Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman Off to Sizzling Start in 2017

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Apr 3, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a single against the Miami Marlins during the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 3, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (11) hits a single against the Miami Marlins during the fourth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ryan Zimmerman, the long-time face of the Washington Nationals is coming off of a bit of a down year, but has looked like his old self so far in 2017.

Throughout his twenties, Ryan Zimmerman was always among the best third baseman in the league, and the hometown hero was the obvious face of the Washington Nationals.  Now 32, injuries have certainly taken a toll on his career, and he has not been the same player over the last few years.

During his prime, Zimmerman was an elite hitter with fantastic gap-to-gap power, especially to the opposite field.  Recently, he has struggled at the plate and has suffered a serious dropoff from the superstar he once was.

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Last season, Zimmerman showed signs that he was capable of a bounce-back year, but his struggles continued.  Zimmerman ranked ninth in the majors in average exit velocity at 93.7 mph, so he consistently hit the ball hard, but did not enjoy much success due to his low launch angle of 9.6 degrees.

If you take the players with the top 20 exit velocities in the league in 2016 and then look at their launch angles, Zimmerman ranks dead last, and it’s not even close.

Daniel Murphy, king of all things hitting, worked with Zimmerman on his launch angle this spring, and it appears their efforts have paid off.  Through the first three games of the 2017 season, Zimmerman is hitting .417 with two homers.

Much of Zimmerman’s success so far can be attributed to his continued high exit velocities and improved launch angles.  Zimmerman’s first homer of 2017 was an opposite field blast on April 5th, with an exit velocity of 104.6 MPH and a launch angle of 19.8 degrees.  His second homer came on April 6, with an exit velocity of 110.8 MPH and a launch angle of 20 degrees.

If Zimmerman is able to sustain his great exit velocities and launch angles, he will continue to provide plenty of offense in the heart of the potent Nats lineup.

During his best years, Zimmerman always had a knack for coming through in the clutch, and even earned the nickname, “Mr. Walk-Off”.  Along with much of his offensive prowess, he lost his ability to come up with clutch hits over the last few years.

The 2017 season is still young, but Zimmerman already has one clutch homer.  His April 6 homer put the Nats ahead in the 8th inning, right after Shawn Kelley blew a two run lead.  The Marlins had all the momentum and had an experienced reliever on the mound in Junichi Tazawa, but Zimmerman still found a way to come through and hit a clutch homer to the deepest part of Nationals Park.

Dusty Baker has taken notice of Zimmerman’s success at the plate, and has penciled him into the five hole every game so far.  Zimmerman has not let Baker down, providing plenty of protection in the lineup for Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.

While there’s no doubt that Zimmerman has earned it, the confidence Dusty has shown in him may have something to do with his success.  Yogi Berra once said, “Baseball is ninety percent metal.  The other half is physical.”  Although he was partially joking, he makes an excellent point.  Baseball is a game played between your ears, and confidence plays a huge role in success.

Zimmerman has battled injuries and struggled through the past few seasons, but has been locked in to begin the 2017 campaign.  Fans are having flashbacks to his days as a young third baseman who was a perennial Silver Slugger candidate.

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If he is able to sustain this success, the Nats will benefit from lots of extra power that they did not anticipate having.  Having Zimmerman hitting so well lengthens the Nats’ already deep lineup, making them one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

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