmerman is in elite company.

Admit it. Zimmerman is even better than you think.

The Nationals need to close the deal. Mark Zuckerman notes that Rizzo and Van Wagenen are slated to meet this week to negotiate.

Knowledgable baseball people expect a deal to get done. Nationals fans are praying one does.