For Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, 2016 is a season he would like to forget. Here is why.
In his second full season as a first baseman, Zimmerman played over 100 games for the first time since 2013, but the critical offense he brought to the table in his glory years is gone. For a player who meant so much to turning the old Montreal Expos into the Washington Nationals, 2016 asks more questions than it answers.
Injuries are part of the reason for his decline. Three times in his 12 years with the Nats has Zimmerman topped 150 games. For five seasons, he appeared in under 120. Getting him on the field, over the years, is the major challenge. For the six seasons when he cranked over 20 homers a year that is a trade you can make.
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When you hit .218, as Zimmerman did this year, it is not. Never a selective hitter, he fanned 104 times in 467 plate appearances compared with 29 walks. The calculator says for every walk he drew, Zimmerman struck out 3.58 times. If you are a one-dimensional hitter, you have to be more selective.
Zimmerman made plenty of hard contact with the ball, but usually right at somebody. The bat speed is still there. His desire is as well. At 31, he plays like a hitter five years older at the end of his career, not at the end of his prime as the calendar suggests.
If you can overlook the unproductive outs—there is nothing positive that comes with a strikeout—he belted 15 home runs and 18 doubles. Now a tail-end of the order batter, Zimmerman drove in a scant 46 runs. In 2015, playing 95 games, he tallied 73 RBI.
Defensively, his numbers are below-average. If you are a believer in defensive WAR, his play at first earned him a score of -0.9. Somehow, he cost them a game. Looking at his total runs saved, his total of -2 does not raise confidence. His range factor-per-nine of 8.32 is below the National League average of 9.05. Some of that is because the pitching staff strikes out hitters by the bushel. So does the rest of the NL.
Zimmerman played well in the Nationals NLDS loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. His sixth-inning double in Game 5 may have swung the series towards Washington for good if Jayson Werth was not thrown out at home by 10 yards. In those five games, Zimmerman went 6-for-17 with three walks and strikeouts. A solid series.
Zimmerman’s overall value to Washington exceeds his performance on the field. The first player drafted by the team after the move from Canada, his contributions measure in ways statistics cannot.
Still, when grading his on-field performance, the results are weak.