Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman’s resurgence not a fluke

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Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman enjoyed a tremendous bounce-back season in 2017, and he should produce similar numbers in 2018.

For years, the honor of being the face of the Washington Nationals belonged to Ryan Zimmerman. Other stars came to DC, such as Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Stephen Strasburg, but it was impossible not to love the original National. Zimmerman was among the best players in the league, and was a lone bright spot on the early Nationals teams.

Then, the injuries began to set in. A plethora of arm injuries forced Zimmerman to move across the diamond to first base, but that was just the beginning. Zimmerman was suffering injuries at a nearly unprecedented rate, which proved to be extremely detrimental to his performance. What once appeared to be a bright future was now in jeopardy.

Zimmerman battled countless injuries, struggling more and more each year. His once-loyal fans transformed into doubters, and he was no longer the polarizing figure he was early in his career.

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That is, until 2017. The Nats signed Adam Lind to serve as the back-up first baseman, meaning Zimmerman was presumably down to his final chance to be an everyday player. He responded amazingly well, producing his best season since 2012.

Many people attributed Zimmerman’s bounce-back season to his improved launch angle. He hit the ball exceptionally hard in 2016, but struggled due to a poor launch angle. After working with Daniel Murphy to improve his launch angle, he suddenly became a much-improved hitter in 2017.

However, Zimmerman claims his resurgence was possible because of his pristine health. He was not placed on the disabled list all season, a feat he had not accomplished since 2010.

Now, Zimmerman seeks to repeat his phenomenal season. If he is able to remain healthy again, which may be a big if, there is no reason to believe that 2017 was a fluke.

The Nats also need Zimmerman to put together another productive season. When healthy, he provides outstanding right-handed power and serves as protection for Harper. He is a plus defender at first base as well, where he saves countless throwing errors.

Fortunately, Zimmerman is not the only competent first baseman on the roster, which will be an enormous asset if Zimmerman is unable to remain healthy. Although Lind likely will not return, the Nats have signed Matt Adams to fill a similar role.

Adams can serve as an above average back-up first baseman when Zimmerman needs a day off, but the Nats should deploy him more than a typical back-up. Zimmerman is 33, which is around the time when players usually begin to decline. Add in Zimmerman’s injury history, and his decline could be exaggerated.

This is where Adams comes in. In order to prolong Zimmerman’s productivity and put him in a position to succeed, he should receive as many off-days as possible. This would not be a realistic plan with an inadequate back-up, but Adams is more than capable of playing on a somewhat regular basis if needed.

Zimmerman’s health and productivity are also essential past 2018, as he is under team control through 2020. He is being paid an average of $16 million over the next three seasons, so the Nats need him to be as productive as possible.

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2017 was another successful season for the Nats, but it was especially enjoyable because of Zimmerman’s resurgence. He was finally able to remain healthy, which enabled him to put together one of the best seasons of his career. This certainly was not a fluke, and he appears ready to lead the Nats to yet another division title in 2018.

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